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.

“When Melancholy Autumn comes to Wembley…”

We get a lot of spiders.

These were everywhere throughout September and October. Its hazardous to be a flying insect.

The wild flower meadows in the Park stay in bloom long into November. Its a lovely splash of colour but a bit unnerving to be out this late. This photo was from August, hence the stronger light, but there’s a comparable number of flowers still out.

They start drilling for oil at Sainsburys. Actually they are pile driving for the blocks of flats they are building on the old car park. Presumably they will make a fortune selling or renting the flats, and have an almost captive customer base that just has to pop downstairs to get to the shop. One commercial version of a 15 minute neighbourhood.

Diwali at VBs cash and carry – where you can buy spices by the hundredweight and jute sacks of Jagari – and the fireworks are mostly sold out; the check out workers are all wearing Saris, lipstick and dripping with jewellery. The elderly people queueing outside Pooja and Gayatri sweetmarts are contrastingly dull in anonymous anoraks in different shades of mud.

The local library puts on a display for COP26. This is a rather pretty selection from the children’s section. What we really need is something large, serious and adult and maybe some talks. Perhaps next year – as these discussions will get more and more urgent and the need for popular awareness and commitment more and more apparent. In a “red alert for humanity” it seems to me that we should be hearing the sound of klaxons permanently as we walk down the street to wake us all up.

When melancholy Autumn comes to Wembley
And electric trains are lighted after tea
The poplars near the stadium are trembly
With their tap and tap and whispering to me,
Like the sound of little breakers

Spreading out along the surf-line
When the estuary’s filling
With the sea.

From Harrow on the Hill by John Betjeman.

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