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.
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.