The Miliband commitment to climate change is mostly just rhetoric


8:16 pm - May 22nd 2010

by Rupert Read    


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The Miliband brothers both claim to be ‘green-leaning’ candidates, and this is part of what helps them to appear modern and progressive.

But the reality, given their actions when leading various government departments, is that their rhetoric masks a lot of inaction.

  1. That effort is being successfully conducted if emissions are going down. But most people don’t realise that our Co2 emissions are still going up.

    A key reason is that the Milibands, David and DEFRA and Ed at DECC, have repeatedly suggested that Britain’s CO2 emissions are going down.

  2. David Miliband has often claimed that the UK has achieved major cuts in greenhouse gases since 1990. He sometimes says Britain is on course to achieve 25% reductions in CO2 emissions by 2012. But the figures that Miliband and his successors at DEFRA/DECC (including most notably Ed) are using leave out embodied energy, the inclusion of which would make it very clear that this cannot be so.

    Even on the most generous figures available to govt (not only excluding embodied energy but also international transport), CO2 has more or less flatlined since 1997, rising in recent years, and thus showing an overall small rise. It is only slightly (a few percentage points) below 1990 (Kyoto baseline) levels. When those factors are included, then there has been little or no reduction even since 1990, and a significant increase since 1997.

  3. There has been and remains a further systematic under-estimation of Britain’s contribution to CO2 emissions from air travel, because only aircraft taking off from Britain are counted. That sounds reasonable, until one notices that almost 70% of the passengers taking off and landing in Britain are Britons. DEFRA/DECC ought to be attributing 70% – not 50% – of the emissions of planes taking off from and landing in Britain to the UK. Between 1990 and 2003, estimated CO2 emissions from aviation rose by 90%, a staggering increase.
  4. Furthermore, the government statistics do not take into account most of the effects of ‘radiative forcing’ – the increased global heating effect of emissions at high altitude, with the cocktail of gases and water vapour that planes emit.

To be fair to the Milibands, they both pushed for transport to be included in Copenhagen and in the EU ETS.

But this doesn’t excuse their not having acknowledged the realities bullet-pointed above, which were repeatedly pointed out to the Milibands during their time in office, by Monbiot, by myself, and by others.

If the Milibands wish to be seen as ‘green-leaning’ Labour-leadership candidates, then surely they ought to repair their rhetoric on emissions, and concede that the reality is that the Labour government did not reduce climate-dangerous emissions, but in fact saw them increase.

And that the party needs to do a lot more to deal with the problem of man-made climate change.

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About the author
This is a guest post. Rupert Read is a Green Party councillor and ran as a MEP candidate in Eastern region in 2009. He blogs at Rupert's Read and Comment is free
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Environment ,Labour party ,Westminster

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Reader comments


1. Matt Munro

Climate change is a lie

“But most people don’t realise that our Co2 emissions are still going up.”

The figures you link to only go go up to 2006 so say nothing about our emissions now. They do say that the 2006 emissions are less than the 1990 ones, which is what I expected.

On the whole, Britain and Europe are producing slightly less emissions than they were in 1990. Everywhere else in the world is producing more. If no-one else is prepared to do their bit, why should we, particularly given that we’re doing it for their benefit not ours? (i.e. if the temperature does rise, European agriculture won’t be particularly hurt, and it won’t be Europeans going hungry).

Good stuff. I suspected embodied energy wasn’t being included in figures.

Climate scientist are we Mr Munro?

5. Andy Burnham

Climate change, like anti-social behaviour, is caused by immigrants.

Just look at the figures. The more immigrants that have arrived the more global warming there has been.

Let’s get ’em!

What you say is no doubt all true, but don’t forget that they were constrained by collective responsibility for as long as they were in government. Christian Wolmar and Polly Toynbee have both claimed that the Milibands fought hard against Heathrow expansion inside the Cabinet, but were outvoted.

@1 MM

Righties are all closet paedos.

What you say is no doubt all true, but don’t forget that they were constrained by collective responsibility for as long as they were in government. Christian Wolmar and Polly Toynbee have both claimed that the Milibands fought hard against Heathrow expansion inside the Cabinet, but were outvoted.

They didn’t feel sufficiently moved to resign.

So, what you’re saying then is that reducing emissions is going to be harder and more expensive than we currently think, right?

Which means we’ve got to go back and look again at the cost benefit analysis of whether we should be reducing emissions, doesn’t it?

If it’s all more expensive than we thought then we might even find that we’d be better off not limiting emissions and putting up with the climate change.

10. Nick Cohen is a Tory

“They didn’t feel sufficiently moved to resign.”
I would think less of them if they did. I get tired of prima donna’s who resign because they cannot get their own way.

“If it’s all more expensive than we thought then we might even find that we’d be better off not limiting emissions and putting up with the climate change”

True and maybe the resources can put into ways in which we can adapt to the situation.
Superfreakonomics guys have some interesting ideas.

Matt Munro, did you look at http://www.skepticalscience.com/ like we suggested? It will answer most of the questions which you have on climate change.

It will also stop you looking like a tit.

I presume you mean “the Milliband commitment to mitigating climate change”.

13. Rupert Read

Cabalamat:
The use of 1990 as baseline date is of course one of the problems. It is the Kyoto baseline date, and thereby has some legitimacy; but it means that the ‘dash for gas’ of the early 90s accoutns for all of any reduction since then. It means by implication then that carbon emissions have been going up since Labour came to power – not what the Milibands tend to imply.
A policy introduced by a Tory government and that had everything to do with supply and nothing to do with ghg emissions can hardly be a basis for feeling secure about our carbon emissions trajectory…

Tim @ 9

Are you sure you would happily shell out that amount of money? Perhaps if you understood what the long term prognosis is, you would be less flippant about making stupid suggestions. How do you quantify bio-diversity or a huge drought for example? Do we work out how much money it would cost to ship clean water across Africa and then pay for it, or simply shrug our shoulders and pretend it is not caused by Global Warming?

What you appear to want is a token payments of a few quid into a fund so that the feckless can carry on regardless and the rest of suffer as usual. I think you would actually baulk if you had the actual costs to recifity GW’s effects. Look how much people complain about insurance claims for anything is calculated. Take the fact that people are living longer has on pensions, for example. Few people are willing to pay for that, what chance will we have of getting greedy car owners to pay out for the infrastructure to keep 300 million Africans in water, or 20 million Dutch from drowing either.

Your best bet would to get the same lobotomy that the fuckwit Matt Munro has and then you can live in dumb ignorance for the rest of your life.

“Are you sure you would happily shell out that amount of money?”

But this very concept, this cost benefit analysis, is what the Stern Review is.

What is the cost (and you can define it as cost in money, cost in human misery, makes no difference) of stopping climate change? What is the benefit of stopping climate change? We should only stop climate change is the cost is less than the benefit.

If, RR up above claims, the cost of stopping it has now risen then we need to look again at whether it’s worth it.

“Your best bet would to get the same lobotomy that the fuckwit Matt Munro has and then you can live in dumb ignorance for the rest of your life.”

Talking of dumb ignorance.

Why don’t we stop climate change today? We could do it, certainly. Just stop using fossil fuels at 5 pm.

So why don’t we do that? Because billions of people would die, that’s why. So, we’ve looked at the costs and benefits of stopping climate change today and decided that the costs would be higher than the benefits. See, we’ve done a cost benefit analysis!

“What you appear to want”

Enjoy your dumb ignorance of my desires….as you so clearly enjoy your dumb ignorance of what everyone’s actually talking about when they do talk about what we should do about climate change. You know, Stern, Kyoto, Copenhagen, TAR, AR3, the SRES….all are based on cost benefit calculations of varying hard headedness. If you don’t understand that you truly understand nothing about the subject at all.

16. Matt Munro

@ 11 With all due respect I don’t need you or any dodgy blog to “educate” me. I have an opinion on climate change driven by 2 main contentions

The biggest variable is not – how many wind farms are built, how many people ride bikes or recycle their beer cans – but how many people are on the planet

The the outcomes are so uncertain that (even if the predictions are right, a bif if) the consequences cannot be predicted with anything like the amount of certaintly the CC establishment pretend. Seas have risen and fallen before, it’s got wetter/drier/hotter/colder before, and we are still here

Sory that I don’t follow the approved alarmist left wing orthodoxy but that’s democracy for you.

Tim @ 15

We should only stop climate change is the cost is less than the benefit.

To calculate that, we need to look at the likely, long term effects of climate change. Given that ultimately we are risking making this planet uninhabitable in the long term, it is difficult to see how expensive rectifying the damage caused by GW can outweigh that.

In the shorter term, the costs of ‘living with’ climate change are going to get higher and harder to bear as the problems become starker.

If, RR up above claims, the cost of stopping it has now risen then we need to look again at whether it’s worth it.

The long term prognosis remains the same and is unlikely to change downwards.

Because billions of people would die, that’s why. So, we’ve looked at the costs and benefits of stopping climate change today and decided that the costs would be higher than the benefits. See, we’ve done a cost benefit analysis!

I find that level of sheer naivety hard to believe; therefore I can only assume a more sinister motive. There has never been a ‘cost benefit analysis’ done for the planet. The only ‘cost benefit analysis’ that has taken place has been done on behalf of the greedy, selfish bastards who have a vested in the status quo.

No-one will be surprised to find the BP/shell et al’s cost/benefit has given the green light to global warming. They have calculated the benefits to themselves and the cost to others and have deduced that they benefit whilst the World’s poor suffer the costs. They have then spent millions on deniers and shills to hide the true costs to the environment!

18. Matt Munro

@17 “No-one will be surprised to find the BP/shell et al’s cost/benefit has given the green light to global warming. They have calculated the benefits to themselves and the cost to others and have deduced that they benefit whilst the World’s poor suffer the costs.”

So all the developing world farmers exporting fair trade produce for middle class liberals to buy would be better off without any export trade at all ? The rural poor of southern europe better off without tourism ? The millions of working class people in China better off without being able to export anything ?

This is what winds me up about CC zealots, the pretence that we can somehow “save the planet” if we just all get on our bikes and eat only lettuce, rather than the reality of your alramist obsession which is a return to a medievil (some might say stoneage) lifestyle. You’re so obsessed with beating up capitalism you’ve lost sight of the fact that capitalism has delivered progress.

I’ll give you a scenario, we all stop using fossil fuels right now, tonight – Tell me exactly what you think would happen, how many people do you think would be dead within a month ? Are you certain that its more than will die if CC happens with the worst projected outcome ? That’s the CBA, not costing the externalities of carbon fule (all of which show that taxes levied now already more than pay for externalities)

Matt @ 18

Can you think of a single reason why we should simply abandon the laws of physics and embrace the sad delusions of a pissed soaked, anti science Tory? Can you think of the last time a scientific Conesus was disproved by a halfwit?

“To calculate that, we need to look at the likely, long term effects of climate change. ”

Agreed.

“Given that ultimately we are risking making this planet uninhabitable in the long term, it is difficult to see how expensive rectifying the damage caused by GW can outweigh that.”

Because it depends upon the risk. If there is a 1% risk of killing all on the planet though climate change or a 0.000001% risk of killing all from it, then our decisions about what we do change. Might I ask a question? Have you actually read the Stern Review?

Have you looked at his discussion of risk factors? You know, that one where he points out that somewhere between a 1% and a 0.0000001% risk there is the risk that we all get wiped out by an asteroid? And that therefore, if we face a risk of being so wiped out we shouldn’t worry about risks less than that?

No? You haven’t?

My, you impress me with your ignorance.

“In the shorter term, the costs of ‘living with’ climate change are going to get higher and harder to bear as the problems become starker.”

Sure…this is already included in Stern’s numbers. You mean you don’t know that?

“The long term prognosis remains the same and is unlikely to change downwards.”

Ah, so you’ve not read the SRES then? Again you impress me with your ignorance.

“There has never been a ‘cost benefit analysis’ done for the planet. ”

Ignorance again. This is what the Stern Review was and is. Go read it.

“The only ‘cost benefit analysis’ that has taken place has been done on behalf of the greedy, selfish bastards who have a vested in the status quo.”

See above. Twat. The entire argument, the whole of the discussion about what we should do, what we should not do, is based upon the very basics of a cost benefit analysis. Are you really so ignorant that you don’t know this?

“No-one will be surprised to find the BP/shell et al’s cost/benefit has given the green light to global warming. They have calculated the benefits to themselves and the cost to others and have deduced that they benefit whilst the World’s poor suffer the costs. They have then spent millions on deniers and shills to hide the true costs to the environment!”

Idiot, ignorant, twattery.

Read this:

http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/sternreview_index.htm

If you haven’t already, you’re ignorant on the subject. If you have and you still spout as you do you’re simply ignorant. If you’re not prepared to read it all then you’re both ignorant and not worth conversing with on the subject. As well as lazy.

Climate change will impose costs upon us all. Not having climate change, changing behaviour to not have it, will impose costs upon us all. This is the report that talks about how much we should change our behaviour, how much we should impose costs now in order to not have costs later.

Come back when you’ve read it.

The Stern Report puts the cost of taking action at 1% of global wealth and the cost of inaction at at least 5% and possibly as much as 20%.
That’s pretty conclusive – even if it is actually possible to accurately express all of the possible consequences of climate change in purely economic terms, which I very much doubt.

Tim @ 20

You know, that one where he points out that somewhere between a 1% and a 0.0000001% risk there is the risk that we all get wiped out by an asteroid?

You miss the point though. The risk from an asteroid strike is an entirely external one. We can attempt to make provision for such an encounter based on any number of factors, including the given technology we have to divert/destroy such an asteroid, but ultimately that asteroid is on a pre-determined path, our actions are not influencing that path. We may be able to divert it eventually, so the cost analysis is pretty black and white. We either build a defence or we do not. And it works when it is needed or it does not.

On the other hand, climate change is a completely different matter. The man made portion of climate change is down entirely our actions and that risk is being borne by everyone, irrespective of whether or not they agree to that risk. Even if there is a point zero repeating chance of wiping out the planet, most of the people taking that risk are not involved in the decision, are they? Let’s face it, if 10% of the World’s population decide that the risk is acceptable and continue to live they way they want, the other 90% are forced to live with the consequences.

The analogy that immediately springs to mind is drink-driving. If I drink drive and kill myself, then fair enough, but what if I am in a crash and I walk away and leave you in a pine box instead? It may (for the sake of argument) be a one in twenty chance that I will be in a fatal car crash after 10 pints, but should I be allowed to make the decision for every other driver on the road. You might feel that the chances of a runaway greenhouse effect killing off the entire human race is too small to worry about, and that is fine as long you and your ilk find a suitable planet to live on, you can put that to test, but I cannot think of a valid reason why I should be forced to risk my future generations for your feckless behaviour.

This is what it always comes down to with whatever shade of Tory you are. You people bang on and on about personal responsibility, but when it comes to your responsibility, you spend your time trying to weasel your out of it.

“The Stern Report puts the cost of taking action at 1% of global wealth and the cost of inaction at at least 5% and possibly as much as 20%.”

No, the Stern Review does not say any such thing. For a start his numbers are about GDP, that is, global income, not global wealth.

Secondly,. he only uses the A2 family of scenarios, does not even attempt to look at A1 or B1 and 2. So he takes the worst case as his baseline.

Thirdly, he says that lost GDP in 2100 will be 1% by avoiding CC, as opposed to the possible 5-20% loss from CC itself.

The cost of avoiding CC is not 1% of GDP once though, we need to tax ourselves around 1% of GDP each and every year for the rest of the century to avoid that 5-20% GDP loss.

It really isn’t as simple as you’ve made it out to be.

“but I cannot think of a valid reason why I should be forced to risk my future generations for your feckless behaviour. ”

You rather miss the point. The “feckless behaviour” you complain about is economic production. That very thing that allows us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and house the homeless. The balance that is being struck is not between my driving an 8 cylinder car and Bangladesh drowning. It’s between people dying of stavation and or poverty now or people dying of starvation and or poverty then.

“You people bang on and on about personal responsibility, but when it comes to your responsibility, you spend your time trying to weasel your out of it.”

I’ll take your “personal responsibility” and raise you one. Have you yourself, out of your own pocket and voluntarily, paid for research into non carbon energy generating technologies?

I have.

Do you in your daily grind work to make such non carbon technologies viable? By reducing their costs and thus making it more likely that we’ll all switch over to them?

I do.

Sure, I’m not working to save the planet, I’m just a scabby little capitalist trying to make a few bucks here and there. But my field is a particular form of fuel cell and specifically the rare metal required to make them work efficiently. I’m actually scouring the financial markets right now to find the money to build the factory which will provide this metal so that one of the technologies which will avert climate change can actually be built in volume. A factory which, you’ll be ever so glad to hear, will be extracting it from waste, from rubbish, in an ever so wonderfully Green manner.

Come back to me when you’ve stepped up to the plate in quite such an effective manner would you?

And of course, what I do for a living makes no damn difference to what the economics of climate change are at all.

Tim, yet I sghould have said “GDP” not wealth, and my comment was neccessarily a simplification, but the message of the Stern Report is overwhelmingly that the economic costs of action on climate change are dwarfed by the costs of inaction. And the point that not all of the potential costs can easily be expressed in economic terms still stands. We could see for example the displacement of tens or hundreds of millions of people, the loss of huge amounts of arable land, the extinction of large numbers of species (not just due to climate change, as reports at the weekend noted) – these are huge practical issues which can’t neccessary be resolved by throwing money at them.

“but the message of the Stern Report is overwhelmingly that the economic costs of action on climate change are dwarfed by the costs of inaction.”

You’re still not getting it.

The question isn’t “do we do nothing or do we do something?”

If only it were: the answer would of course be “we do something”.

The actual question we’re trying to get an answer to is “how *much* do we do?”

That’s what Stern is trying to answer. Now, I have my arguments about how he’s reached his conclusions….as do any number of real economists. His treatment of discount rates is notably dodgy for example. His numbers don’t actually balance. But he’s asking at least the correct question.

It isn’t true to say that the economic costs of stopping climate change are dwarfed by the costs of not stopping climate change. Look at what is actually being recommended….we should work towards not having more than 2 oC of climate change. Absolutely everyone is saying that the costs of stopping that first 2 oC would massively, grossly, dwarf any benefit available from stopping that first 2 oC.

“And the point that not all of the potential costs can easily be expressed in economic terms still stands. We could see for example the displacement of tens or hundreds of millions of people, the loss of huge amounts of arable land, the extinction of large numbers of species (not just due to climate change, as reports at the weekend noted) – these are huge practical issues which can’t neccessary be resolved by throwing money at them.”

You’re conflating two very different ideas there. Just because we cannot solve something by throwing money at it does not mean that we cannot measure the costs of it happening in economic terms. They are two entirely separate concepts. To take a horrible example, we cannot spend money to repopulate the oceans with fish once they are extinct: but we can work out what having no fish would cost us.

But back to the major point about the economics of climate change. What everyone is trying to work out is how much cost should we bear now in order to avoid how much cost in the future? We all absolutely agree that we’re not going to stop emissions at 4 pm today. So, how quickly are we going to reduce/stop them? What are the costs of doing it faster? What are the benefits of doing it faster?

Just as one example of the actual debate that is going on: OK, so solar PV (or if you prefer, fuel cells, or tidal, or wave power) is getting better and more affordable each and every year. Solar PV for example is coming down in cost at 4% a quarter (yes, really!). OK, so what should we be doing about this?

Insisting that people should install solar now? Subsidising them to do so? Well, we could, but that’s expensive. Because solar is currently very much more expensive than standard grid power (even including carbon costs). But we can see that it will be cheaper in a few years’ time. We can even predict (with varying levels of confidence to be sure) that at some point in the next decade or so that solar will be cheaper than grid at the point of consumption.

So, should we simply wait a decade and then switch to solar? This would obviously be cheaper, as we won’t have installed lots of expensive solar: we’ll only be installing stuff that is in fact cheaper.

To work this out we need to look at what the costs of waiting a decade will be. Are those costs larger or smaller than what we’ll save by only installing an efficient method of generation?

Similarly, we might think that not having coal fired generators for the next generation of plants would be a good idea. But that’s a different decision from do we close down the plants we already have? For we’ve a huge sunk cost in the plants we already have….should we, in effect, be replacing carbon generators as they reach the end of their economic life, which has one set of costs, or should we be destroying already built infrastructure to replace it which has a much higher set of costs?

Again, we need to work out what the benefits are of accelerating the switchover by a decade or two before we can decide whether the extra costs of more immediate action are worth it or not.

We’re just not involved in a “Do or Don’t Do?” question. We’re in a “Do What and Do It When?” question.

Which necessarily involves calculating the costs of what we’re doing and when we’re doing it against the benefits of each alternative course of action.

26. Matt Munro

@ 19 “Can you think of a single reason why we should simply abandon the laws of physics and embrace the sad delusions of a pissed soaked, anti science Tory? Can you think of the last time a scientific Conesus was disproved by a halfwit?”

Personal insults are simply a sign that you are losing the argument (although if it makes you feel better this halfwit has has a 2:1 BSc and on the way to a masters)

I’m not sure who the mysterious “we” is (the Royal we perhaps, or the stalinist version) but *you* are not citing the laws of physics, like all climate change zealots you are applying hysterical emotive arguments to cherry picked data and then using it to justify a political agenda. I’m not sure what that is exactly, but its not science, and it’s certainly not physics.

Now fuck off, on your bike, to the job centre, loser.

27. Greg Colbourn

@16 Matt Munro: “The biggest variable is… how many people are on the planet”

No, it’s how many Westerners there are. 1 American = approx. 50 Bangladeshis in terms of impact.

“Seas have risen and fallen before, it’s got wetter/drier/hotter/colder before, and we are still here”

Yes, but complex civilisation has was not around during past changes of similar magnitude (i.e. transition from the last ice age to the holocene). And indeed many civilisations in the last couple of thousand years have been wiped out in part due to environmental crises (read Jared Diamond’s Collapse for examples). The human race, and indeed the planet will survive; read “save (our current version of) western civilisation” for “save the planet/world”.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    The Miliband commitment to climate change is mostly just rhetoric http://bit.ly/bU6Y5k

  2. David Miliband

    RT @libconThe Miliband commitment to climate change is mostly just rhetoric http://bit.ly/bU6Y5k < Partial mis-reporting. Ed hates greens.

  3. David Miliband

    RT @libcon The Miliband commitment to climate change is mostly just rhetoric http://bit.ly/bU6Y5k < Partial mis-reporting. Ed hates greens.

  4. Marina Kim

    RT @libcon The Miliband commitment to climate change is mostly just rhetoric http://bit.ly/btnFam

  5. Naadir Jeewa

    Reading: The Miliband commitment to climate change is mostly just rhetoric: The Miliband brothers both claim to be… http://bit.ly/dyLbCc

  6. Liberal Conspiracy

    The Miliband commitment to climate change is mostly just rhetoric http://bit.ly/bU6Y5k

  7. David Miliband

    @libcon The Miliband commitment to climate change is mostly just rhetoric http://bit.ly/bU6Y5k < Partial mis-reporting. Ed hates greens.

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  9. Rachel Hardy

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