Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Dr Rupert Read (CRED 5)

  I am delighted that you are coming to my University to "take public evidence", on 31 January.

  I am a Senior Lecturer teaching environmental philosophy at UEA. As such I have naturally a number of concerns, interests and expertises that I would love to discuss with you... but few that could fit into five minutes... The one that I would like to focus on, detailed below, is something which COULD however be very briefly presented.

  This item is essentially my concern that the British Government is lulling the populace into a false sense of security over dangerous climate change, by misleadingly claiming that the fact that it is perhaps going to meet the Kyoto target in narrow technical terms implies that it is actually reducing GHG emissions—which is not the case.

  Let us take the central example of the recent written [eg in his Independent article of a few weeks back] and verbal pronouncements of David Miliband.

  I was very concerned to hear David Miliband painting a rosy picture of Britain's record on carbon emissions on the Today programme, towards the end of his 8.10 interview on Wednesday 20 December. His claims are in my view plain false. At the very least, they are highly tendentious and deeply misleading (I explain why, below). They went by without demur from Mr James Naughtie, the interviewer; this is seemingly the normal pattern, on these occasions. I hope that the 31 January event might help the media to understand better what is actually happening to our atmosphere, at present, courtesy of the UK etc.

  David Miliband claimed that the UK had achieved major cuts in greenhouse gases since 1990 (incredibly, he quoted alleged figures of Britain being on course to achieve 16-17% reductions in CO2 emissions by 2010, and even more incredibly, 24-5% greenhouse gas emissions reductions by 2012! You can verify that this is what he said, by checking the "Listen Again" facility on Radio 4's website). In these claims, Miliband was not challenged by James Naughtie, over the leaving out from the figures of embodied energy, the quite proper inclusion of which would make a complete nonsense of any such notions (Britain is "exporting" its carbon emissions to China etc). In fact, as I say, he was not challenged in any way.

  Even on the most generous figures available to the Government (in particular excluding international aviation—which was the very topic of the interview—see below) CO2 has more or less flat-lined since Labour came to power, rising in recent years, and thus showing an overall small rise and is only slightly (a few percentage points) below 1990 (Kyoto baseline) levels. The greenhouse gas "basket", which Mr Miliband is probably referring to is down more significantly on 1990 but, again, excludes aviation and shipping. Some newspapers and researchers suggest when those are included there has been little or no reduction even since 1990.

  In fact, the New Statesman suggested just this week [ [1] http://www.newstatesman.com/200612180008] that there has been and remains a systematic massive under-estimate 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 70% of the passengers taking off and landing in Britain are Britons. Ie The DFT and Defra ought to be attributing 70% of the emissions of planes taking off from and landing in Britain to the UK. This makes a huge difference. Between 1990 and 2003, estimated CO2 emissions from aviation rose by 90%, a staggering increase, but even then the government stats do not take into account the multiplication factor of the impact of emissions at high altitude, nor the full effects of "radiative forcing" [these are discussed also in the NS piece—they were made clear by Caroline Lucas, Green MEP, in her interview on Today just an hour before Mr Miliband spoke, and again the interview was conducted by Mr Naughtie—again, "Listen Again" will verify this], let alone the crucial point made in this week's NS!

  So Mr Milliband's claims are at best partial and very deeply misleading. If the full effects of the increase in aviation, avidly promoted by this government, are included, then it is quite possible that there has been an increase in global warming gas emissions due to Britain since 1990, and there certainly has since 1997. A long long way from what Mr Miliband claimed, on Today, and has claimed recently in several other speeches, press releases, etc.! For how can Britain possibly be "on course" to achieve the substantial reductions he claims, in just a few years from now, if in fact there has been no reduction at all, since New Labour came to power?!

  As I say, the key proof of Mr Miliband's deception is already available in the government's own—in fact, in his own department's—figures: Please would you take a look at the DEFRA CO2 emissions inventory figures which are available at [2] www.defra.gov.uk/environment/statistics/globatmos/download/xls/gatb05.xls. This shows that UK CO2 emissions have increased from 149.6 million tonnes of carbon (MTC) to 152.5 MTC between 1997 and 2004 (from which the latest figures are available). These figures, deeply-problematically, don't include international shipping and aviation (which are outside the Kyoto protocol), but those can be found at the bottom of the spreadsheet expressed as "bunker fuels"—aviation bunker fuels have of course increased very significantly since 1997 reflecting the growth of the aviation industry [whereas the reported figures on shipping (expressed as "Navigation") have decreased but this is problematic as it is difficult to pin down the use of bunker fuels for shipping down to an individual country's activities (as it is cost-effective for ships to "shop around" for fuels from country to country whereas this isn't the case for planes)]. In other words, CO2 emissions (and even more so, effective ghg emissions) have actually gone up since 1997, since the start of this Government's term of office; and when aviation is fully and properly included, along the lines set out by Caroline Lucas MEP an hour before Mr Miliband came on air on the morning I am discussing here, they have gone up fairly drastically.

  I have tried to engage Mr Miliband into discussion of the points I am making here. "Surprisingly", he is not replying to my emails. I would be most grateful if I could make these points clear to you, and ask for your help in getting the Government to get more honest over this most crucial of questions, in defining the parameters of the problem we are confronting, vis a" vis Britain's contribution to dangerous climate change and its mitigation.

  The question I would like posed to Mr Miliband, which I hope that members of the Committee may take forward, after my appearance before the Committee, is "Would you please explain why you have tried to mislead the British populace as to your Government's record on CO2 emissions? Would you accept that you are plainly NOT "on course" to achieve the large reductions in CO2 emissions, let alone effective ghg emissions in total, because (for example) the figures you have been using, incredibly, exclude aviation, and in any case your methodology for calculating the warming effect of aviation emissions is flawed? Would you please apologise publicly for your deceptions, and make clear to the media that your previous statements are wrong, and that the full picture shows that carbon emissions, let alone GHG emissions measured in full including the "radiative forcing" effect etc, have very clearly risen under New Labour, such that as of now we are not "on course" to make any significant reductions in GHG emissions relative to 1990, let alone to 1997, by 2010 or 2012? Ie That the rosy picture you have been painting, over the last couple of months, of Britain's alleged positive contribution to the struggle to present climate change, is wrong, and that actually Britain's ongoing "contribution'"continues to be: a continuing contribution to dangerous climate change itself, a contribution continuing at roughly the same level of net impact upon ongoing global over-heating, each year, without any clear pattern of improvement at all...

REFERENCES   [1]   www.newstatesman.com/200612180008

   [2]   www.defra.gov.uk/environment/statistics/globatmos/download/xls/gatb05.xls

[Further information here is borrowed from FoE research/national-websites.]

Dr Rupert Read (UEA)

January 2007





 
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