Tackling Climate Change

 

My contribution to tackling Climate Change in China

My penultimate role as a senior diplomat within the Foreign Office was Head of Climate Change and Energy for South China (covering six provinces with a GDP of approx $2.7 trill - equivalent to UK), leading the largest team of diplomats in the region, delivering tens of millions of pounds worth of Official Development Assistance (ODA) projects to help China to accelerate its low carbon transition and tackle climate change.

In addition to my undergraduate studies which provided a foundational understanding of climate change and atmospheric processes, I sought out and was given pre-posting briefings by scientists from the University of Reading, University of Edinburgh, the Met Office, the then Dept for Energy and Climate Change (now BEIS) and many other climate and energy experts. My understanding of climate change goes beyond the superficial. 

I have (for example) led projects to:

  • Set up China's emissions trading scheme with successful pilots in Shenzhen and Guangzhou. Trading millions of Megatons of CO2-equivalent, and encouraging industries to improve energy efficiency and reduce their emissions through a market mechanism.
  • Secure a deal with China Resources Power, the University of Edinburgh, and Shell Cansolv to construct the first Carbon Capture facility on a coal power plant in China, at Haifeng (Guangdong). The pilot project will eventually store captured CO2 in depleted offshore oil fields in the South China Sea and drive down the cost of this technology. We will then be able to use it in the UK in the North Sea. It has the potential to change the world.
  • Deliver the first carbon labelling scheme in China for consumer products, which sets out clearly the emissions produced for common consumer products, provides choice, and has started to change consumer behaviour.
  • Develop China's first offshore wind strategy for Guangdong province, which is now being delivered, with multi-million pound business wins for British businesses in offshore cabling, maintenance vessels, and environmental impact assessment and monitoring among others.
  • Initiate, secured funding for, and led new national multi-year programme on New Energy Vehicle policies in China. Working in conjunction with UK Government bodies including OLEV, CCAV, Transport Systems Catapult, BEIS and Dept for Transport. The first project: a) analysed policy, legal and political issues including on energy storage, grid demand-response and capacity, urban planning, subsidies and regulatory frameworks etc.; and ii) provided the platform to collaborate with Chinese government, regulators, associations and businesses to remove/soften barriers and obstacles, and reinforce helpful policies, through initial pilots in Shenzhen and Shanghai.
  • Work with the Shenzhen Stock Exchange and Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) platform to innovate in China with Green Bonds and Green Finance initiatives, including a low carbon index.
  • Advise China Southern Grid on reform of the power market, to introduce competition to help drive up standards and transition to cleaner sources of power.
  • Advise the Shenzhen Municipal Government on demand-response challenges with relation to the adoption of electric vehicles and the impact on energy consumption and grid management.
  • Improve low carbon urban planning and design, with UK Government adviser Peter Bishop, developing a new urban planning strategy for Guangdong Province's Department for Housing and Rural-Urban Development (affecting approximately 80 million people).
  • Improve transport planning in the greater Guangzhou area with Sun Yat-sen University, to cut congestion, change behaviour and reduce pollution and transport emissions through greater use of technology and modelling
  • Work with the UK Met Office to advise provincial governments in South China on climate modelling and adaptation measures, including climate risk assessments
  • I also campaigned locally to encourage more cycling by improving transport safety for cyclists in Guangzhou - a city of 13 million.

I have contributed a significant amount to tackle climate change in one of the worst offending countries (China accounts for 27.5% of global emissions - more than the US & EU combined). We have to focus our efforts on a global scale.

Any reduction in Greenhouse Gas emissions by the UK domestically, while welcome, will have little to no impact globally (the UK's emissions account for less than 1.2% of the global total).

 

Climate Change - what is actually happening

Over the past 20 years the earth has warmed a total of 0.3°C. It has warmed 1°C since the pre-industrial period. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is now measured at 0.04% (or 400 parts per million), this is up from 0.03% measured fifty years ago. Isotope measurements show this is result of burning fossil fuels.

In the words of Dr Ed Hawkins, Professor of Climate Science at the University of Reading:

“Human-caused climate change is not something that one can choose to ‘believe’ or not.”

The scientific consensus is clear: climate change is real and manmade. It is incontrovertible.

When looking into the future however, as with any predictions, there are varying models and varying scenarios. Experts are notoriously bad at forecasting - there is no such thing as an expert of the future. The truth is nobody knows what will happen in future. Even weather forecasts lose accuracy beyond five days.

From the beginning of modelling in the 1980s they’ve always over-exaggerated the trend. The rate of warming is far slower than the models predicted. In 1990, the IPCC predicted temperatures would rise by 0.2-0.5 °C per decade. In fact the actual average increase turned out to be 0.15-0.12 °C per decade - below the bottom of the uncertainty range.

In 2005, it was predicted that there would be 50 million climate refugees by 2010. Al Gore in 2006 claimed we would reach the point of no return in 2016 in averting a catastrophe. Models have persistently overestimated warming.

There’s a consensus that climate models have over-exaggerated the trend.

All high estimates of warming are based on an economic and demographic scenario RCP8.5 which assumes population growth accelerates, trade and innovation stops, the ability of the ocean to absorb CO2 fails, average incomes treble, and assumes we go back to coal for almost everything (including motor fuel) by 2100, burning 10 times as much coal today.

The rate (how quickly the climate will change) and severity of the future impact of any change in the climate - and cost of policy approaches to deal with these various scenarios - does not attract a consensus in the scientific community.

Dangerous climate change theory relies on shaky evidence. The alarmism and lexicon of emergency used in the current debate has lost sense of reality and proportion. There is no developing catastrophe and no smoking gun. We used to have a science where scientists make a claim or hypothesis, and then tested it against independent data. If they failed, they went back and started again. Today, all that seems to matter is who shouts the loudest.

In 2014, the IPCC's report on the impact of climate change found that: for most economic sectors the impact of climate change will be small relative to other drivers (medium evidence, high agreement) - changes in population, age, income, technology, relative prices, lifestyle, regulation, governance - and many other aspects of socio-economic development - will have an impact on the supply and demand of economic goods and services that is large relative to the impact of climate change

So in sum, what we know is:

  • The climate changes
  • CO2 concentration is increasing
  • CO2 is a greenhouse gas
  • The main cause of that increase is burning of fossil fuels
  • The atmosphere is warmer today than it was 50-100 years ago
  • CO2 may have caused half if not more of the warming since 1950

 

"Climate Emergency" & Extinction Rebellion

The UK Government has not declared a so called "Climate Emergency". A non-binding Labour Party motion declaring a "Climate Emergency" was passed in the House of Commons in 2019. 

The term “climate emergency” was popularised by David Spratt and Philip Sutton in a 2007 report and subsequently in their June 2008 book Climate Code Red: The case for emergency action

Extinction Rebellion and the People's Demands, the climate activist groups behind climate strikes and calls for "Climate Emergency" declarations, helpfully publish their demands online. These include: 

  • An immediate stop to burning all fossil fuels; 
  • A ban on fracking;
  • Immediate stop to use of nuclear power;
  • No hydropower;
  • No market mechanisms, economics or technology to be used to cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions - i.e. no: carbon offsets, geoengineering; Carbon Capture and Storage; biofuels; carbon trading schemes; biomass, bioenergy; climate smart agriculture;
  • No GM, drought-resistant or other crops amended with technology; 
  • "Technology transfer" - i.e. rejecting IP rights on technology and handing it to less developed countries for free to copy at their leisure (given the above ban on tech, this is an especially odd demand);
  • 100% renewables by 2030 (which is impossible); 
  • A Green Climate Fund of $100bn a year by 2020 from developed countries - this is additional money (above and including ODA) to pay for climate adaptation and protection for migrants; and
  • "Reparations" - i.e. billions if not trillions of pounds we must pay to the developing world as punishment for polluting the world and starting the industrial revolution.

These ideas are illiberal and misguided, utopian authoritarianism. They believe the only way to save the planet is for the left to command others in the developed and less developed world to live poorer and meaner lives.

Stripped of the theatre of hype, cheerleading rent-seekers, alarmist headlines, Extinction Rebellion stunts, climate emergencies and, even Greta Thunberg’s lectures, the stark truth is that the modern "climate emergency" movement is about politics and wealth redistribution, not science.

It is a socialist Trojan horse for delivering failed socialist economic policies through using the emotive lexicon of "emergency", disaster, and doom mongering.

In the words of Ottmar Edenhofer Professor of the Economics of Climate Change at the Technical University of Berlin, designated director and chief economist of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), director of the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC), and co-chair of the IPCC Working Group III "Mitigation of Climate Change" (2008-15): 

"We [UN-IPCC] redistribute de facto the world's wealth by climate policy ... One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. This has almost nothing to do with environmental policy anymore ..."  

Christina Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 2010-16, said in 2015:

“This is probably the most difficult task we have ever given ourselves, which is to intentionally transform the economic development model, for the first time in human history.

“This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the Industrial Revolution."

The actions being considered to stop a "climate emergency” will have an imperceptible impact on whatever the climate will do, while making energy more expensive, and thus have a negative impact on the economy as a whole, and disproportionately impact on the poorest in society. Even Labour Party-supporting unions such as the GMB warn that targeting Net Zero by 2030 is "utterly unachievable" and warned that it would threaten jobs and whole communities. The IFS said:

"Aiming for zero emissions by 2030 is almost certainly impossible, hugely disruptive and risks undermining consensus".

So, shall we take action to clean up our environment and use less polluting sources of energy and fuel? Absolutely.

Action driven by alarmism and a lexicon of emergency? No. 

We need to take calm, measured action to clean up our act, with a full cost-benefit analysis of any decision. 

 

What should we do?

Most of the 21st century emissions are not being emitted by the rich world. Solving climate change, requires getting China, India and all the other developing countries on board to cut emissions. 

The starvation catastrophes in developing nations in the 1960s to ’80s weren’t fixed by asking people to consume less food but through the Green Revolution in which innovation developed higher-yielding varieties that produced more plentiful food.

Similarly, the climate challenge will not be solved by asking people to use less (and more expensive) green energy. Instead, we should dramatically ramp up spending on research and development into green energy.

The Copenhagen Consensus Center asked 27 of the world’s top climate economists to examine policy options for responding to climate change. This analysis showed that the best investment is in green-energy R&D. For every dollar spent, $11 of climate damages would be avoided.

This would bring forward the day when green-energy alternatives are cheaper and more attractive than fossil fuels not just for the elite but for the entire world.

Right now, despite all the rhetoric about the importance of global warming, we are not ramping up this spending. On the sidelines of the 2015 Paris climate summit, more than 20 world leaders made a promise to double green-energy research and development by 2020. But spending has only inched up from $16 billion in 2015 to $17 billion in 2018. This is a broken promise that matters.

 

Conservative Climate Action

Conservatives have a record we can be proud of on tackling climate change, reducing emissions by a quarter since coming to office in 2010 and boosting renewables to a record high.

We are the first government to set the ambitious but realistic target of leaving our environment in a better state for the next generation.

Launched in January 2018, the 25 Year Environment Plan sets out how we will improve the environment over a generation by creating richer habitats for wildlife, improving air and water quality and curbing the scourge of plastic in the world’s oceans.

  • As we work towards decarbonising our economy and securing the UK’s energy supply for the decades to come, fusion power has the potential to transform our energy supplies for the better. We are designing and building a commercially viable fusion power plant by 2040, backed up by an initial £220 million to develop this clean, safe and inexhaustible form of power that produces none of the long-lived radioactive waste produced by a conventional nuclear reactor. We will secure the UK’s position as the leading nation in the world when it comes to fusion technology, attracting millions in inward investment, creating jobs and supporting exports.

  • We know the UK’s automotive industry is facing unprecedented change and we must support it to stay at the forefront of new greener and more reliable technologies. We will support the development of UK supply chains for the large-scale production of electric vehicles, by accelerating the mass production of key technologies such as batteries, electric motors and hydrogen fuel cells. These investments will help power us towards our net zero emissions by 2050 target, leaving our environment in a better state for the next generation.

  • Emissions from heating homes are the single largest contributing factor to the UK’s carbon footprint – accounting for 22% of greenhouse gas emissions. To improve the energy efficiency of homes and reduce emissions, we need to raise the requirements set out in the building regulations for new homes. This action will significantly reduce CO2 emissions so we protect our climate for future generations, while keeping energy bills low. That’s why we are introducing a Future Homes Standard by 2025 and interim measures by 2020, to ensure that new homes meet world-leading energy efficiency standards and are equipped with low-carbon heating systems.

  • Trees and forests are not only an essential part of the British countryside, they also provide real health and wellbeing benefits and are a vital part of our response to the climate change. This is a part of the Conservatives’ commitment to make this generation the first to leave the environment in a better condition than we found it. To kick start an ambitious new Great Northumberland Forest, we will plant three new forests in Northumberland, delivering up to one million new trees over 500 hectares. We will also create a new partnership to ensure local farmers and landowners are at the heart of what we do.  

  • Green spaces and parks help make our communities great places to live by providing local people with a place to socialise, exercise and enjoy the outdoors. Derelict land can be ugly, dangerous and should be put to good use. We will therefore provide funding for new projects led by community groups, in partnership with local authorities, to refurbish parks and encourage community activities. This is part of our ambition to ensure that communities have a real sense of identity and place, and that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy green spaces nearby.