Although it appeared a little after the traditional pantomime season, the latest articlei in the Guardian to fuel my ire, did make me think of pantomime, for reasons which, dear reader, will become apparent if you read on.

I’m talking about this: “West accused of ‘climate hypocrisy’ as emissions dwarf those of poor countries – Average Briton produces more carbon in two days than Congolese person does in entire year, study finds”. It appeared on the Guardian’s website on 28th January 2022, and in turn was prompted by “A New Year’s Resolution on the US’s Climate Hypocrisy”, which appeared on the websiteii of the Center for Global Development on 7th January 2022. Or you can read the UK version, with virtually the same title (A New Year’s Resolution on the UK’s Climate Hypocrisyiii).

These two paragraphs from the Guardian article sum up what it’s all about:

The study, which highlights the “vast energy inequality” between rich and poor countries countries [sic], found that each Briton produces 200 times the climate emissions of the average Congolese person, with people in the US producing 585 times as much. By the end of January, the carbon emitted by someone living in the UK will surpass the annual emissions of citizens of 30 low- and middle-income countries, it found.

Euan Ritchie, a policy analyst at CGD Europe, said his work was prompted by the “climate hypocrisy” of western countries, including the UK and the US, that have pledged to stop aid funding to fossil fuel projects in developing states.

And no doubt it is fair – very fair indeed – to point out that the per capita GHG emissions of US and UK citizens are massively higher than those of poor developing countries, mostly in Africa and Asia. However, why single out the USA and UK? Why not mention EU countries, for instance? As the EDGAR websiteiv makes clear, UK per capita emissions have declined more rapidly than those of the EU, and from a higher level in 1990. They were, by 2019 (the last date available on the database) lower than those of the EU.

But most tellingly, why not talk about China’s emissions? On a per capita basis, over the same time scale, far from reducing, they have quadrupled. Not just quadrupled, but overtaken quite substantially those of the EU, and now exceeding the per capita emissions of UK citizens by almost 50%. Iceland, curiously for a country with great geothermal resources, has per capita CO2 emissions at twice those of the UK, and they have increased by close to 25% since 1990. In fact, there are plenty of unlikely candidates in the list of high per capita emitters. The following countries (as of 2019) all have per capita emissions at least twice as high as those of the UK:

Australia; Barbados; Bahrain; Brunei; Canada; China; Curacao; Estonia; Gibraltar; Iceland; Kazakhstan; Luxembourg; Mongolia; New Caledonia; Oman; Palau; Qatar; Russia; Saudia Arabia; Seychelles; South Korea; Taiwan; Trinidad & Tobago; Turkmenistan; United Arab Emirates; and USA.

There is a very long list indeed (too long to mention here in detail) of countries with per capita emissions below the above level but ahead of the UK’s. By the way, who would have thought it? The winners, by a country mile, in the above list, are New Caledonia and Palau.

And let’s talk about cumulative emissionsv while we’re at it. Again, we find China in second place (with 12.7%), behind only the USA (admittedly way out in front, with 25%). Russia is on 6% and Japan is on 4%. Even South Africa is on 1.3%. According to Carbon Briefvi the UK lies in just 8th place, behind the USA, China, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, Germany and India, with Japan and Canada not far behind.

So why pick on the UK? In 8th place in terms of cumulative emissions, and well down the pecking order in both total national emissions and per capita emissions. China and Russia (as examples) are well ahead of the UK on any measure, and India is ahead in terms of cumulative and annual emissions. Why does the article (and that on which it is based) ignore them?

Especially given this statement:

Solving the climate crisis in the medium term is the responsibility of high emitting countries, not only because they caused the problem but logically, it’s where high emissions are concentrated,” said Mutiso, who is Kenyan.

That would be China, then (and increasingly India).

I loved this quote from the Guardian article, by the way, a good point on which to end:

It’s well known renewable energy is intermittent and needs to be backed up by other sources. Telling African countries they just need solar is completely hypocritical and colonial.”

But it’s OK, apparently, to insist that the UK has to rely on intermittent renewable energy despite the fact that solar power at this latitude is a joke in winter, at the time when energy is most needed. The irony appears to pass the Guardian by completely.

Conclusion

The thing about pantomimes is that the audience can see the villains all too clearly while those prancing about on the stage either can’t (or perhaps more accurately) pretend not to see them. There are times when the debate about climate change looks increasingly like a pantomime.

Endnotes

i https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2022/jan/28/west-accused-of-climate-hypocrisy-as-emissions-dwarf-those-of-poor-countries

ii https://www.cgdev.org/blog/new-years-resolution-us-climate-hypocrisy

iii https://www.cgdev.org/blog/new-years-resolution-uk-climate-hypocrisy

iv https://edgar.jrc.ec.europa.eu/report_2020#emissions_table

v https://ourworldindata.org/contributed-most-global-co2

vi https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-which-countries-are-historically-responsible-for-climate-change

5 Comments

  1. “West accused of ‘climate hypocrisy’ as emissions dwarf those of poor countries – Average Briton produces more carbon in two days than Congolese person does in entire year, study finds”.

    Yes, but no Britons want to go to live in the Congo, while quite a few Congolese would like to come and live here, no doubt. The author lives in a country with better healthcare than the Congo. It has better education, better transport, more facilities, better (kof) government. In short, one of the mentioned countries is a basket case, the other is still (just about) civilised. That’s not just my colonial attitude talking.

    Wiki:

    The Democratic Republic of the Congo is extremely rich in natural resources but has suffered from political instability, a lack of infrastructure, corruption, and centuries of both commercial and colonial extraction and exploitation with little widespread development.

    The other Congo is not much better, in case the author was referring to that country – corruption, election fraud, slavery, inequality, a Mugabe-lite president…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jit,

    Yes it is high time we all lived like the Congolese and dropped the hypocricy that inevitably accompanies high standards of living and energy security.

    Meanwhile, the pious but self-enervated West now finds itself in the cross-hairs of the hypocritical Russians and Chinese. No doubt they will make their move once we have achieved the necessary levels of self-satisfaction.

    Like

  3. I try hard, both out of politeness and as a matter of policy, to avoid being rude about people. However, viewing the behaviour of those who are determined to run the UK down, force us to rely on unreliable, unpredictable and expensive forms of energy and in the process make us reliable on bad actors around the world for our reliable energy supplies to fill the gap, all the while making no complaint about those whose “climate sins” are so much worse than ours, I can’t help being critical of them.

    Why do they do it? Are greenhouse gases a problem only if emitted by affluent westerners? Are Russian, Chinese and Indian emissions on a larger scale somehow less dangerous in their eyes?

    I have never been an advocate of the theory that climate warriors have anti-western sentiment as their primary motivation, but sometimes I find myself wondering.

    Like

  4. Mark:

    “I have never been an advocate of the theory that climate warriors have anti-western sentiment as their primary motivation, but sometimes I find myself wondering.”

    I’m not sure about anti-western sentiment, but the movement had its origins in the NIMBYISM of various people wanting to keep the hoi-polloi of the boomer generation out of ‘their’ allegedly pristine wildernesses.

    Like

  5. The reason tiny island states like Barbados and New Caledonia (which isn’t yet a state, being part of France) are such heavy emitters is surely because they’re not big enough to justify building expensive gas power stations, coal investment is no longer underwritten by the World Bank, and so they rely largely on diesel. People will put up with high energy prices on a tropical island where heating costs are negligible, but of course it makes lots of basic electricity-based services like hospitals and supermarket freezers rather expensive, and industrial development impossible.

    The poor Guardian is caught in its ever more tangled web of motivations, trying to appeal to a US audience while still obsessed with post-colonial self-flagellation, AND avoiding mentioning that EV batteries rely on cobalt extracted by Congolese children. They’re preparing their readership for coming blackouts, when they will be able to scold us with: “think of the poor Africans, who haven’t got any electricity at all.”

    Liked by 1 person

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