Memorandum by Ms Rosemary Righter
1. I am an Associate Editor of The Times
and former Chief Leader Writer. I write on international politics
and economics, and claim no specialised knowledge of environmental
questions, although as author of an anatomy of the United Nations,
I do know something about the political and institutional complexities
of decision-making in an area that is inherently controversial
because of its direct impact on domestic policies.
2. My interest in management of the global
environment goes back a long way, predating the vast 1992 UN Conference
on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. I wrote at the
time, and still believe, that although that conference undoubtedly
succeeded in its "consciousness-raising" goal of putting
pressure on governments to act, it led to an unwelcome politicisation
of the environmental debate. It also marked a departure from the
careful, step-by-step, pragmatism of the admirable Montreal Protocol
on the ozone layer. Rio's Agenda 21 filled nearly 800 pages and
theoretically committed governments to no fewer than 150 programmes,
divided into 2,400 tasks with an annual price tag of $600 billion.
Oversight of this stratospherically ambitious and unrealistic
agenda was then given to the UN General Assembly, in a specially
created Ecosoc "Committee of the Whole". The predictable
consequence was a depressingly familiar and unproductive rhetorical
battle between "North" and "South". Since
then, environmental negotiations have been subject to the artificial
rigidities of bloc politics.
3. The Kyoto Protocolwith its blanket
exemption for developing countries, and its reliance on emissions
ceilings and targets rather than a more flexible, multidimensional
approach to climate changeis the unfortunate result. Hence,
also, the progressive politicisation of the work of the IPPC.
I was not surprised to learn, from evidence to your committee,
that IPPC scenarios have been "adjusted", under pressure
from African governments, so as to factor in far higher projected
rates of Sub-Saharan growth than we have reason to expect. The
extent to which scientists and economists who question the IPPC's
more alarmist scientific assumptions or the soundness of its economic
projections are being frozen out of the "mainstream"
debate is even more deeply disturbing. As one frustrated scientist
recently wrote to me: "Business interests, University departments,
Government laboratories and pressure groups all wish to promote
findings that . . . attract research grants, support their work,
or generate subscriptions. Scientists have families and mortgages,
so are understandably keen that support for their jobs continues.
Few are independent enough to voice facts that do not support
the majority view and they are condemned if they do."
4. The media are influenced both by NGO
pressure groups and by what they are insistently told by authority
is an "overwhelming" consensus on global warming. The
phrase "scientific consensus" ought to produce a tremor
of doubt, since we admire scientists for their sceptical approach
to received wisdom, but that is not the case with climate change.
Government press releases, doubtless with the honourable intention
of making a complex message simple enough to get it across and
of establishing a "story line" that excites news editors,
tend to present "worst case scenarios" as established
scientific fact. Reporting then, in turn, contributes to the "greenhouse
effect" that has come to distort political decision-making.
5. Thus, particularly but not solely on
this side of the Atlantic, the Kyoto Protocol is unquestioningly
accepted by public and politicians as a "good thing"defective
only in that its targets need to be even more ambitious than they
are. The US refusal to ratify the treaty is treated as proof of
its contempt for the common interest, and its insistence that
this lopsided treaty will not in fact serve the common interest
is dismissed as disingenuous. The public, which has very little
idea of the costs of complying with Kyoto ceilings, is being told
that these costsand the costs of the far steeper emissions
cuts to which the Blair Government is unilaterally committedsimply
"must" be met. They are not being told that even if
implemented in full, by all 39 countries on which the burden has
been laid including the United States, the Kyoto treaty would
have no more than a negligible impact on global warmingor
that, by contrast, its impact on the British economy, and on Britain's
international competitiveness, could be severely negative.
6. Above all, they are not being told that
there is the slightest uncertainty about the scientific projections
on which this policy has been based. Most people now accept the
"scientific consensus" that global warming is occurring,
that heavy use of fossil fuels is mainly to blame, and that the
consequences will be catastrophic unless the trend can be slowed
or reversed by dramatic curbs on greenhouse gas emissions. This
argument moves from established fact, to plausible explanation,
to the realm of guessworkthe further into the future, the
wilder the guesses. By comparison with 100-year "scenarios"
about global warming, long-range weather forecasting looks rock
7. Earlier this year, a scientific conference
at Exeter University, convened to provide the Government with
expert advice in preparation for this summer's G8 summit, became
something like a contest between which horror storiesthe
Vanishing Gulf Stream, Millions Dead of Malaria in the Midlands,
the Parboiled Polar Bearwould do the best job of making
the public's flesh creep. As spin for the Government's case that
climate change is a threat greater than terrorism, this was no
doubt effective. As guidance to policy-makers, it was a disgrace.
Tall stories have no place at G8 summits. Scenarios such as these
are what scientists know as "computer-aided story lines".
They are not reliable predictions, and to base decisions on them
would be not only absurd, but pernicious. For example: a shutdown
in the thermohaline circulation that produces the Gulf Stream
would indeed be disastrous for Europe, but it is what scientists
call a "low probability high-consequence event"in
plain language, it has a more than 95% chance of not happening.
Malaria could indeed make a comeback in Europe, but this is a
land-use and public health issue, more than a climatic one.
8. It is no doubt fascinating to feel a
load of worst-case assumptions through computers to see what happens.
Climate change modeling involves assumptions about all sorts of
thingspopulation levels, rates of economic growth, energy
efficiency and the weight of fossil fuels in future energy productionthat
are hard to forecast over an extended period. These assumptions,
often themselves based on other assumptions, are then fed into
models that project into the future their impact on the climate.
Uncertainties abound. To cite only two "variables" that
are understated in IPPC scenarios that concentrate on CO2 emissions,
orbital variation may be a significant factor in climate change,
and there is disagreement about the importance of water vapour
as a factor in global warming. So long as it is made clear that
these flights of fancy are in no sense forecasts of what is likely
to happen, there can be no objection to such exercises. But it
is quite another matter when these speculative "images of
alternative futures" are treated as "the latest scientific
evidence" and taken as the basis for the decisions that politicians
take and taxpayers and consumers pay for. In climate change, careless
talk costs livelihoods.
9. The IPCC has drawn up "scenarios"
of mean temperature rises between 2000 and 2100 that vary between
1.5oC and 5.8oC. The difference between these two guesstimates
ranges, baldly, from inherently manageable to seriously alarming.
The top-end IPPC scenario, A1FI, assumes that per capita carbon
emissions rise to four times current levels (they have been stable
since the early 1970s) and that methane concentrations more than
double (they are currently declining). Another high-end IPCC scenario,
A2, not only puts the world population in 2100 at 15.1 billion,
half again as high as the 10.4 billion projected by the UN, but
also, reversing the historic trend, assumes more carbon-intensive
energy use. Both scenarios artificially inflate the challenge
of climate change.
10. These top-end scenarios, and the 5.8oC
increase in global mean temperature, are constantly cited and
are distorting policy. Thus, although few of the industrialised
countries are expected to meet the Kyoto target of reducing their
GHG emissions to 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012, the treaty
already has "past sell-by date" stickers plastered all
over it. The futility of a treaty that allows large and rapidly
growing economies such as India and China unlimited emissions
is increasingly evident. So is the inefficiency of imposing reductions
on those countries that have already taken the "easy"
steps to less carbon-intensive growth, instead of creative incentives
for emissions cuts in countries where these will have the lowest
marginal cost. But the proposed remedy is Kyoto-plusmore
stringent curbs on emissions, applied to more countries.
11. It would make more sense to concede
that the product is so flawed that it should never have been put
on the market. For a start, allocating emissions ceilings is a
form of rationing and involves, as do all government rationing
schemes, such detailed regulation that the Russian economist Andrei
Illarionov has likened it to the command economy. To the Prime
Minister, he has described Kyoto as "an international agreement
to limit economic growth and development".
12. Nonsense, say the EU's environmental
agencies. Their models, which measure the effects of Kyoto on
energy markets, show a reduction of only 0.12 per cent in EU GDP
by 2010. But sectoral models seriously underestimate the impact
on the economy as a whole. Macroeconomic models, which quantify
the overall economic cost to the EU of meeting emissions targets,
have produced estimates of GDP losses within this same period
that range from 1.5 per cent to 4.8 per cent. Britain's bills
will be disproportionately high, since the Government has decreed
that Britain shall surpass the Kyoto target, cutting carbon emissions
by 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2010, and 60 per cent by 2050.
Under Kyoto alone, the Government's estimate is that UK energy
prices will rise by 6 per cent and independent experts put the
figure at 10 per cent; higher energy prices will translate into
slower growth, job losses, lower investment and accelerated industrial
outsourcing. Energy conservation makes sense for other reasons,
and if the Government were serious it would levy standard 17.5
per cent VAT on domestic utility bills. But cost-benefit analysis
should still apply. The National Audit Office has already pointed
out that the UK's Renewables Obligation, which compels electricity
suppliers to buy quotas from wind farms and other renewable sources
at nearly three times the market rate of £25 per megawatt
hour, will add more than £1 billion a year to consumers'
bills within five years. It is legitimate to ask whether this
is value for money.
13. In theory, flexibility will be built
in to the rationing system via tradeable emissions permits. The
idea is that market forces will determine the price of carbon
emissions, stimulating investment in technologies that can reduce
emissions at unit costs lower than the price of permits. But as
the economic forecaster David Montgomery has pointed out, for
this to work efficiently all sectors must be covered, and traders
must be able to predict with reasonable confidence the future
value of traded permits. Neither is the case with Kyoto. EU emissions
ceilings apply only to power generators and large industrial sources,
and, since 13 of the 15 pre-enlargment EU countries are not on
target to meet Kyoto-mandated emissions reductions, future negotiations
may involve demands for relaxation, not tightening, of the targets
in order to avoid penalty charges by "rolling over"
excess emissions into the next target period.
14. Even Kyoto's supporters concede that
in the industrialised world, the economic costs will outweigh
the expected benefits. Emissions targets are an expensive and
highly bureaucratic way to achieve next to nothing. These targets
penalise economic success and reward failure. Spain would have
to cut emissions by 40 per cent to comply, whereas Russia, where
economic collapse has helped to reduce current emissions to 38.5
per cent below the 1990 baseline, will for the next few years
stand to profit from selling emissions quotas.
15. The bottom line is that Kyoto will not "save
the planet". By 2100, it could shave a little off the anticipated
increase in global temperatures. The globe will barely notice
the difference. Were the worst case scenarios to materialise,
in other words, the Kyoto contribution might delay Armageddon
by a few years. But what Kyoto undoubtedly will do is bite a chunk
out of the GDPs of industrialised nations.
16. We should question the claim that there
is no time to lose. Observed trends, rather than computer-simulated
scenarios, indicate that the probable rate of global warming is
much lower than the high-end projections. We do not need to act
on the basis that "the end of the world is nigh". We
should go with what we know, not with inaccurate, long-range scenarios.
There is time to explore other approaches to climate mitigation,
and to weigh more carefully the cost-benefit relationship between
drastic action to reduce emissions that exacerbate cyclical warming,
and policies designed to reduce our vulnerability to the effects
of climate change.
17. On mitigation, it is interesting to
note that according to the US Energy Information Administration,
the voluntary approach to emissions reduction adopted by the US
has reduced its energy intensity, the amount of energy required
to produce a dollar of GDP, by 15.8 per cent between 1992 and
2001, more than double the 7.5 per cent reduction achieved over
the same period by the EU. Policy should maximise incentives for
developing and deploying new technologies for carbon sequestration,
hydrogen production, biomass, wavepower and solar energy, etc.
The hybrid Prius car developed by Toyota is an example of the
potential gains. Major advances in energy technology will require
accelerated government and private sector investment. Kyoto would
do more harm than it can conceivably do good if the effort to
cap emissions were to divert attention and resources from promising
18. On vulnerability, we need more flexible
approaches to adjusting to a warmer world. Defra estimates that,
even without global warming, water scarcity will affect
more than six billion people by 2080. This suggests that water
conservation strategies and research into low-cost desalination
plants may be more urgent than the pursuit of bald emissions targets.
The new European Commission is leery of "Kyoto plus",
and it is right.
19. One of the oddest aspects of the whole
climate change debate is that, although the budgetary implications
of climate mitigation are massive, finance ministries have largely
abdicated what would seem to be their duty to subject the IPPC's
work to rigorous economic analysis, leaving the field to environmental
ministries. The OECD has been similarly, and unexpectedly, uninvolved.
If there is one thing that I would hope to emerge from the Committee's
report, it would be for this absurd state of affairs to be rectified.
20. A final point. I made some of these
points in The Times, 15 February 2005. February. I expected
outraged letters from environmental NGOs (and the IPPC). None
came. Perhaps it is because they do not read the financial pages
of newspapers; but I suspect that the reason is, rather, that
there is greater awareness of the flaws in the "consensus"
than they will publicly admit to. By contrast, I was overwhelmed
by the response from experts, both economists and scientists,
who are frustrated and disturbed by the cold-shouldering of research
that does not accord with environmental fashion. There is a lot
of work being done on reconciling responses to climate change
with economic growth.
Conditions are propitious for a thorough review of policy on climate
8 April 2005
86 To take one example: Climate Change Policy and
Economic Growth: a Way Forward to Ensure Both. Sponsors: International
Council for Capital Formation (Brussels), Institute of Economic
Analysis (Moscow), Istituto Bruno Leoni (Turin). www.iccfglobal.org. Back