Leading article

The climate summit in Paris will feature a lot of hot air

Rising carbon emissions are not a sign of western excess, but the result of the huge reduction in world poverty

7 November 2015

9:00 AM

7 November 2015

9:00 AM

The delegates who will gather for the star-studded Paris climate summit include celebrities, presidents and perhaps even the Pope. Among other things, they will be asked to consider the formation of an ‘International Tribunal of Climate Justice’, which developed countries would be hauled before for breaching agreed limits on greenhouse gas emissions. That the proposed body will seek to be ‘non-punitive, non-adversarial and non-judicial’ does not reassure. A tribunal, if it is worthy of the name, ought to be all those things.

Does the threat of climate change really justify such a system? It is disturbing to think how many world leaders and policymakers might casually answer ‘yes’. Barack Obama, for example, recently claimed that ‘no challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a change in climate’ — seeming momentarily to forget that civilisation has spent the past 65 years never more than a few button-presses away from nuclear annihilation. And in many countries — Britain among them — climate change will actually save lives because fewer pensioners will perish in winter. True, there are risks, as well as benefits, from rising global temperatures. But it takes an extreme reading of data to reach the conclusion that Armageddon is more likely to manifest itself meteorologically than through warfare.

Never has the ability of climate science to project future trends in global temperatures looked so shaky. And yet never have the policymakers who work on international treaties been so determined to use those projections to try to drive measures which could seriously harm the global economy. It is now a quarter of a century since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its first assessment report; sufficient time to test the predictions it made then against what has been observed since.

In 1990, the IPCC predicted a rise in global temperatures over the ensuing century of 0.3˚C per decade. It put its ‘uncertainty range’ at 0.2 to 0.5˚C of warming per decade. Since then, the rise in global temperatures has been about half of the lower end of this range. This ought to have led to a crisis of confidence in the atmospheric models used in climate science. Instead, the data they spew out is treated with ever-greater reverence.

The draft UN agreement attempts to specify measures that will keep global temperatures no higher than 2˚C above ‘pre-industrial levels’. There are two things wrong with this. Firstly, global temperatures never did settle at a pre-industrial level: various estimates of global temperatures over the past millennium show temperatures during the 14th century at least 0.5˚C higher than during the 18th century. Secondly, it is foolish to imagine that something as chaotic as the world’s climate can be controlled like the thermostat on a central heating system — the failure of past predictions ought to remind the UN’s draftsmen of that. Their document would deserve more respect if it said that we can’t be sure what the climatic effects of carbon emissions will be but we think they ought to be curtailed as a precaution. That would be honest and a reasonable reflection of the uncertainties involved.

There is a parallel danger here: that in attempting to tackle climate change, the world is subjected to lower economic growth than would otherwise be the case. In contrast to the vague threats of climate change, we know with certainty that poverty kills people, and the sooner we can lift people out of it the better. The rich world’s CO2 emissions have barely changed since the turn of the century. Global levels are rising because countries such as India, China and Brazil are not so poor as before. Far more of their citizens can heat their houses, eat meat and travel more often. This point is often lost in the environmentalist worldview: the rising carbon emissions are not a sign of western excess, but a side effect of the fastest reduction in world poverty that the world has ever known.

Formulating policy on climate change ought to be treated as a trade-off: balancing the climate threat against the risk of economic harm from acting too severely on fossil fuel use. Wealthy countries can cope with severe weather events; poorer ones struggle. Yet there is no sense of this trade-off in the UN document: it treats carbon dioxide emissions as a threat to be eliminated at all costs.

We have witnessed climate summits before. World leaders will stitch up an agreement to cut CO2 emissions, dress it up in jargon — and will then go away, weigh up their economic interests against the pledges they made and allow themselves some breathing room, despite whatever they said in Paris. Until now, only Britain has been foolish enough to bind itself legally with unilateral CO2 reduction targets without knowing whether the technology will be available to meet them without damaging the economy. The result is high energy prices, which are driving our industry abroad — and with it, carbon dioxide emissions.

Most countries will act to reduce CO2 emissions, but not at a rate which puts their prosperity at risk. That is the logical way to approach the problem of climate change. But it is very different from the hyperbole that will dominate discussions in Paris. We must brace ourselves for a gale of hot air.

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  • KingEric

    A good, sound article. My biggest beef with climate change is that the advocates treat all their utterances as gospel and anything that runs counter to that must be silenced. Even a bit of common sense and weighing up both sides of the coin would go a long way. Unfortunately, with the Paris summit so close, the pro climate change religion will get even more messianistic than before.

  • Rik

    With energy prices for industry in the UK being a major factor in exporting jobs to China this warmist bigotry is starting to be very expensive,i await with interest just how they are going to spin the latest NASA studies that show Antarctic ice is INCREASING,but never mind i’m sure they will find a way,religious fanatics never let facts get in the way of their fantasies.

    • Alexsandr

      of course steel made in china creates the same amount of greenhouse gas as in the UK. and then more to get the product here. Exporting our manufacturing is just madness.

      • Gilbert White

        Yes but dark skinned people and the Chinese live in the most amazing polluted places. The average white skinned person in London at it’s worst is living in the most bracing of atmospheres. The pollution of water in Asia not just by hidden pollutants but by solids cannot be visualised by most clean living white people. The population increase makes this situation more intractable than climate change. Good job we do not have a world government whereby we all live like this?

        • Pioneer

          It won’t be long.

        • Alexsandr

          I remember when we pumped raw sewage into rivers and the sea. When the med was one huge cess pit. When we killed workers with asbestos. Only 40 years ago.

  • DavidL

    My favourite climate scientist tells me (a) that the IPCC models deliberately excluded any analysis of the relative impacts of man-made and naturally-occurring climate change; and (b) that the models in any case are, as this article says, desperately in need of an overhaul. But it won’t happen: too many vested interests.

  • TC

    “In 1990, the IPCC predicted a rise in global temperatures over the ensuing century of 0.3˚C per decade. It put its ‘uncertainty range’ at 0.2 to 0.5˚C of warming per decade. Since then, the rise in global temperatures has been about half of the lower end of this range.”

    Errrm. no. A quick check of the NOAA “Climate at a Glance” website, which allows you to plot the trend over any period you wish, shows the trend since 1990 to be 0.15 degrees per decade. And note that the IPCC is projecting long term here, not 25 years. So this statement is plain wrong.

    • starfish

      Be careful quoting NOAA on anything

      They have a refreshingly unscientific approach to temperature records

      • TC

        Perhaps you could point us towards what you might consider a more robust set? BEST perhaps? And perhaps explain your comment which at present just seems like hand waving.

    • Goinlike Billio

      Sorry I am very thick but isn’t 0.15 half of 0.3 as stated ?

    • Goinlike Billio

      But it is still half the prediction

      • TC

        0.15 degrees is not less than half of 0.2 degrees as stated on the article. The article is wrong. And as I said, the IPCC projection is for a century, not 25 years.

        • Goinlike Billio

          You are taking the lowest prediction of the error range and it is still outside it anyway.Dear me we do have to keep an eye on you lot.

          • TC

            Matt Ridley took the lower end of the range (0.2) and said warming was less than half this, which would be less than 0.1. Warming has been 0.15. This isn’t even science, it’s maths and if the author can’t do simple division then it calls into question the rest of the article.

          • Goinlike Billio

            In 1990 the IPCC best guess was for 0.3 per decade. You are taking the later predictions and the amended data. So it was half the best guess.Matt Ridley made an error but it was obviously not intentional as it would have been immediately picked up. So really you are just attempting to confuse the issue.

          • TC

            One : nil to the “warmists” aka rational people who understand maths and science!

  • Jacobi

    Having endured a cold wet spring, summer, and early autumn and now being promised a cold winter and given that the average temperatures across the world, as opposed to the various heat-sinks we are creating in major conurbations such as London, I would like an increase of about three degrees Centigrade in my little northern part of the UK but sadly I think I shall be disappointed.
    Oh well, excuse me, must go and turn up the heating a little bit more!

  • Gilbert White

    The latest brainwave of the world government luvies is to use third world excrement to power third world shanty towns.

    • Dogsnob

      Come on, that sounds like a load of schitt to me.

    • smoke me a kipper

      What about first world excrement? We could export it, starting with your posts.

  • smoke me a kipper

    And in many countries — Britain among them — climate change will actually save lives because fewer pensioners will perish in winter.

    That’s assuming climate change will result in warmer winters in Britain. What evidence does the Soectator have to support this assertion?

    • ill-liberal

      Basing on the fact that “97%’ of everyone worth listening to ever know for a fact that the world is getting dangerously warm, even when hard evidence suggests otherwise.

      • Alexsandr

        global warming does not necessarily mean warmer weather in the UK. you confuse global warming and weather.

        • ill-liberal

          I forgot about that bit. Yes, global warming actually makes it colder in places that don’t fit the narrative.

          • starfish

            Climate change means that the weather can be more or less extreme, temperatures can be warmer or colder, precipitation can be more or less, etc


      • Observer1951

        Cannot believe you are quoting the 97% statistic! You do know that stat and the report it comes from are completely discredited. The methodology has been trounced on line.

        • ill-liberal

          You may have missed my point.

          • Observer1951

            I think you may be right, I missed the quotation mark. Apologies

  • smoke me a kipper

    But it takes an extreme reading of data to reach the conclusion that Armageddon is more likely to manifest itself meteorologically than through warfare.

    It is possible that environmental changes brought about by climate change could cause wars over resources that may lead to Armageddon. Perhaps that was what Obama had in mind. However it seems the Spectator can only think in one dimension, how sad.

    • Malcolm Stevas

      Rather sad that you can have such a high opinion of your own speculation, in comparison with the Spectator’s measured consideration of some key evidence.

  • nouveaulite

    The climate hyperbole as delivered by Al Gore and now amplified by Barack Obama will not change the fact that it was the Germans who invented (Prof. Juergen Schneider) and first brought to market (Hella AG Lippstadt) LED lighting technology which allow us to save more than 90 percent on electrical capacity powering our required lighting output. The invention of the white LED in 1995 was a game changer with many more technology-driven game changers to come.

    Anyway, carry on worrying about those temperature rises and sea level rises in newly built-up coastal areas in Florida. It’s the default diversion of all those with no real stake in the real game.


      UK aluminium smelter has long vanished, now UK steel production capacity is disappearing.
      Who in the UK needs to buy electricity generated by third parties and what for?

      Soon we will be capable of running the entire country by sticking a couple of diodes into a few half-rotten lemons and harvesting ‘the juice’. We’re much closer to such a scenario in principle (not literally) than say Thorium.

      PS. I worry a lot about shrinking sea ice. And heat traps in oceans. And polar bears mating with grizzlys. And James Delingpole’s sanity. My granddaughter tells me it’s like so cool to worry about stuff like that.

      • Goinlike Billio

        Our steel capacity is disappearing because our energy costs are too high . The greenies have sunk them.

  • Malcolm Stevas

    Good piece, brief but covers the key points of organised lunacy, such as:
    “..it takes an extreme reading of data to reach the conclusion that Armageddon is more likely to manifest itself meteorologically than through warfare”
    No problem for the Warmistas: AGW has for them the status of religion, and religious zealots have always been more than happy to indulge extreme beliefs, selective interpretation, and extreme action.
    “..the data [the IPCC] spew out is treated with ever-greater reverence”
    See above: the more doubt is cast upon arcane, irrational beliefs, such as the IPCC’s computer-modelled doom, the more strongly adherents cling to those beliefs and revile unbelievers.
    “..only Britain has been foolish enough to bind itself legally with unilateral CO2 reduction targets …. Most countries will act to reduce CO2 emissions, but not at a rate which puts their prosperity at risk”
    Local lunacy, of immediate concern to us. The lunatics have taken over the asylum. We might as well be governed by flat-earthers.

  • rtj1211

    This meeting would be called racketeering if it were the Italian mafia. Selling fraud under false pretences, spending millions on the ‘expense’ of a conference and organising booze and hookers for all the mafia low life who attend.

  • sir_graphus

    Maybe this time, though, we won’t have a thick twut of an Environment Secretary to sign us up to ruinous binding targets when no-one else does. MiliE; not missed for a moment.

  • CheshireRed

    Measured tones are all well and good but sometimes one has to be a little more forthright. Almost nothing these crack climate experts predicted has come about, while the complete opposite HAS occurred in the form of the utterly humiliating 18 years and counting pause in the face of record CO2 emissions. That embarrassed them so much they’ve shamelessly adjusted data to suit their agenda. The claim of ‘dangerous’ man made warming is a wrong call at best and outright fraud at worst.

    • TC

      Let’s say someone said to you that living next to an active volcano is dangerous because they know it is very likely to explode soon. Say you live there anyway and 18 years later it hasn’t exploded. Are you going to say that they were wrong?

  • sidor

    “Climate activism” is probably the greatest-scale swindle in the history of mankind. The fact that a bunch of charlatans were able to spread this unscientific rubbish over the world and effectively suppress any rational discussion is really scary.

    • Johnnydub

      Its a key weapon in the evolution of one world government. Climate Change can’t be tackled by democratic nation states, so those nation states “need” to be wiped away.

      • sidor

        The ultimate aim of any mafia of swindlers is not politics: just money. This affair of “carbon trade” and related “green” activity involve huge volumes of money which are taken from the taxpayer’s pockets.

  • frank davidson

    I am very pleased as an OAP that this warming business is going to help keep me alive. I see that only 18,000 old folk died last winter so more warming is good as the government are unlikely to help. A native of Tyneside I recal at university in 1973 that we were to expect an ice age indeed we were told the same thing about six months ago so I hope for the warming especially as I understand that gas is to be abolished in favour of expensive electricity. Oh yes, nearly forgot my friend lives in Hexham (close to Newcastle) and from his bedroom window the remains of the Roman vineyards are clear for all to see. No grapes in Geordieland these days tho’.

  • Sheumais

    “Rising carbon emissions are not a sign of western excess”

    Nor, evidently, do they signal a rise in global temperature, but at least if we do have the long-promised “worst winter since ’63, our efforts to push up the price of gas and electricity will reduce the pension burden. Funny how its always climate change instead of global warming these days, you’d almost think the original argument was lost…

  • pat pat

    What are you afraid of? A cheaper (in the long run) decentralised, more secure, energy supply that provides more British jobs and uses free and infinitely abundant resources (wind and sun)? If your concerned that economic growth will be hindered by a move to a low carbon economy just ask Germany or Denmark how they are doing.