Perhaps it’s because the previous 26 COPs have all failed to reduce anthropogenic global greenhouse gas emissions. Perhaps it’s because COPs have always been more about politics than science. Whatever the reason, the focus at COP27 seems to have been much less about endeavours to reduce CAGW, and much more about a new agenda. Yes, there’s a new kid in town at the seaside holiday resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh – “loss and damage”.

In essence, the wrangling this time round has been about the subject of the alleged loss and damage suffered by developing countries (nobody seems much bothered if developed countries have suffered loss and damage), allegedly caused by “climate change” (the now well-established shorthand for human-made climate change), allegedly the fault of (perhaps only of) developed countries, and consequent demands that developed countries should therefore be obliged to hand over lots of dosh to developing countries by way of reparations for their alleged climate crimes.

There are, however, a number of problems with these demands (apart from the obvious one that developed countries are pretty all massively in debt with economies that are failing, and don’t want to hand over the dosh).

The First Problem

In a world where the new orthodoxy (certainly in schools, universities, mainstream media (“MSM”), politics, United Nations) blames just about every extreme weather event, and every weather-related disaster, on “climate change” (i.e. non-natural climate change that’s our fault) the first problem might surprise some people. However, it’s one of causation. Despite the prevailing orthodoxy, it’s also true that the IPCC, and some of the more sober media reports, acknowledge that while (as they claim) extreme weather events are made more likely by climate change, it’s very difficult to attribute any individual weather event to “climate change” as opposed to natural variability.

This renders highly problematic any idea that individual extreme weather events in the developing world, on their own, could found a claim for “damages” against the developed world. The basis of attribution, therefore, has to be on the much more vague and generalised one that if “climate change” makes extreme weather more likely, and if “climate change” is the fault of the developed world, then it’s only right and proper (or a matter of “climate justice”) that the developed world should cough up. Leaving aside the tendentious nature of such reasoning, and accepting for the sake of argument that it’s reasonable to attribute extreme weather events, generally speaking, to the developed world, that isn’t the end of the matter.

The Second Problem

There is another tendency, on the part of the MSM especially, to attribute pretty much all weather-related disasters to “climate change”, without any analysis of the underlying factors that might have turned an extreme weather event into a disaster. By way of example, John Ridgway’s articles, here and here, deal with the fact that rainfall alone cannot explain the serious scale of the recent flooding in Pakistan. In essence, while the rainfall might have been necessary for their to be a serious flooding event, it wasn’t of itself sufficient to explain the scale of the disaster that ensued. In the case of the Pakistan flooding (which, while serious, most certainly didn’t extend to 30% or one-third of the country as claimed initially by the BBC and even by NOAA) it seems reasonable to contemplate that the scale of the problem was so more serious than in earlier years (when rainfall levels were possibly equally high) because since those earlier incidents of extremely heavy rainfall, the population of the country has mushroomed, and massive deforestation has occurred. Neither of these potentially causative factors have anything to do with “climate change” or the developed world. Why, therefore (apart from a desire to do the decent thing and help one’s fellow world citizens when they are in trouble) should the developed world pay for a problem which it is strongly arguable is of Pakistan’s own making (despite the oft-repeated mantra that Pakistan is suffering because of “climate change” which it is claimed is not of its making)?

Examples from around the world abound. The Guardian ran a series for a while seeking to blame problems in developing countries on “climate change”, despite the fact that in each case there is significant evidence that many, if not all, of the alleged problems can be attributed instead to human activities within the developing countries themselves, rather than to “climate change”. I endeavoured to debunk some of these claims here, here and here.

The third problem

For the sake of argument, let us accept both that those nations responsible for climate change-inducing greenhouse gas emissions should pay up on a generalised basis and that other factors contributing to weather-related disasters should be ignored and all the blame for them should be attributed solely to “climate change”. However, even if we do that, there are stil, problems ahead. Not least the big question of who pays. And the related question of which countries should pay which proportions of the reparations fund.

In today’s Guardian, Fiona Harvey has written an article under the heading “EU reversal of stance on loss and damage turns the tables on China at Cop27 – China is responsible for more cumulative emissions than any country other than the US, which goes to the nub of the third issue. This is that in recent years, while the developed world has strained to reduce the level of its greenhouse gas emissions, the developing world has been…developing, with the result that its greenhouse gas emissions have soared. And the result of that is that not only do several countries, designated as “developing” ones by earlier COPs, now have very high annual greenhouse gas emissions, but they have also moved in to the table of the top ten cumulative emitters. And if all this is about climate justice, then surely it’s only right that those with the largest cumulative emissions be held accountable.

As Fiona Harvey writes:

Today, China is the world’s second biggest economy, and responsible for more cumulative emissions than any country other than the US. Nations classed in 1992 as developing – including Saudi Arabia, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia and India – now figure in the top 10 of cumulative historical emissions, eclipsing many developed countries, and their economies are also growing fast.

It is difficult to find data regarding cumulative emissions that is bang up to date. However, Carbon Brief produced an analysis a little over a year ago, and according to it, the top rankings are (in order) as follows: USA, China, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, Germany, India, UK, Japan, Canada, Ukraine, France, Australia, Argentina, Mexico, South Africa, Poland, Thailand, Italy and Iran.

Perhaps then, those should be the countries which contribute (n declining proportion) to any reparations fund. Except even then it isn’t straightforward. For instance, as I pointed out in How Do You Measure Hot Air?, there are numerous problems associated with attributing greenhouse gas emissions to individual countries. It could be argued that developed nations have simply exported their emissions to countries such as China, which now carries out much of the developed world’s manufacturing for it. Should those emissions be counted against China, or against the countries to which China exports the goods it manufactures? Again, as things stand, countries which develop their fossil fuel resources for export do not have the emissions associated with the burning of those exported fossil fuels attributed to them. Instead, they are attributed to the country that burns them. Is that fair and proper?

As I wrote then:

Online statistics I have seen suggest that Australia is far and away the world’s biggest coal exporter (responsible for around 37.5% of all coal exports), followed by Indonesia (18.2%) and Russia (13.5%) then the USA (8.3%). Four countries are therefore responsible for two thirds of the world’s coal exports, but none of that registers in their accounting for greenhouse gas emissions. As an aside, Mozambique is still a minnow, with coal exports representing 0.9% of the global total, but they’re in tenth place, and between 2015 and 2019 their coal exports increased by a staggering 36,789%.

The same issues relate to accounting for oil. The Investopedia website tells me that as of 2018 (admittedly pre-Covid) oil is the leading exported product in the world accounting for 5.9% of all global exports. Not surprisingly Saudi Arabia leads the list (responsible for 16.1% of oil exports) followed by Russia (11.4%), then Iraq, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iran, USA, Nigeria and Kazakhstan. As with gas, the accounting for this massive wealth-producer is not debited to their accounts by the global greenhouse gas accounting regime.

Furthermore, under the Paris Agreement, countries self-certify their emissions. There have been disagreements with China about this, and examples of emissions being noted as arising from countries, but not accounted for by them. What do we do about that?

The Fourth Problem

The third problem starts to look like the knottiest problem of all, but even then, assuming that some sort of attribution mechanism can be agreed regarding cumulative emissions, and responsibility for them, still the problems aren’t at an end. That’s because the situation regarding ongoing emissions is changing, with countries in the developed world continuing to reduce their annual emissions (albeit more slowly than before, now that the low-hanging fruit has all been picked) and countries in the developing world are continuing to increase their annual emissions, as their populations grow and as they industrialise (or “develop”). This has an impact on cumulative emissions. With regard to cumulative emissions, for instance, the UK has been slipping down the rankings for some years now, and no doubt will continue to do so. Currently in 8th place, it probably won’t be long before the UK slips out of the top 10, to be replaced by a developing country.

Presumably then we need a mechanism to adjust payments to the reparations fund, so that those with a growing cumulative share of emissions contribute more over time, and those with a reducing cumulative share begin to pay less.

The Fifth Problem

Perhaps this problem is a minor one, perhaps not. I leave you to judge. It’s based around a little-discussed issue with regard to greenhouse gas emissions, and that is the rate at which different greenhouse gases remain in the air.

Almost eleven years ago an article appeared in the Guardian, written by Carbon Brief, in association with the Guardian and partners, under the heading “How long do greenhouse gases stay in the air?”, so it deals with this issue nicely, and I will rely on it heavily here. In essence, it concentrated on the four main greenhouse gases (apart from water vapour), namely carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and the halocarbons (or CFCs). These four gases differ with regard to their impact on the climate, and they also differ with regard to how long they remain in the atmosphere.

Thus, for instance, we are told that CO2, “the most significant man-made greenhouse gas”, has a life that is difficult to determine, but it’s thought that 65-80% dissolves into the ocean over a period of 20-200 years. That’s one heck of a wide timescale, and leaves loads of room for argument, but given that the UK, being first on the scene regarding the industrial revolution, probably started pumping CO2 into the atmosphere more than a quarter of a millenium ago, some (perhaps a lot) of the cumulative CO2 emissions attributed to the UK will not now be having any climate impact at all and so should be disregarded.

Methane, by contrast, is a much more potent greenhouse gas, but hangs around, so we are told, only for around 12 years. That being the case, when considering cumulative emissions, it seems to follow that any methane emitted before 2010 should be disregarded. That has to be good for the historic emitters, namely the developed countries, and bad for the developing countries, whose large-scale emissions started in most cases relatively recently. I have no way of proving it, but my money is on the vast majority of methane that is still in the atmosphere and capable of affecting the climate therefore having been emitted by developing countries.

Nitrous oxide should probably be counted only since the beginning of the 20th century, since we are told it ceases to remain in the atmosphere beyond 114 years.

With regard to CFCs, the situation is highly complicated, there being so very many of them, and the life of each varying greatly. According to the IPCC they vary between a matter of weeks all the way up to 1,700 years. In a Court of law, seeking to attribute liability for loss arising from man-made climate change, the rival experts could tussle over those numbers for ages.

Conclusion

The attribution of liability for loss and damage arising from “climate change” is far from the straightforward matter of natural justice that many campaigners naively believe. On the contrary, it’s fiendishly complicated. No wonder they’re making heavy weather of it at COP27.

13 Comments

  1. Regarding the fourth problem, I find this on the BBC:

    Now the US and EU want to expand the number of countries that contribute – and China is top of their list.

    “By the end of this decade, China could overtake the US in terms of its historical cumulative emissions, and is the world’s second largest economy, and yet in UN terms it still counts as a developing country,” said Bernice Lee, from Chatham House.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-63666086

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  2. Mark, I was pleasantly surprised by the level of scepticism in the comments below the article. One might even wonder whether it also surprised the BBC. Maybe now that the pips are beginning to squeak and the UK seems set for 30 years of decline – thanks in no small part to the fantasy project of Net Zero – innate scepticism is slowly awakening? Hopelessly optimistic on my part perhaps….

    Meanwhile there does not seem to be any coverage of the last minute talks or whatever is going on in Sharm-El-Shakedown on the BBC’s main news page. I do not feel inclined to try to find out. Tears before bedtime?

    The next shindig should be cancelled, or at the very least held by video conferencing. That way we’ll know that people are serious. No $100 beef extinction medallions.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mark. I have nothing to comment upon regarding the substance of your “brief” (because that is how it seems your article is written) other than to say that you have done us the job of compiling this information in one place, combined with the benefit of offering your considered thoughts upon various matters. But what I want to say is that this piece represents yet another example of a synthesis or analysis written by an expert using their accumulated work skills. Cliscep is full of such gems and you Mark are a worthy member.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Alan, thank you for your kind words.

    My purpose in writing the article was simply to demonstrate that any claims about climate justice (a tendentious notion, if ever there was one) inevitably ought to involve discussion of the issues around justice, and that – to any lawyer – ought to involve a discussion about causation. No causation, no claim.

    The world is awash with activist environmental/climate lawyers. Many of them go to Court on a regular basis, bringing claims against Governments, fossil fuel companies, and others:

    Climate Litigation

    Given their expertise, and given the fact that “loss and damage”/climate justice was flagged well in advance of COP27 as an item high up its agenda, I might have expected some at least of those thousands of concerned lawyers (in conjunction with climate scientists with expert knowledge about the life cycle of greenhouse gases, as well as knowledge of their relative climate effects) to prepare what might be called an amicus brief to present to COP27 better to inform the discussions of who should pay, and on what basis.

    The fact that nobody seems to have bothered doing that suggests strongly to me that these claims are nothing to do with climate justice, or ensuring that “the polluter pays”. Rather, climate justice is being used as a convenient hook on which to hang claims by poor countries to the effect that rich countries should pay them money. Now that might well be a reasonable aspiration, but using climate justice as the lever strikes me as profoundly dishonest. That seems all too obvious from this section (at 15.35 today) of the BBC’s rolling coverage of the “final” extended day of COP27:

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/science-environment-63656412

    India is now faced with what it had demanded for at the very beginning of COP27: money for loss and damage.

    Even before COP27, Indian officials had been arguing that the country was a victim of climate losses and damages and needed reparations.

    They say severe impacts of climate change are seen everywhere – from the Himalayas to coastal areas to deserts.

    And now they face the condition from developed countries for a loss and damage fund that new major economies like India and China should contribute too, although details are yet to be decided.

    There has been no public comment from Indian officials but sources in the Indian delegation said this would change the fundamental of the UN climate convention that differentiates developing countries from developed countries and forms the basis of “common but differentiated responsibilities” principle while dealing with climate change.

    Developed countries have argued the definition dates back to 1992 and some of the developing countries have now become major economies.

    If it’s about reparations for climate damage caused by large cumulative emitters, those among them (especially those who are responsible for large emissions recently, which presumably are making the greatest contribution to climate change) shouldn’t, assuming “climate justice” be able to say it’s not for them to pay because an agreement in 1992 defined them as a developing country.

    No, this is about screwing money out of the developed world. And nothing more. And it’s got nothing to do with climate justice, whatever other justice might be achieved by such financial transfers.

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  5. “Why we should resist academic calls for climate reparations
    Simply blaming the West is easy but wrong”

    https://thecritic.co.uk/why-we-should-resist-academic-calls-for-climate-reparations/

    Proposing reparations for “loss and damage” is wrong and will open the floodgates for innumerable future claims. It is wrong to make people pay for decisions they did not take, especially in current economic conditions. It is wrong to neglect the vast global benefits of industrialisation, and to selectively assign fault to the West. And it is wrong to ignore the innovative achievements of Western countries like the UK in transitioning to cleaner energy, and the lower resulting emissions when compared to the likes of India and China. Indeed, as much is acknowledged by a paper cited in the editorial: “The UK was responsible for only 1 per cent of global emissions in 2017. Reductions here will have a relatively small impact on emissions at the global level — or at least fall far short of the scale of change we need”.

    Academics should recognise the groupthink encouraged by mass-publishing one-sided articles on the kind of complex and multifaceted issues that would traditionally have benefitted from critical reasoning and free debate. In signing off, the authors say of the West: “If so far they have failed to be persuaded by moral arguments, then hopefully their self-interest will now prevail”. It is deeply resentful comments such as these, with an inability to see any other than their own “moral arguments”, that strengthens the perception of academia as a narrow-minded self-serving monoculture, rather than the bastion of free speech it once was.

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  6. Mark I’m not sure your criticism of academia is, or recently was, appropriate. When I taught my climate heresy at UEA this was actively encouraged by other senior staff and some, even in CRU were supportive. Junior staff, however, tended to be more dogmatic and supportive of more unbalanced views. I suppose that, over time, this more radical view will prevail more.

    I was appalled, after Climategate, that many sceptics, especially in America, called for not only the closure of CRU but commonly of the whole university. This appalled me, uninformed people calling for the wholesale destruction of an entire university on the basis that a tiny minority of researchers MAY have misbehaved sufficiently to call for this extreme action. At the time I was unaware of any other U.K. university that gave a teaching module with a component as critical of climate change dogma as mine. Demands for closure of the entire university therefore seemed to me to be particularly strange and inappropriate.

    Universities ought to be places of debate, especially of topics that seem to sceptics to be being railroaded by majorities. I do fear Mark that if you are correct and that sceptical views are now being swept away something extremely valuable in British academia is being lost. On the other hand, many academics of my acquaintance are extremely onerous and will resist until their forced retirement any changes of that type.

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  7. Alan, I would love to be wrong about what universities seem to have become. I am conscious that I read loads of critical stuff on the internet, and I try hard to put that to one side.

    However, I do still have contact of a sort with academia via the fairly regular communications I receive from Oxford University, Oxford Law Faculty, and my old Oxford college. They strike me as relentlessly obsessed with the climate crisis message, a contrary voice never appears (unlike even the Guardian on occasion), and I scarcely recognise the institution I attended 38-40 years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Mark you may be correct regarding British universities. My experiences are ten years adrift but somehow I doubt academia has substantially changed. Universities tended to attract personalities that originally were, or developed into mavericks. Thus, either university culture has changed dramatically in less than a few decades (after centuries of nurturing the sceptical and independently minded) or things are much the same as they were when I left: climate change sceptics a rare and perhaps increasingly silent breed, but nevertheless still present.

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  9. Alan,

    Sceptics surely persist in academia (Jonathan Jones at Oxford keeps the light shining at my alma mater). However, climate alarmism seems to suffuse everything that lands in my email inbox these days, not only from academia but also from my professional body. The rot runs deep.

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  10. Beth, this is one of the questions most difficult to answer these days. It is a puzzle that sceptics have found nary an answer.

    Like

  11. “Gordon Brown says China must pay into climate fund for poor countries
    Former prime minister says US and Europe will pay biggest share of loss and damage fund, but China must too”

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/nov/26/gordon-brown-says-china-must-pay-into-climate-fund-for-poor-countries

    A modicum of dawning reality here, but not enough.

    China must pay into a new fund for poor countries stricken by climate-driven disaster on the basis of its high greenhouse gas emissions and large economy, the former UK prime minister Gordon Brown has said.

    “America and Europe will have to provide most, but China will have to contribute more too,” he told the Guardian….

    …Brown wrote in Saturday’s Guardian that poor countries must be entitled to payments from the rich based on the latter’s historic greenhouse gas emissions, rather than relying on a “begging bowl”.

    Why is it just about rich countries paying poor ones based on historic greenhouse gas emissions? If it’s about “climate justice”, shouldn’t cumulative “polluters” pay regardless of their wealth?

    Many of those countries now have high greenhouse gas emissions and GDP, but under the still unchanged 1992 definitions, China and similar countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Russia are regarded as recipients of rather than donors to any fund.

    Very true. Unfortunately for those who would see such a fund paying out, the reality seems to be this:

    At Cop27, China made it clear to the Guardian that it already helped vulnerable countries on a voluntary basis, and saw no need for change. “We strongly support the concerns from developing countries, especially the most vulnerable countries, for addressing loss and damage because China is also a developing country and we also suffered a lot from extreme weather events,” Xie Zhenhua, China’s top climate official, told the Guardian, speaking through a translator. “It is not the obligation of China to provide financial support under the UNFCCC.”

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