Where Paul Mason goes wrong.

By Farcaster – http://heymancenter.org/files/events/milanovic.pdf, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49781915

Paul Mason’s 2018 article What kind of capitalism is it possible for the left to build? while dated in its optimistic presumption that left governments were on the cards in the UK, USA, France and Spain in short order, is, as he puts it “brutally honest” in its rejection of any notion that the working class in the richer countries has any obligations towards, or prospects of an alliance with, the working classes and oppressed of the developing world.

As he puts it in his conclusion,

“Is this strategy designed to allow the populations of the developed world to capture more of the growth projected over the next 5-15 years, if necessary at the cost of China, India and Brazil having to find new ways to break out of the middle income trap? Would it, in other words, flatten out and reverse the trends captured in Branko Milanovic’s famous “elephant graph” over the next two decades?

For me the answer is yes. This is a programme to save democracy, democratic institutions and values in the developed world by reversing the 30-year policy of enriching the bottom 60% and the top 1% of the world’s population.

It is a programme to deliver growth and prosperity in Wigan, Newport and Kirkcaldy – if necessary at the price of not delivering them to Shenzhen, Bombay and Dubai.

Lets examine this more closely. Delivering growth and prosperity to “Wigan, Newport and Kirkaldy” – if necessary at the price of not delivering them to Shenzen, Bombay (sic – its been called Mumbai for years) and Dubai” might be more simply summarised as “Britain First”, despite Mason’s insistence that he is against “ethno-nationalism”.

Letting Shenzen and Mumbai go hang alongside Dubai means that he is not solely concerned with the “Global South elite” – a term that appears in his Tweets quite a lot as a way to imply that the Global South is so much more full of elites than the Global North – but with the labouring masses of the entire Global South; the overwhelming majority of humanity. For Mason, if they stay poor as the price of “prosperity to Wigan”, so be it. But, in reality, the “bottom 60%” are far from being “enriched”. They are barely getting by. Under the impact of Covid and now the Ukraine war, they are being impoverished very quickly.

Presumably Mason thinks that’s ok because they’re used to it, and should find “other ways” to get better off; and its their problem to do it, nothing to do with us. These are, after all, far away countries of which we know little.

In this sentence is the abandonment of any basic solidarity between working people in the wealthy countries and those who are far worse of than we are – probably because they are far worse of than we are.

The “elephant graph is misleading in some respects in that, while it notes increases in wealth, it does not take into account the starting points for those increases, and gives the impression that the working class in the developed/advanced/imperialist countries (delete according to ideological preference, but we all know who we’re talking about) are relatively hard done by compared with those in the Global South. This graphic from Visual Capitalist (!) shows what the actual distribution of global wealth is – and points to rather different conclusions from Mason’s.

The full article from Visual Capitalist can be seen here.

The “logic” of Mason’s position is that working class people in the Global North, most of whom are in the 32.8% above earning between $10,000 and $100,000 a year and hold 11.1% of the world’s wealth, should be fighting simultaneously with the top 11% – those earning over $100,000 a year holding 85% of the world’s wealth – and the bottom 55% – those earning less than $10,000 a year owning just 1.3% of the world’s wealth.

In his failure to recognise the necessity of an alliance between workers in the Global North with those in the Global South – the majority of humanity – Mason’s position can’t help but collapse into the “ethno-nationalism” he claims to be seeking to avoid.

The logic of “ethno-nationalism” is for workers in the wealthier countries to bloc with the top 11% – who are overwhelmingly concentrated in the Global North – against the Global South. “Send them back!” Build that wall!” This is most extremely expressed by Fascists. But Fascists, in emphasising white racial solidarity as their motivating drive, create division and run the risk of civil war in multi ethnic Global North countries. So, at the moment, this is usually expressed more “inclusively” in terms of “national unity” or “Western Values” or “democracy in our continent” (Keir Starmer, my emphasis).

And, looking at this more closely, Mason avoids a key point. Part of the Global South has found another way forward, but not one that Mason likes.

If you look at the link to the elephant graph in the quote above, it has a very revealing caption. The sharp differentiation between the working class in the developed countries and the top 1% is very clear. The growth in income and well being in the Global South is helpfully qualified to point out that most of this has happened in China.

And so it has. From an average per capita income of around $300 a year in 1980 to over $10,000 a year now. This has been described in a Labour Foreign Policy Group document that is primarily hostile to China as “perhaps the most significant contribution to human wellbeing in world history”.

You might think that such a development might merit a positive engagement from someone who describes himself as a Socialist; given that the elimination of extreme poverty in China and the lifting up of 850 million people to relatively decent living standards has taken place under the government of a Communist Party with 90 million members in a country that sees itself as building “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

But not a bit of it. Mason counterposes this to “prosperity in Wigan etc”. His “30 year policy” remark implies that the growth and development in China – which is of a different order and different scale to any part of the Global South still labouring under the Washington consensus – is part of the same process that has led to extreme income differentiation in the Global North, not, as it is, part of a challenge to it.

He therefore gets his alliances all wrong. While he posits the possibility of taking on both the bottom 60% and the top 1%, the logic of his position is a Global North class bloc against the Global South in general, and those countries within it that see themselves as Socialist in particular.

His title spells this out. “What kind of capitalism is it possible for the left to build?” This is the Left in the developed countries. Ourselves alone. Which he presumes can take on our own ruling classes – not only without global allies but actively repudiating them – while leaving the 1% he is supposedly targeting in control of their own system; hoping that – under challenge -they will stay within the bounds of “democratic institutions”; despite all our historical experience of what they do whenever their interests are threatened.

This is both wrong and impossible.

And the proof of this pudding has already been in the eating. Since he wrote his article in 2018, the vehicles for such a prospect have been seriously smashed up by the ruling class. No one now expects the Sanders current in the US, the sort of left Social Democracy represented by Corbynism in the UK, or La France Insoumise to get into government. At all. The scale of defeat varies, but the bottom line is that no variant of left social democracy is going to be let anywhere near government in any country in the Global North that has any heft; so Mason’s nostrums are a dead letter before they start. In the UK, the Starmer project flirts overtly with and encourages exactly the sort of ethno-nationalism Mason claims he opposes.

We live in the best democracies money can buy. The “democratic institutions” in our countries are the facade through which the rule of the 1% is mediated. This operates on a whole series of sophisticated levels which, under the impact of economic and political crises are becoming more evident. The attacks on “democracy, democratic institutions and values in the developed world” – from naked gerrymandering to voter suppression to racist notions that citizenship in wealthy countries is a privilege that carries a price tag of political loyalty- are all home grown. These “democratic institutions” are not a natural part of Global North society but a space to organise won in struggle that is now under increasing attack with – paradoxically – the slogans of a Cold War between “Democracy” and “authoritarianism” as part of the cover for it.

Its not like flu! Or “Infect them all! God will recognise His own!”

Figures for England and Wales from ONS

This is why the comments from Sajid Javid and others that “We need to learn to live with” the virus because “sadly, people die of flu as well” are so light minded and not comparing like with like.

Javid says that “in a bad flu year you can sadly lose about 20,000 lives but we don’t shut down our entire country and put in place lots of restrictions to deal with it.” In a good flu year, however, you can lose a few hundred, as we can see here.

The worst years for flu are far less lethal than any year we have had so far with Covid.

Given that it is

  • more transmissible
  • more lethal
  • evolving rapidly

there is no reason to believe that the casualty rates “for many, many years, perhaps forever,” will be lower than they have been in recent months, during which the UK has, in Sajid Javid world, been “leading the way in showing the world how you can live with Covid”. Every one of the average of 359 people who have died every day in the last week lies in their graves as a rebuke to this vainglorious cynicism.

The notion of “endemic”, ie ever present, disease that the government presents is that it will be faded into the background, not too serious, predictable and fairly regular. The wild roller coaster of the successive waves we have seen, and will continue to see, is nothing like that. His remark that we will have to continue to employ “measures”, however “sensible, appropriate and proportionate” is a backhanded admission of that.

His comment yesterday in scrapping the Plan B safeguards that We cannot eradicate this virus” (my emphasis) is an abject admission of failure. The ruling class in the West can no longer even claim to lead humanity.

They can’t eliminate it, because they are not willing to. China keeps managing to do it. Only 2 people died of Covid there last year and they have no intention of following the pressure from the US to abandon their zero Covid policy. If they did, between 3 and 4 million people would die. No doubt Javid would consider that a small price to pay.

The effect of letting the genie back out of the bottle as soon as possible will be seen soon enough. It will slow the downward trajectory in cases, hospitalisations and lead to more people dying than need to. Keir Starmer has called for the data on which this is based to be released. This is beside the point, as the overall data is available. More widely, the pretence that acting as though we are back to normal means that we are back to normal is simply deluded. Labour should break its complicity with this approach, which bakes in permanent crisis from here on.

Baby, its COVID outside.

The latest figures on UK cases, hospitalisations and deaths- released for 1 January – make sobering reading for all of us; but appear not to be giving pause to the Secretary of State for Health, who is doubling down on arguing that we have to “live with” the virus (forever) and the select breed of scientists in his camp, who argue that Omicron is a step towards COVID evolving into a “mostly harmless” “endemic” infection like the common cold.

The figures are stark – and do not support either that hypothesis or the government’s policies. The Omicron variant is now considered as infectious as measles, and it is capable of infecting people who have been vaccinated or who have contracted it before. And “endemic” does not mean “harmless”.

In the week up to 1 January there were an average of 162,000 verified new cases every day for England alone. This was a 47.9% increase on the previous week and is rising sharply.

Hospitalisations similarly rose by 49.9%, with an average of 1,915 new admissions a day, again on a sharply rising curve.

Deaths, a lagging indicator, were up by 31.1%, with an average of 151 people dying every day – again on a rising curve.

It is important to bear in mind that these new cases, which have baked in a following wave of hospitalisations and deaths, were picked up during the Xmas week after a significant additional wave of people getting their third vaccination.

  • Relatively few people have been at work.
  • No schools or colleges are open.
  • Relatively few journeys will have been taken on public transport.
  • There has also been an 8% decline in the number of tests that have been carried out during this week – largely due to shortages of kit.

Projecting forward we can sketch out the likely impact in two weeks time. If 2% of identified cases end up in hospital, we’ll be looking at 3,251 daily admissions in England by mid January, just from the cases already identified (2% of 162,000).

With a sharp increase in social interactions coming from a large scale return to work from Tuesday, and schools beginning to reopen, with no further safeguards put in place, we should expect the upward spike to jag even more sharply upwards.

On 31 December there were 154 deaths and 1,915 admissions, giving a deaths to admission ratio of 1:12. Extrapolating this to the 3,251 admissions expected by mid January gives a death rate of around 270 a day (or 1,890 a week); and rising.

There is an expectation that this wave will decline again once it has infected all the people that it can. But, as it seems able to infect vaccinated people, and people who have recovered from previous variants, it has a very large pool of potential victims.

By February we will know if this wave has receded, and to what extent, or if it keeps on going.

Allowing a virus like this to become endemic and not stamping it out is a catastrophic strategic choice that means that, so far, the UK has suffered 30 times the number of deaths as Zero Covid China in absolute terms, and 629 times as many people per capita – and will suffer many more, with no prospect of an end to it.

The argument a week ago was that Ministers wanted “more evidence” before taking further safety precautions. The evidence seems to be in. How much more do they need?

Zero Covid strategy works and saves lives.

As the Omicron variant is forcing even the UK government to stop trying to pretend that its all over bar the shouting – and a weary populace starts to realise that “living with the virus” means living with it (and dying from it) forever – its worth looking at what happens when a country takes serious steps to eliminate the virus and contrast it with what’s happened here.

China has had a Zero Covid approach since the beginning and effectively eliminated domestic community transmission by summer 2020. As a result China’s total deaths per million to date are just 3.47. It can barely be seen on the graph. By contrast the UK has lost 2,179 people per million and the USA 2,409 people per million.

To put this more strongly, had China approached this pandemic with the same mix of business oriented fatalism spiced with lashing of denial that we have seen in the USA, and people had died at the same rate, their total deaths would not have been 4849 but 3, 372, 600. (per million death rate of 2409 X 1400, as China’s population is 1.4 billion).

Conversely, had the UK applied a Zero Covid strategy with the same effectiveness as China, we’d have lost just 226 people in the whole pandemic! (Per million death rate of 3.47 X 65, as the UK population is 65 million).

It is an absolute scandal that this is not drawn out by the media debate.

Check out the Zero Covid coalition and the Zero Covid campaign for more information and forthcoming initiatives.

Figures all from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1104709/coronavirus-deaths-worldwide-per-million-inhabitants/

A matter of priorities: Bernie gets it right.

In the United States there is a tragic argument that is putting desperately necessary investment to begin to shift the country away from its gas and oil guzzling model – falsely and fatally projected to the rest of the world as a mirage of modernity to which they should all aspire, but which is now not even viable for the US itself if it wants to survive this century intact – at risk.

The danger is that President Biden’s $550 billion ten year package will be derailed by opposition from Republicans in the Senate, in alliance with two Democrat Senators who are widely seen as wholly owned assets of the fossil fuel industries (Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona).

While $55 billion a year is completely inadequate to move the US onto a track on which it would be doing its fair share of carbon emissions reduction, its provisions are supported by majorities of US citizens and for fossil fuel interests to derail it completely would bog the USA down completely in an outmoded form of society and scream to the rooftops that its political system is simply the best democracy that money can buy.

Stalling progress buys time for the restoration of fully fledged climate denialism should the Republicans regain control of Congress in the 2022 mid terms and the White House in the 2024 Presidential elections. At which point the US would be back to being a huge rogue state. This would be politically clarifying, but all of us would pay a terrible price for the enlightenment.

It took the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement to overthrow Trump last year. Nothing is certain, but for the fossil fuel fraction of capital to retain its power, it will need an increasingly fascistic political expression. Trump, Bannon, Bolsonaro; these are no longer aberrations or outliers, they are a possibly paradigmic future for the leaders that late, late capitalism will need to sustain itself until it runs out of road and goes off the cliff.

By contrast, the military budget is an almost complete consensus. The imbalance here is grotesque. As Senator Bernie Sanders put it on the Senate floor on Wednesday “At a time when the scientists are telling us that we face an existential threat in terms of climate change, we are told that we just don’t have enough money to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel and create a planet that will be healthy and habitable for our kids and future generations. Just don’t have enough money. Yet today the U.S. Senate will begin consideration of an annual defense budget that costs $778 billion.”

Here’s what the contrast in the proposed (and contested) sum for climate change and the bipartisan consensus for military spending looks like, along with an equally instructive comparison with the sums committed for each in China. The US is spending 14 times as much on its military as Biden is proposing for green investment. China is spending one and a half times as much on green transition as on its military.

Bernie has stated that he will vote against. Hopefully other progressive Democrats will do the same to put down a marker that by 2050 the shiniest military in the world won’t be of much use to save even the USA itself from climate impacts that will overwhelm its infrastructure.

Leading from the Rear?

Much ink has been spilt proclaiming the “leading role” of the USA in combatting climate breakdown; with large countries like China and India in the developing world seen as the problem.

The figures from the latest Carbon Change Performance Index explode this myth.

Overall, with scores given for Greenhouse gas emissions (40%) Renewable energy (20%) Energy use (20%) and Climate Policy (20%) the USA ranks 55 (out of 64). China is at 37. India is at 10. The 64 countries covered are responsible for 92% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Their more detailed report groups countries into categories for overall performance.

The USA is in the “Very low” group, along with Australia, Saudi Arabia, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, Canada and Poland (amongst others).

China is in the “Low” group, along with New Zealand, Japan, Belgium, Vietnam and Ireland.

India is in the “High” group along with the UK, Denmark, Sweden, Chile and Finland.

On specific categories, the USA ranks

  • very low (i.e. poor) for greenhouse gas emissions: China is also rated very low but India is rated high.
  • very low for renewable energy; China and India are rated medium.
  • very low (i.e. poor) for energy use: China is also very low. India is high.
  • medium for policy: China and India are rated high.

The policy is what points to the future, if they are carried out. China has a record of meeting or exceeding its targets and the IEA assesses that its plan is viable and can be accelerated. In fact, China is due to invest £3.4 trillion to reduce carbon emissions in the next decade, which is more than the US and EU combined. The US plan has already been hobbled in Congress and there are worrying signs that the possible Second Coming of Donald Trump in 2024 (or someone like him) will throw any semblance of global cooperation out of the window.

An argument with Auntie over Zero Covid.

This one will run and run. A second reply that dodges the question of why they just don’t deal with why the per capita death rate here is so awful compared with China and why they instead put the whole issue in the framework of an inevitable drift into living with (and dying from) the virus forever.

My complaint to the BBC on 26 October

A small outbreak of COVID in China was used by your presenter and guest as an opportunity to sneer at China’s Zero Covid policy and to simply assume (not argue) that “Covid is here to stay”. As the application of this policy has kept deaths in China below 5,000 – and, had they applied the same approach as that of the USA they’d have lost 2.7 million people and, had they been as lackadaisical, callous and incompetent as our government it would have been worse – you’d think that they’d be entitled to a bit more respect and – perhaps – we might have something to learn from them if we are not to be in this mess forever.

Their reply

Thank you for contacting us regarding The World Tonight, broadcast 25 October on BBC Radio 4.

Having reviewed the broadcast, Ritula Shah was speaking to Dr Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, after raised concerns over China’s ability to maintain its zero-tolerance approach to the virus, due to a recent surge in infections causing the postponement of the Beijing Marathon.

During the interview she asked Dr Huang about how China would be able to keep up with this approach coming up to the 2022 Beijing Olympics and whether there, “is there any kind of internal discussion going on about the possibility of accepting that covid is here to stay, and lifting restrictions in the way that Australia and New Zealand have began to do?”

In the case of some interviews it is often understood by audiences that the interviewer will play “devil’s advocate” in order to pursue a line of enquiry with an interviewee.

It is important to recognise that a fundamental part of Ritula’s role is to offer analysis, using her experience and knowledge, but this is not indicative of bias.

Please be assured that BBC journalists seek out information and strive to present it accurately, clearly and objectively, we would never intend to mislead our audience, but we appreciate that you feel that we got it wrong on this occasion.

We do value your feedback about this. All complaints are sent to senior management and we’ve included your points in our overnight report. These reports are among the most widely read sources of feedback in the company and ensures that your concerns have been seen by the right people quickly. This helps inform their decisions about current and future content.

My reply to them

Thank you for your reply, which I take to be written in a spirit of post modern irony. An argument as a Devil’s Advocate is usually introduced when there is a cosy unquestioned consensus that is sorely in need of a challenge. In the interview, the dominant narrative in the West that COVID is here to stay and we just have to live (and die) with it was taken as read by both interviewer and interviewee. In fact Dr Huang expressed some incredulity that China insists on hospitalising “even mild cases”. Because, as we know, no one with a mild case has never known to infect anyone else with a severe or lethal case. It is this somnambulist and perverse presumption that constitutes the bias. May I suggest that Ritula, or one of your other presenters, tries out the following question on the next Minister who appears trotting out this complacent fatalism. “You say we have to live with the virus. The Chinese have a different approach and have kept deaths down below 5,000. We are currently losing that many every five weeks. Why have we got it so wrong?” This could be done sincerely, or as a Devil’s Advocate, or just in the Laurentian spirit of kicking over the apple cart to see which way the apples roll.

Their reply to me.

We reviewed this again and are confident that Ritula asked the questions most likely in the mind of the listener, and relevent to the context of the Winter Olympics.

Given the rise in cases and China’s zero tolerance policy – which had led to the postponement of the Bejjng marathon – the point was made as to if this tough stance could be maintained when there will be an influx of athletes from all over the world for the 2022 Winter Olympics in a few month’s time.

The exact quote you reference wasn’t so much an assumption but a question, “Is there any kind of internal discussion going on about the possibility of accepting Covid is here to stay, and lifting restrictions in the way that Australia and New Zealand have begun to do?”

It was reasonable to explore China’s zero tolerance approach and whether there would be movement on it – such as we’ve seen in other countries with a zero tolerance approach – so that the Games go ahead.

My reply to them (20 December).

The question that Ritala asked contained the assumption that we should all be bothered about – that China’s “tough stance” on covid might be unsustainable and that the sensible thing should surely be to relax it. That was also transmitted in the tone of the question and discussion, which exuded a sense of wonder that the Chinese should be so stubborn as to prioritise public health over business as usual. That is very much the Western paradigm and is now coming back to bite us with Omicron – and who knows what will come next if we don’t emulate what China has done and go for active suppression.

While it may be legitimate to question any policy anywhere, I have heard no comparable grilling of Western politicians as to why our death rates are so bloody awful compared with China’s. The way you frame your questions and reports has a lot to do with how listeners are nudged to think.

Just to update you on the stats.

If China had had a per million death rate comparable to the USA, they’d have lost over 3.3 million people (instead of 4,800).

Had the UK had as successful a covid suppression strategy as China, and had a comparable per million death rate (3.47 per million) we’d have lost just 226 people in the whole pandemic (and be pretty much opened up by now).

Do the maths yourself if you like. 3.47 X 65. Startling isn’t it?

Why isn’t this being put to the insouciant, lackadaisical, amateurish buffoons who are in charge? THAT is the question I’d like answered.

Thank you.

Economic Nationalism and Nuclear Energy

The problem with drinking patriotic Kool Aid is that it can’t help but lead to hallucinations. And it doesn’t matter if the beverage concerned is traditional true blue vintage or a home brew knock off tribute version.

Surreal is not usually a word I would associate with the General, Municipal and Boilermakers Union, but their comment on the government decision to try to cut out Chinese involvement in UK Nuclear power plant construction – that this is a huge opportunity to regain the UK’s position as the world leader in new nuclear (1) – is bizarre for a number of reasons.

  • The UK has not been a world leader in new nuclear since about 1957.
  • In 2019 the countries installing the most new nuclear power plants were China and Russia. (2)
  • Since 1990, Japan and France have dominated global nuclear R&D, with 64% of expenditure between them. (3)

The UKs proposed £250 million investment in developing Small Modular Reactors as part of the government’s 10 point Plan is such a tiny fraction of this that it might be more accurately categorised as a token gesture.

Nevertheless, SMR plants, based on a souped up version of Rolls Royce’s nuclear motors for submarines – will – if they go ahead – produce electricity that is a third more expensive even than that produced by large reactors at the moment; in a context in which the costs of renewables are constantly falling. Why the industry projects that these expensive baby white elephants would create a viable export industry is a mystery – especially after somewhat larger funding to kick start a similar project in the USA was pulled in 2017 (4).

Promises of a nuclear new dawn larded down with bunting are hardy perennials. In 2015, George Osborne promised that that at least £250m would be spent by 2020 on an “ambitious” programme to “position the UK as a global leader in innovative nuclear technologies”.(5) Same old figure. Same old patriotic bluster. Welcome to the new announcement. Same as the old announcement.

Plans for 6 new large power stations have now been cut to 3. Cost overruns and delays are built in, as is a high price for the electricity eventually generated. The price for electricity generated by Hinckley C is £92.50 per megawatt hour; twice the wholesale price. This plant, being constructed by EDF, was supposed to be built by 2017, but is now not expected until 2026. It will cost £23bn, not the original £16bn in the contract. Sizewell C is projected to cost another £20 billion, with the costs falling on bill payers even before its up and running.

There are many reasons not to go down the nuclear route. Chinese involvement is not one of them.

Workers at Fukushima showing how safe nuclear power is.  IAEA Imagebank is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The argument to break the contract with China’s “state owned nuclear energy company”, as the GMB puts it, is on “security” grounds. This is only an issue if the government is projecting a future of increasing hostility. This is not something being generated by the Chinese. We are sending an aircraft carrier to their backyard. They are not sending one to ours. The whole labour movement should see this new Cold War atmosphere as a threat, not dress it up as an opportunity.

  1. Chinese nuclear block ‘staggering U-turn’ from Conservatives | GMB

2. Nuclear Power – Analysis – IEA

3. Energy Subsidies – World Nuclear Association (world-nuclear.org)

4. UK: Power from SMRs 30% more expensive than large reactors | Wise International

5. UK government to release funding for mini nuclear power stations | Energy industry | The Guardian

If you want to point a finger, make sure you have a leg to stand on.

A narrative in the media today that seeks to pre-emptively point the finger of blame at four of the G20 countries – Brazil, China, Russia and Australia – for a global failure to meet carbon reduction targets is coming from countries that have no leg to stand on.

While all countries need to sharply increase their commitments, and actions, they are not all starting from the same place.

People in China and Brazil might feel aggrieved to be lectured by the UK, which has a worse per capita emissions figure than them; and even the Australians might feel a bit piqued if criticised by the USA.

It should be noted that these are carbon emissions by domestic production. Countries like the UK which have offshored a significant slice of manufacturing have a significantly higher global impact. In 2016, only 54% of the UK’s carbon footprint was domestically sourced with the remaining 46% coming from emissions released overseas to satisfy UK consumption. Ministers tend to be very quiet about that. While China, which has a lot of manufacturing, has a lower footprint through consumption.

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. All countries have more to do – but some have more to do than others.

In his friendly review of Bill Gates’s How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown argues that the 2010 Copenhagen summit failed to lead to the breakthrough we needed because of both “the reluctance of the US to make legally binding commitments, and the deep suspicion of China, India and the emerging economies of any obligations that they believed might threaten their development”. (1) He then anecdotally glosses over the former and emphasises the latter by recounting the rather startling image of “Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd” having to be “physically restrained from punching the Chinese negotiator.” What an unreconstructed colonial incident that would have been. (2)

It might seem odd that the man who, as Chancellor in 2005, campaigned to “Make Poverty History” should put an equals sign between the refusal of the US – the worlds heaviest emitter per capita and the country with the biggest global legacy of carbon emissions – to see world leadership as anything other than getting away with the most it could, at the expense of those less powerful than itself – and the desire of the developing world not to stay poor; let alone foreground the latter. The way that he does this – possibly unconsciously – could stand as a warning that this attitude – that seeks a global division of labour in which the worse off and worst hit parts of the world do the heavy lifting, and restrain their development in the common interest, while the wealthiest countries try to make only those moves that maintain existing patterns of wealth, power and ways of life – is likely to find expression again and again in the run up to, at, and beyond the COP in November. There is already a significant effort going in to paint the more industrialised parts of the developing world in general – and China in particular – as the flies in the global ointment.

A recent report from US Researchers shows how much more work every country has to do if we are to hit the Paris target of keeping the global temperature rise within 1.5C – beyond which we are likely to be in danger of feedback loops that will make it incredibly difficult for us to control. (1) The additional effort needed for a selection of key countries looks like this.

Please note that this is what is required to have a 50:50 chance of staying within a 1.5C rise.

So, China has to do 41% more, just under half as much again as its already doing, while the UK has to almost double its efforts (97%) and the USA, India and Japan roughly quadruple theirs (203%, 190%, 229% respectively) and South Korea almost nine times as much. So, while John Kerry’s argument that China “isn’t doing enough” is true, nobody is, and the Washington has far more to do than Beijing; so a little humility might be in order. Closer to home, the frequent trope from UK Ministers that we “lead the world” on this are neither true – we are well behind the Chinese – nor relevant. It doesn’t matter if you are leading a pack of slower runners, if you are not going to get to the finish line before nature calls time on the race.

This blog is the first in a short series.

1. https://www.nature.com/articles/s43247-021-00097-8#Tab1 The worrying thing about this Report is that it puts a lot of emphasis that only an 80% increase in global effort would be needed to stay within 2C, as if it would not be extremely damaging and dangerous for us to end up there and it is just too much to expect that we could do what we need to if it was remotely inconvenient in the short term.

2. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/feb/17/how-to-avoid-a-climate-disaster-by-bill-gates-review-why-science-isnt-enough