A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Coming clean over climate change.....

In their political heart-of-hearts, all Governments (including those in Europe) know that there is absolutely nothing we can do predictably about climate change, and, indeed, extremely little practically to curb the rise of 'greenhouse gas' emissions. Unfortunately, through a type of tabloid-hysteria in the old broadsheet world, including the BBC, the politicians have been persuaded to adopt knee-jerk reactions and to lecture people that they can, and that they must, "do something" about climate. They are now in a bind of their own making. Whatever they do, they will be damned. They can have no predictable effect on climate, and there is no way, even, that they will manage a significant reduction in gas emissions. Yet, they must continue to speak as if they are cutting, and can cut, emissions, and to argue that they will, miraculously, control climate. At some point, a lot of little boys and girls are going to spot the deception and to cry out: "The Emperors have no clothes!"

Here are the stark political realities:

(a) First, no country is reporting its true emissions of 'greenhouse gases'. Indeed, new research shows that Britain, for example, may be emitting 92% more methane (CH4) than declared under the Kyoto Protocol; Germany 62% (Germany has now acknowledged this fact and has raised its original estimates by 70%); France 47% [see: 'Kyoto promises are nothing but hot air' (New Scientist, June 21) and 'Methane emissions twice official level - study', (The Guardian, June 22)]. Further, the New Scientist makes the following telling observations:
"The most alarming failure of greenhouse gas emissions reporting is thought to have occurred in China, the world's second largest emitter. In the late 1990s, when its economy was growing by 10 per cent a year, the Chinese government reported a dramatic fall in CO2 emissions to the UN climate change convention. It declared that, after a long period of steep increases, emissions had fallen from 911 million tonnes of carbon a year in 1996 to 757 million tonnes in 2000, a drop of 17 per cent.

China said the fall in emissions was achieved by burning less coal, an assessment it based on a decline in coal production. Some analysts praised the country for using coal more efficiently, but that picture was called into doubt when declared coal production and emissions estimates resumed their fast rise. Estimates for 2004 put China's CO2 emissions above 1200 million tonnes.

Most analysts now conclude that the drop in emissions was entirely illusory [my italic]. It coincided with major changes in the organisation of the Chinese coal industry, which replaced state targets with a market system. 'Emissions figures before 1996 were inflated because mine officials had production targets to meet, and declared they had met them when they had not,' one analyst told New Scientist. By 2000, this effect had gone, and 'subsequent figures for CO2 emissions are probably more accurate as a result.' While the Chinese government may not have intentionally misled the international community over its emissions at the time, the incident reveals how easy it could be to fiddle official figures."

(b) Secondly, all emissions continue to rise, even according to official figures. The latest statistics show that 'greenhouse gas' emissions in the EU increased by 0.4% between 2003 and 2004, and even grew in the ever-pious UK by 0.2% (and these statistics exclude emissions from aircraft and shipping). On a world scale, CO2 emissions are now predicted to augment by 75% between 2003 and 2030, mainly because of exponential growth in the developing world [see: 'World CO2 emissions to rise 75 pct by 2030' (Planet Ark, June 21)]:
"Global emissions of CO2 will hit 43.7 billion tonnes in 2030, up from 25 billion tonnes in 2003, the Energy Information Administration [US] said in its annual forecast. By 2025 global CO2 emissions could hit 40.05 billion tonnes annually, up 0.03 percent from the forecast issued last year, said the EIA, the statistics arm of the Department of Energy. Last year's report did not look as far ahead as 2030."

By 2010, developing Asian countries will surpass North American emissions by some 21%.

(c) Thirdly, most efforts to curb emissions will be gobbled up by: (i) the significant return to coal that is currently taking place; (ii) the fact that more efficient energy buildings are still new, and additional, build; (iii) the continued growth in transport and free trade; (iv) the fact that most people, underneath, remain largely unmoved by the 'global warming' hype (just look at the 'EnviroSpin' Mini Poll, opposite); and, we hope, (v) continued world economic growth.

So, what can we expect? Much more of this hot air: 'EU, US to agree "urgent" action on climate change' (Planet Ark, June 21). Which means, being deconstructed?

+ A great deal of international talk about 'new technology' solving the crisis, while allowing growth to continue unchecked;

+ Increasingly ludicrous carbon-trading schemes;

+ A sudden, and rising, interest in 'adaptation' to climate change;

+ An awful lot of gibberish about YOU doing your bit with your light bulbs and your rubbish (largely a waste of time);

+ A load of waffle from young, eager, fresh-faced political hopefuls, like David Cameron and David Miliband, not to mention from all the soppy Lib Dems (you can shoot snipe off their backs); and,

+ Increasingly angry Greens, who will, nevertheless, continue to employ the 'global warming' hype to try to change your evil ways of living;

+ Meanwhile, world emissions will continue to rise, and, as ever, climate will change - but in what directions? Who knows?

Sometimes one really does wish one lived on another planet where the only strains came from a Schubert Quartet. I don't think I can stand it. It'll have to be Radio 3 from now on in the morning.

Philip, an Old Trout skulking in the shallows, listening to Schubert. "Tea?"

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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