(This is an article by George Monbiot to the The Guardian,
British and G8 climate strategy just doesn't add up. As soon as serious curbs are needed it turns into impossible nonsense.
Well, at least that clears up the mystery. Over the past year I've been fretting over an intractable contradiction. The government has promised spectacular cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. It is also pushing through new roads and runways, approving coal-burning power stations, bailing out car manufacturers and ditching regulations for low-carbon homes. How can these policies be reconciled?
We will find out tomorrow, when it publishes a series of papers on carbon reduction. According to one person who has read the drafts, the new policies will include buying up to 50% of the reduction from abroad. If this is true, it means that the
The figure might have changed between the draft and final documents, but let's take it at face value for the moment, to see what happens when rich nations offload their obligations. What I am about to explain is the simple mathematical reason why any large-scale programme of offsets is unjust, contradictory and ultimately impossible.
Last week the G8 summit adopted the UK's two key targets : it proposed that developed countries should reduce their greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050 to prevent more than two degrees of global warming. This meant that it also adopted the
Please bear with me on this: the point is an important one. There are some figures involved, but I'll use only the most basic arithmetic, which anyone with a calculator can reproduce.
The G8 didn't explain what it meant by "developed countries", but I'll assume it was referring to the nations listed in Annex 1 of the
But the G8 has also adopted another of the
So here's the outcome. The rich nations, if they follow the
If global justice means anything, the rich countries must make deeper cuts than the poor. We have the most to cut and can best afford to forgo opportunities for development. If nations like the
Befuddled yet? I haven't explained the half of it. As the G8 leaders know, a global cut of 50% offers only a faint to nonexistent chance of meeting their ultimate objective: preventing more than two degrees of warming. In its latest summary of climate science, published in 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggested that a high chance of preventing more than two degrees of warming requires a global cut of 85% by 2050. In drafting the climate change act, the
Global average CO2 emissions are 4.48 tonnes per person per year. Cutting the world total by 85% means reducing this to 0.67 tonnes. Average per capita output in the 38 Annex 1 countries is 10 tonnes; to hit this target they must cut their emissions by 93.3% by 2050. If the rich persist in offsetting 50% of this cut, the poorer countries would have to reduce their emissions by 7bn tonnes to absorb our offsets. To meet a global average of 0.67 tonnes, they would also need to chop their own output by a further 10.8bn tonnes. This means a total cut of 17.8bn tonnes, or 125% of their current emissions. I hope you have spotted the flaw.
In fact, even the IPCC's proposal has been superseded. Two recent papers in Nature show that the measure that counts is not the proportion of current emissions produced on a certain date, but the total amount of greenhouse gases we release. An 85% cut by 2050 could produce completely different outcomes. If most of the cut took place at the beginning of the period, our cumulative emissions would be quite low. If, as the
Carbon offsetting makes sense if you are seeking a global cut of 5% between now and for ever. It is the cheapest and quickest way of achieving an insignificant reduction. But as soon as you seek substantial cuts, it becomes an unfair, impossible nonsense, the equivalent of pulling yourself off the ground by your whiskers. Yes, let us help poorer nations to reduce deforestation and clean up pollution. But let us not pretend that it lets us off the hook.