The Rich Can Relax …

… We Just Need The Poor World To Cut Emissions. By 125%

Linked with George Monbiot – England.

Published on Countercurrents (first on, by Georges Monbiot, July 14, 2009.

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? …

… 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 Kyoto protocol: those that have promised to limit their greenhouse gases by 2012. (If it meant the OECD nations, the results are very similar.) To keep this simple and consistent, I’ll consider just the carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels, as listed by US Energy Information Administration. It doesn’t publish figures for Monaco and Lichtenstein, but we can forgive that. The 38 remaining Annex 1 countries produce 15bn tonnes of CO2, or 51% of global emissions. Were they to do as the UK proposes, cutting this total by 80% and offsetting half of it, they would have to buy reductions equal to 20% of the world’s total carbon production. This means that other countries would need to cut 42% of their emissions just to absorb our carbon offsets.

But the G8 has also adopted another of the UK’s targets: a global cut of 50% by 2050. Fifty per cent of world production is 14.6bn tonnes. If the Annex 1 countries reduce their emissions by 80% (including offsets), they will trim global output by 12bn tonnes. The other countries must therefore find further cuts of 2.6bn tonnes. Added to the offsets they’ve sold, this means that their total obligation is 8.6bn tonnes, or 60% of their current emissions.

So here’s the outcome. The rich nations, if they follow the UK’s presumed lead, will cut their carbon pollution by 40%. The poorer nations will cut their carbon pollution by 60%.

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 UK cannot make deep reductions, no one can. We could, as I showed in my book Heat, reduce emissions by 90% without seriously damaging our quality of life. But this carries a political price. Business must be asked to write off sunk costs, people must be asked to make minor changes in the way they live. This country appears to be doing what it has done throughout colonial and postcolonial history: dumping its political problems overseas, rather than confronting them at home.

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 UK government promised to keep matching the target to the science. It has already raised its cut from 60% to 80% by 2050. If it sticks to its promise it will have to raise it again … (full long text).

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