UK leading the way

The announcement by the UK government (Conservative-LibDem coalition) that it would aim to reduce CO2 emissions by 50 per cent, relative to 1990 levels, by 2025 has had a significant impact on the Australian debate and is likely to have a greater impact as time goes on.

In part this reflects the fact that, understandably if not entirely justifiably, Australians pay a lot more attention to news and ideas from the UK and US than from, say, France or Germany. The British announcement cuts the ground from under many of the claims being made by the denial/delusion/delay lobby in Australia.

* The idea that “Australia risks getting out in front of the world” is obviously false. Even assuming we get a carbon tax, leading on to an emissions trading scheme later this decade, we will be a decade or so behind the UK and other EU countries, which introduced an ETS in 2005

* The view that it is impossible, in a modern economy to reduce emissions substantially without a radical reduction in economic activity is obviously not shared by the UK government which (unlike the critics) has actually done the analytical work required to show that large reductions can be achieved at very little economic cost, and is now implementing the required policy. I’ve demonstrated this point over and over on this blog, and the negative responses have amounted to little more than “La, la, I’m not listening”, but hopefully a practical demonstration will have more effect

* As part of the longstanding intellectual trade with the UK, we get a regular flow of delusionist speakers like Lord Monckton out here (fair’s fair, we did send them Clive and Germaine after all). Demolition jobs like this one, from a leading British Tory, might make their audiences a bit more sceptical

Like Australia, Britain has a Climate Change Committee, but unlike us, theirs is already in full swing. The recent reports concern targets for the Fourth Climate period, from 2023 to 2027. The Committee has already prepared carbon budgets for three earlier five-year period, with budgets set at least three periods in advance. The first three carbon budgets run from 2008-2012, 2013-2017 and 2018-2022. These apply to the “non-traded sector” which falls outside the EU-wide ETS

Astute readers will have noticed that the first of these periods is nearly over, and wonder how it went. The answer is that, in part because of the GFC, emissions are well below the target level. The response has not been to relax but to tighten targets even further

19 thoughts on “UK leading the way

  1. The Productivity Commission’s research to estimate the carbon price implicit in various other country’s climate change policies is due to be provided to the government tomorrow. From the noises made while they have been pursuing this task, it is not clear that they have even understood what they were asked to do. It will be interesting to see whether they have managed to contract out the task successfully. Or if they have hazarded doing it in-house, a risky option indeed, whether they have made a complete botch.

    Given that many in the hollowed institution are philosophically opposed to the idea of anthropogenic climate change, and even more philosophically opposed to any national or, shock horror, collectivist, world government, international action, even if they were forced to accept that it as true, the document ought to make interesting reading.

    Hopefully, before the government releases it, especially if it is patently not up to scratch, the government will get this piece of research thoroughly refereed by some international experts. By that I am thinking more Lord Stern than Lord (self) Monck(ing)ton.

  2. From what I can make of the graph the right hand side applies to the future which hasn’t happened yet. I presume it is intended to be consistent with GDP growth of say 2% most years. If the GFC arrived in 2008 then perhaps it should be tapering off by now. Non-GFC reasons for continued emissions decline could include increased imports of cement and steel from China and India. That is pure speculation on my part. Another reason could be increased electricity imports from France via undersea cable below the Channel, noting the trade is overwhelmingly one way. Rather than import as much coal from the colonies the UK also has a 1200 km undersea gas pipe to Norway. I believe some 40% of UK gas now comes from Siberia whereas once the UK was a gas exporter.

    Australia doesn’t have the electricity import option, though PNG hydro to Cape York has been mentioned. Then again we are not as dependent on the whims of other countries for energy supply. The graph that shows declining UK emissions may well turn out to be correct but it also carries considerable political risks.

  3. If California was a country, it would be “leading the way”. This is from Science Daily:

    “CALIFORNIA’S population is expected to surge from 37 million to 55 million and the demand for energy is expected to double by 2050. Given those daunting numbers, can California really reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, as required by an executive order? Scientists from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who co-wrote a new report on California’s energy future are optimistic that the target can be achieved, though not without bold policy and behavioral changes as well as some scientific innovation. The report, titled “California’s Energy Future -The View to 2050,” draws a series of energy system “portraits” showing how California can meet its ambitious emissions targets using a combination of measures and energy sources that may include electrification, enhanced efficiency, nuclear energy, renewable energy sources, grid modernization, and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).”

    DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (2011, May 24). California’s energy future: Aggressive efficiency and electrification needed to cut emissions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 30, 2011, from­ /releases/2011/05/110524153418.htm

  4. The political imagination implicit in the UK developments is well beyond that of most Australian politicians – Mr Abbott in particular. The intellectual quality and moral awareness of public debate about serious issues in this country is depressing.

  5. @Hermit
    Only too happy to dispel these gloomy speculations, Hermit. Although EU emissions rose a bit as the economy recovered in 2010, they remain well below pre-recession levels. In particular, Norway, which you mention as a possible offset to the UK performance is, like the UK, far below its target. In any case, since emissions are measured at the point of combustion, the question of where the UK gets its gas is irrelevant.

    It’s clear that the task is achievable, and doomsaying from the left is only helping the denialists.

  6. Fair is fair JQ. There was nothing wrong with Germaine Greer. Nothing at all. She served her role well to help free women from subservience to men, from earning much less than men, from begging for housekeeping money to live and feed children with from men, for fair competition for work and for promotions, from men.

    You didnt live it. I only lived half of it but my mother lived it that sort of discrimination all her life (ask me for details – you dont get dressed up in your finest dress and go and look for a job as a woman these days, at the age of twenty nine to be told you are too old and too married for the job).

    I cant sit here and accept you compare Germaine Greer to Lord Monkton.

    Not fair at all. Monkton is / was / never of the intellectual capacity of Germaine Greer no matter what eccentric sidelines she may have veered into later in life. Its an occupational and known hazard of the super bright. God hope it never happens to you.

    Fair is fair.

  7. Not really fair on Clive James either. A closer comparison might be spike Milligan if the poms took him seriously but even that would be unfair to spike

  8. Well said Alice.
    Prof, you know how you get given the dirty end of the stick on occasion by the media for saying sensible things that should be said which are then misquoted and you get demonised as a result?
    Like some of the examples in the sidebar?
    Well germaine has been copping that stuff for yonks.

  9. I’ve demonstrated this point over and over on this blog, and the negative responses have amounted to little more than “La, la, I’m not listening”, but hopefully a practical demonstration will have more effect

    Yes a practical demonstration is bound to be superior to a hand waving imaginary demonstration. And as long as we don’t have to pay for it then it ought to be entertaining. However politicians who promise to meet objectives in 2025 are really pretty safe from having to achieve anything tangible at all. They may as well be promising no child will live in poverty.

  10. Reread the post, Terje. The UK is already near the end of its first carbon budget and moving on to the second. The standard tools of libertarian delusionism are failing you – maybe you should try empiricism for a change.

  11. Paul of Albury – not sure what you’re getting at. The sainted Spike Milligan had an Irish passport and spent his early life in India. He didn’t live in Australia until after the Goons, by which time he was well and truly notorious. I can’t see any parallel to Clive James.

  12. I find it hard to measure overseas performance when any cut in emissions is based (to some extent) on nuclear.

    The UK CCC position is:

    Notwithstanding potential for recent events in Japan to impact on
    public acceptability (Box 1.5), on the basis of resource potential alone, nuclear
    generation could make a significant contribution to sector decarbonisation:

    – Although there is a finite supply of uranium available, this will not be a limiting
    factor for investment in nuclear capacity for the next 50 years.

    – IEA analysis suggests that there is scope for investment in a new generation
    of nuclear plant globally within known sources of uranium, and potential to
    extend resources further (e.g. through better fuel production technology,
    closed cycle or fast breeder reactors).

    [Chap: 1,

    Also it has to be said, relative cuts in emissions due to home and building insulation, are more achievable in cold climates where most housing built before 1970’s was little better than Victorian standard – single panes, drafty doors, cold ceilings.

    Before getting too excited with supposed UK progress, it is necessary to get a handle on how imports of carbon-sourced energy are accounted for. Counting emissions at source produces different counts to counting (now-embedded) emissions at a distant point of delivery.

    There is no point taking gratuitous swipes at the Left for doomsaying unless you can prove that doomsaying is false.

    If doom is in the range of possibilities – then lets be honest about it.

  13. The view that it is impossible, in a modern economy to reduce emissions substantially without a radical reduction in economic activity

    JQ – I don’t share the quoted view. My view is that renewables (excluding hydroelectricity and traditional geothermal) are not going to make a cost effective contribution. We already know from France that a rapid shift to nuclear can do the job and from Australia that locking up agricultural land can make a contribution (and it’s cheap when you don’t own the land and don’t pay compensation). I have not yet read the UK report but having spent some time there they would anecdotally seem to have a lot of low hanging fruit associated with the way they heat their homes. Greater use of gas powered generation is also a plausible route and given recent price drops and innovations in fracking technology a likely quite affordable one. My cynicism is confined mainly to windmills and solar and schemes like MRET. MRET is much worse than any carbon tax.

    You are right though. I should read the report (or at least the executive summary) and I’ll aim to do so.

  14. Not really fair on Clive James either.

    Clive James is a denialist, so the comparison is fair.

  15. Mea culpa, zoot. Building too much onto the Woy Woy references. Would have been good to claim him for one of us. And more embarrassingly it seems he also had some seriously good ideas. So there goes the comparison…

  16. Comparing Australia to the UK is disingenuous. Thatcher got rid of all of the UK’s coal mines and a lot of their coal-fired power stations. A lot of their expensive stuff has already been done. Australia has a coal industry; the UK does not.

  17. Iain, this point is important, but it’s equally applicable to Australia, if not more so.

    Nooo, those gains were all achieved by the mid-1990s. So, start the comparison from 2000, if you want. With much lower base level emissions than Australia, the UK is promising much bigger proportional reductions.

  18. @Tim Macknay

    Is it certain that Clive James is a denialist? I was unaware that he’d made any pronouncements on science (any sort of science) at all.

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