Ruth Lea: Global Warming – The UK’s Expensive And Futile Gesture Politics

  • Date: 02/07/19
  • Ruth Lea, The Conservative Woman

The UK’s zeal in clamping down on domestic CO2 emissions merely risks the raising of electricity prices, damaging UK industry’s international competitiveness and transferring economic activity from the UK to overseas exporters.

Much has already been written on the Government’s recentcommitment to a ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions target by 2050 following the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation as our ‘contribution to stopping global warming’.

Doubtless, much more will be written. The Chancellor has warned of the costs, suggesting such a policy could cost £1trillion.

Others have argued this is an underestimate. But, putting aside the economics, the most obvious question is whether adopting this policy will actually have much impact on man-made global GHG emissions. And this is irrespective of the view you take about the link between GHG emissions and climate change. Indeed, it risks just being a very expensive gesture, as the major emitters appear to have little intention of following our heroic example. It has not gone unobserved that, whilst we have committed to the 2008 Climate Change Act which insisted emissions should be 80 per cent lower in 2050 than in 1990, few countries have followed our ‘lead’. It is most improbable that they will follow our ‘lead’ now. Assuming this is the case, the Government’s ‘net zero’ policy will have a minuscule impact on global GHG emissions. Our ‘net zero’ politicians are pursuing a quasi-unilateral, low-carbon, high-cost, fantasy.

The UK responsible for 1.1% of CO2 emissions in 2016

It is no secret that the UK is now a minor GHG emitter but, in the absence of a rational debate on our ‘contribution’ to GHG emissions, this point needs to be repeated over and over again. The direct impact of UK’s decarbonising ‘green’ credentials on world emissions must be kept in perspective. We have all but shrunk into irrelevance as a GHG-emitting nation.

The most readily available data relevant to this debate are from the International Energy Agency (IEA), which provides timely figures on carbon dioxide emissions from fuel combustion. CO2 emissions are the most important of the greenhouse gas emissions. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, CO2 accounts for around three quarters of total GHG emissions, whilst methane accounts for around 15 per cent and other gases, including nitrous oxide, for the remaining 10 per cent. 

Chart 1a shows that the UK, the 16th greatest emitter in 2016, accounted for just 1.1 per cent of CO2 emissions, having fallen from 2.7 per cent in 1990. Our emissions were dwarfed by China, which contributed over a quarter, the USA (still 15 per cent, despite a drop in share) and India.

Chart 1b looks at the actual volumes of CO2 emitted (in million tonnes, MtCO2). The UK accounted for 371million tonnes in 2016, down from 550million in 1990. Even if Britain’s economy were to be completely decarbonised by 2050 the saving in global emissions, other things being equal, would therefore be less than 400million tonnes. World emissions rose from 20,510million tonnes in 1990 to 32,316million tonnes in 2016, an annual average increase of 454million tonnes, greater than our 2016 total. Much of the global increase in emissions came from China, where they rose by 6,957million tonnes over 26 years, or an annual average increase of 268million tonnes, over 70 per cent of our 2016 total. Given the likelihood that global emissions will continue to rise, our contribution to the diminution of global emissions will be more than offset by activities elsewhere, almost certainly many times over.

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