Archive for the ‘China’ Category

Last week ‘The Reverend’ Tony Blair announced that he had been working with a group of climate change experts since he left office, and that he thinks the problem is extremely urgent (1). He said that failing to act on climate change “would be deeply and unforgivably irresponsible” and that the UN is “the right forum to reach the global agreement” . He then popped off to Japan, India and China to have a little chat with them about it all.

It’s not the only problem Blair is trying to help solve at the moment – he’s also Middle East Peace Envoy on behalf of the US, Russia, UN and EU, advisor to the insurer Zurich and investment bank JP Morgan (who will probably be wanting all the advice they can get at the moment), and seminar speaker on “faith and globalisation” at Yale University (2,3). Not to mention trying to encourage investment into Rwanda (2).

Oh, and there is always the ‘Tony Blair Faith Foundation’ that will be launched later in the year (3). I can’t wait! I saw someone in Westminster the other day with a t-shirt saying “WWBD? (What Would Blair Do?)” Well, judging by his recent actions he would probably either a) invade, or b) save. Both while smiling.

You can imagine the conversation at the Reverend’s breakfast table.
Cherie – “Can you pick the kids up tonight? I’m going to be a bit busy.”
Tony – “No sorry, solving Middle East crisis tonight.”
Cherie – “How about tomorrow?”
Tony – “Nope, sorry. Wednesday is Rwanda night with the boys.”
Cherie – “How about we go away this weekend to relax?”
Tony – “Cherie, I’ve told you before, I save the world at weekends! Saturday is climate change and Sunday is a day of rest, unless God has a job for me.”

The Reverend’s climate change record isn’t as bad as Mr.Brown’s, but then that’s not really saying much is it. Blair is generally recognised for helping to get climate change the attention it deserves in the international political arena, and that is one thing he seems to be good at. He will be working to his strengths with this trip, doing what he does best – smiling from ear to ear and speaking with……..as……..many……..pauses…….as…….humanly…….possible…..to try and add sincerity to what he is saying.

The only problem in Blair’s climate mission seems to be the target. He said that “A 50% cut by 2050 has to be a central component”, but anyone who listens to discussions of emissions targets will know that isn’t enough. Even Mr. Brown has admitted that the climate change bill may have to be tightened to 80% by 2050, and many people believe that cuts of 90% or more may be required to avoid the worst of the catastrophes in the pipeline. Hopefully Mr.Blair’s tactic is to get everyone on board and working towards 50% and then try and persuade them that actually it will need to be more at a later date. It would be a much harder sell if he was pushing for 80% or more straight away.

But leaving the Blair’s plans aside for a moment, there was precious little cause for optimism this week in the news. The World Glacier Monitoring Service announced that glaciers around the world had record levels of ice loss in 2006 (4) and aerospace giant EADS announced that they are planning a commercial plane to take space tourists up 100km from Earth (and expect demand to be enough to warrant building 10 of them a year) (5). I’m guessing they won’t be solar powered. How can we pretend we are concerned about climate change when plans like that are still being drawn up?

Not to mention the announcement from Shell this week that it is going into Canadian tar sands in a big way to try and aid it’s falling oil production (6). Extracting oil from tar sands produces even more carbon dioxide than petroleum extraction, and as the oil giants invest heavily in this method, the chances of us avoiding the very worst effects of climate change slip further from our grasp.

The Reverend is well aware of the challenge we face. “If the average person in the US is, say, to emit per capita, one-tenth of what they do today and those in the UK or Japan one-fifth, we’re not talking of adjustment, we’re talking about a revolution.” He said, speaking in Japan.

If Mr. Blair can help to get the international agreements and targets that are desperately needed then that would be a great thing. Let’s face it, we need all the help we can get.

1. ‘Blair to lead campaign on climate change’ – Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, 14th March 2008.
2. ‘Blair wants ‘climate revolution’’ – bbc.co.uk, 15th March 2008.
3. ‘Former British Prime Minister Blair to Teach at Yale’ – Yale University News Release, March 7th 2008.
4. ‘Glacier ice loss at record levels’ – Geoffrey Lean, The Independent Online, 16th March 2008.
5. ‘Space planes ‘to meet big demand’’ – Jonathan Amos, bbc.co.uk, 17th March 2008.
6. ‘Shell pushes into Canadian tar sands to arrest falling production’ – Danny Fortson, The Independent, 18th March 2008.


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The China Excuse

It has to be one of the most common things people say when discussing climate change issues. “But what about China? How can we really do anything about global warming when they are building twenty million new coal power stations a minute?”

Okay, I exaggerated slightly to make a point there, but we’ve all heard the argument.

The first thing to point out is that we all know (or think we know) about the huge number of power plants they are building in China, and the surge in pollution that will inevitably go along with their huge economic growth, but nobody has stopped to ask if they are doing anything to prevent global warming. This was a point that Jonathon Porritt picked up on recently –

“One new coal-fired power station a week (though you never hear about how many power stations they are closing down), two new nuclear reactors a year (the fastest ever nuclear build programme), vast new investments in renewables (wind, PV, hydro etc) and serious efforts (at long last!) to push energy efficiency throughout the economy.” (1).

At the conference in London a few weeks ago (see previous post – ‘Be The Change, Not the Conversation’) Professor CS Kiang, an expert in air quality and advisor to the Chinese Government, was under no illusions about China’s massive increase in pollution in connection with their growth. However he also discussed what the Chinese are doing, including Chongming Island near Shanghai which is home to almost a million people with sustainability as a core principle of it’s development (2).

The Chinese are also keen to tell the world how much they have invested in renewables this year (£9.7bn), as they hope this will help persuade more developed nations that they are taking the problem seriously (3).

The second, more important point (in this context at least), is that it is not total amounts of emissions that matter most – it is the per capita amount that is more important. China may have recently ‘overtaken’ the US as the world’s largest emitter (according to a study by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (4)), and if it hasn’t it soon will. Either way, the per capita emissions of the US (and many other countries including the UK) are still considerably higher than that of China. According to a the UN’s Human Development Report 2007/08 in 2004 the per capita CO2 emissions of the US and China were 20.6 and 3.8 tonnes of CO2 respectively(5).

If it was a game of ‘Preventing-Climate-Change Top Trumps’ then I can’t see the US winning. So who’s the naughty one eh?

Each person on the earth has an equal right to pollute the planet, and an equal responsibility not to. With that in mind, surely per capita emissions is the important measure here – and if that’s true, then we can all see who the ‘bad guys’ are.

And the US certainly aren’t doing themselves any favours. At the UN conference on climate change in Bali, the US’ resistance to agreeing defined targets – specifically a 40% reduction in emissions of the developed countries – has become increasingly apparent in the press, despite the Chinese, UK and EU being prepared to see this through (6,7,8). (The US are not completely alone in this position, with Japan and Canada indicating that they would prefer more emphasis on inclusion of China and India in UN proposals (8)). The main sticking point for the US is any kind of specific target. How can you have targets without a target?!?! This definitely makes the US the bad guys in Bali.

But the reality is that it doesn’t matter who the bad guys are. Everyone has to do everything in their power to prevent catastrophic climate change. If China and the US both started pumping out as much CO2 as they possibly could (some would argue they already are) then that doesn’t excuse us not doing everything we can in the UK.

Each and every country can say the same thing. We can all complain and wait for other countries to move, but the more countries take a step in the right direction the harder it is for the remaining ones to resist with the ‘but look at them!’ argument.

If, in fifty years time, we have done all we can in the UK, and we achieve a zero-carbon country, and the US and China are still pumping out CO2 emissions, then as the sea level rises and the storms and droughts wreak havoc on the world, we will be able to complain about it. But we have a hell of a long way to go in this country before we can claim that we are doing everything possible to avoid the climate crisis staring us in the face.

1. “China Junkie” – Jonathon Porritt, Nov. 27th 2007.
2. Chongming Island
3. “We may not get carbon deal, warns Benn” – David Adam, The Guardian Online, 13th Dec. 2007.
4. ‘China overtakes U.S. as top CO2 emitter: Dutch agency’ – Reuters, 20th June 2007.
5. “Human Development Report 2007/2008 – Fighting Climate Change: Human Solidarity in a Divided World” – United Nations Development Programme. This can be downloaded from here.
6. “Climate talks progressing despite US opposition to targets, Benn says” – David Adam, Guardian Online, 12th Dec. 2007.
7. “UN calls for 40 per cent cut in emissions by rich countries” – Daniel Howden, The Independent Online, 11th Dec. 2007.
8. “Deadlock Stymies Global Climate Talks” – Thomas Fuller and Peter Gelling, The New York Times Online, 12th Dec. 2007.

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