I’ve giving a talk at Sherborne Girls School tomorrow evening. As this will coincide with the start of the release of the latest Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, I will spend a bit more time on things climate and carbon. Two topics that often come up in questions after my talks are population and China. There are too many people being born and too much carbon being emitted from China. These are both very important issues and I worry I never do them justice. With regards population, it’s worth noting that those countries that are seeing increasing population are the same countries with the very lowest emissions. With regards China I’m fully supportive of moves to add the emissions that are produced for goods that are made outside of the country that consumes them. If you do that, then the UK’s leadership on carbon emission reductions tends to look distinctly less impressive.
There is a good case to be made that we haven’t actually reduced our emissions over the past couple of decades. We’ve just exported them to countries such as China which now makes products for us. Products that are cheaper because on average wages are much, much lower than in the UK and products that lead to greater carbon emissions because a great deal of energy generation in non-OECD countries comes from coal.
As the above figure shows, coal is being burnt like its going out of fashion. Which perhaps it may if some of the more extreme climate predictions are realised and we really do bake our global industrial civilization.