Bali nonsense – the BBC just loves EU spin

The reporting by the BBC has hit a new low of idiocy. To them there are good guys who want targets and bad guys who do not want targets. They seem to rely on EU spin, out to portray themselves as the new powerful good cops, taking on the bad guys, the US.

So let us examine what has in practise happened. The world currently has targets under Kyoto. Some of the EU good guys? who signed up failed to hit their targets, but strut the stage with moral rectitude because they agreed to targets years ago. Some who signed targets to cut their carbon output have done so, partly by closing down heavy carbon producing industrial activities and importing the goods from India and China instead. Some of the bad guys who did not sign up to targets have controlled their carbon outputs better than the good guys in recent years. Last year, for example, US carbon output was under better control than the EU’s.

All this implies that targets themselves are not the answer. Ultra greens conclude that therefore the targets next time round must be made binding with sanctions. A lot of countries, including Japan, Canada, India and China will say No? to that, as well as the USA. It would be surprising, therefore, if the mandatory target approach is adopted, and if it is adopted by only some countries by definition it cannot work for the whole world.

Even if the whole world could be made to sign such a proposal, for an individual government in 2010-14 it might still be better not to impose draconian measures to cut energy use in order to hit a target for 2020, as many of the measures that would be needed will be very unpopular with electorates. Some governments in such a regime might decide ignoring the problem and leaving any fine to a successor government was the least bad way of matching the public mood.

Nor do targets deal with the problem that the richer countries accepting them can meet them by exporting energy intensive activities elsewhere. This is likely to happen anyway, and explains India and China’s reluctance to accept any target reductions, as they will be the places producing the exports. Without India and China in the deal it is a nonsense. Nor should we expect developing countries to forgo the pleasures of using more energy per capita that the west takes for granted, as they succeed in generating more exports and more income.

When you look at the problem like this, you understand that it is not a simple case of EU right, US wrong. If the EU had its way and imposed targets, it will not reduce the world’s overall output of carbon, because the developing world will take up the slack from cuts in the developed world, and some of the developed world will fail to hit targets, as EU countries have proved during the Kyoto period.

Instead of dividing the world into good guys and bad guys, the EU should grow up and try to understand the problem. Instead of trying to unite the world against the USA, the EU and others should seek to harness the power of the US to taking action to cut energy dependence (a concept even the Bush administration understands and could support).

This long, bitter and carbon intensive conference has made the world’s CO2 problem a little worse as a result of all the extra flights, and the all night lighting and cooling in the conference centre and hotels. It was only a conference about another conference. It was sherpas preparing a way for a summit, but a conference of very numerous and rather grand sherpas. It is difficult to see why more of the preparation could not have been achieved on the emails and the phone, less carbon intensive technology. It all goes to show that our political masters still love overseas travel at our expense.

If the world wanted to do something positive to curb carbon output, it needs to concentrate less on targets and more on technology and incentives. There was discussion of that at Bali. We are not allowed to hear much about it from the BBC, unless it can be fitted into the good guy EU versus the bad guy US script. Fortunately the Indian proposal for technology sharing came along which filled the bill.

The good news is the conference is now over. Once the jet fuel has been burned to get these delegates home for Christmas, we will not have to watch or listen to more BBC people complaining of how late they are working, and telling us that the US is the only country out to wreck the planet. The truth is that if carbon does wreck the planet we are all doing it, not least all those BBC journalists burning the oil in the early hours to send us their distorted portrait of what is going on. The truth is that nothing important has happened at Bali. It will all look very different when they do it all again with a different US President. The so-called deal on technology sharing, presented as a victory, is just a few words on a piece of paper. The reality is different, as most of the technology is owned by private sector companies who will need incentives to share it.


  1. John Tandy
    December 15, 2007

    I understand that China continues to fire up two coal buring power stations every week! If this is indeed so, any reduction in emmissions by the EU is already negated by what will soon become the worlds no 1 polluter! Unless and until we find ways of influencing China and India into burning less fossil fuels, action by the EU to do so means very little. It may be necessary to impose trade sanctions on both if they remain reluctant to change.

  2. Peter Turner
    December 15, 2007

    To whom will we pay our fines? Or to put it another way, as CO2 is essential for plant growth, to whom will we direct our demands for payment for producuing this essential plant food? Or to put it yet another way, plants take in the CO2, remove the carbon for their purpose and then release the O2 for us to breathe. That is a good thing isn't it?

    This whole demonisation of CO2 is a nonsense.

  3. Francis Irving
    December 15, 2007

    I'm having trouble finding any good media reporting of Bali – there is clearly lots of diplomacy going on in secret. But overall John is right, targets are not good enough – we need actual hard caps, and an emissions trading system.

    Peter – it isn't CO2 which is demonised. It is the collapse in our economy that it will indirectly cause. It's all very well you saying you're prepared to lose your standard of living by continuing to emit CO2 in large quantities, but I'm not prepared to lose mine. Have a look at the Stern Review, and at the CBI's climate change report, for information about the negative economic consequenes of climate change.

  4. Derek Tipp
    December 15, 2007

    John, you are a wise man. I could not have put it better myself. My views are on my own blog CLIMATESCIENCE containing hundreds of reports and views of scientists. I hope you don't mind me giving it a plug!

  5. Steven Baker
    December 15, 2007

    I would love to be able to deny it, but I think we have to accept that CO2 emission is a problem. Even if we don't, we still need to act: this video may be worth ten minutes of your time:

  6. pauline buffham
    December 15, 2007

    My suspicions were aroused by this as soon as I read the meeting was to be on the island of Bali. The island is beautiful ~ and ideal for a break at this or any time of the year. Unless the delegates sailed or swam to their junket they would have to have travelled by air, thus defeating the object of the conference which no dout also geberated plenty of hot air!!

    Beijing,as I know from personal experience has terrible pollution problems…some natural, some man made. Perhaps the conference should have been held there.

  7. nostalgic
    December 15, 2007

    Until the EU stops its nonsensical monthly jaunt from Brussels to Strasbourg and back (at a huge cost in emissions) it has no justification in pontificating about emissions on the world stage.

  8. Neil Craig
    December 15, 2007

    John you seem to accept that CO2 is a problem. This is certeainly something you will never see questioned in the media. However CO2 itself helps plant & thus crop growth. It is also likely that, if it stays within historical limits which would be about 2 degrees warmer than now, any warming would be beneficial.

    Since it would disprove media claims about "consensus" you will never see any media mention of the Oregon Petition in the media but 19,000 scientists have signed it and it said:

    "There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth."

    Reply: Please see my previous blog about climate scepticism. I am today talking about what you should do if you believe CO2 is a problem as the governments of the world do think it is.

  9. Derek Tipp
    December 15, 2007

    Steven Baker's argument (above) is that we should adopt the precautionary approach. He is only right if the precautions are not too costly and the threat is known and likely to occur. In the case of climate change, we simply do not know with any certainty either the cause or the degree of any risk. We know that there is a super volcano in Yellowstone Park and that one day it will erupt; it might be any time from today to several thousand years time. To take precautions against that would simply be too costly.

    Pauline Buffham raises an interesting point. Would Al Gore and his cronies like to go somewhere less exotic?

  10. Bazman
    December 15, 2007

    It's not all about technology. Hundreds of Millions of fires for cooking are lit every night using wood. Putting massive amounts of carbon of the worst kind into the air and causing deforestation. Most of these people would prefer to use something cleaner such as kerosene. Not to save the planet, but for ease of use and their own children's health. Has the EU or the USA discussed how poverty effects emissions? In the west as well. As it must do.

  11. Stuart Mark Turner
    December 15, 2007

    I don't know how everybody else feels about the way in which the whole issue of climate change is being debated. But it seems to have developed into some sort of cult and anyone who proposes to debate the causes and effects of climate change is sneered at. Speaking as a Physicist people should look at who funded the research behind the news reports, as generally scientists look to please whoever funded them in order for the money to keep rolling in, this is so they can buy more equipment for Labs and hire more PhD students. Any reports with alarmist predictions should be treated with scepticism and openly questioned whether they turn out to be correct or not, nobody should just take everything at face value otherwise we could easily walk into unforseen disasters.
    To finish, I do believe that CO2 emissions have an effect upon our planet. However there is little evidence to show that CO2 emissions are causing an accleration in climate change, anyone who points to the ice caps melting are being misleading, since we are coming out of an ice age at the moment and much of the melting is natural, it is also natural that as ice melts the rate of melting increases. This is because Ice reflects Infra-red rays back into space whereas land and sea surfaces do not, therefore with a smaller surface area of ice more heat is absorbed and less reflected. All of this is not dependent upon the level of CO2 in the atmosphere.

    And of course the main reason cited by EU enthusiasts for championing green issues is that they say it will affect crop yield in developing countries. Maybe they should consider scrapping the CAP if that is the real reason but of course the BBC would never air that.

    Reply: Amen to reform of the CAP – that would be the best way for the EU to help poor countries. You are right to ask about how the science is funded. I remember hearing Al Gore, when asked a difficult question by a climate change sceptic, telling him that his side was bound to lose because it was a few million pounds "cottage industry" up against the billions of climate change science, funded by governments.

  12. Mrs Smallprint
    December 15, 2007

    Climate change the new religion. As with most organised religions the more devotees the more the potential for mis-information and mis-understanding. Unfortunately the BBC and many of the world's politicians seem to have swallowed this one hook line and giant sinker.

    Our over consumption as a nation is a problem, but I'm not convinced that the climate change devotees are tackling it in the right way. I certainly think that we need to examine our lifestyles and make changes where we can, but carbon offsetting and carbon trading scheemes are just passing the buck (probably in a damaging way as they skew the economy of the nation to which the buck has been passed).

    It smacks of the smug town dwellers telling their country cousins to use public transport more, huh!

  13. Andrew Cooper
    December 16, 2007

    Arrrrrggghhhh! Is anyone else feeling the same way about this? On the one hand I completely agree with John's post. It makes perfect sense to resist meaningless targets. We've had enough of target driven culture under John Major and New Labour. It doesn't work. Targets inevitably result in a brainless oversimplification of very complex systems. Education, for example. Targets always result in a 'What's the laziest way of meeting this target?' response. Shipping carbon generation to India and China is a good example.

    On the other hand I have a nasty feeling that the overwhelming weight of scientific opinion might be correct. Maybe greenhouse gases and global warming do threaten the planet. Maybe 'technology' might not magically provide the answer. Maybe we should be doing everything we could be doing – right now – to sort this out.

    I don't know – and have no way of knowing – which way to go on this. But I do get an uneasy feeling that Mr Redwood is playing a political game here. He's starting from the position that he's anti-BBC, pro-USA and anti-EU and then searching for an approach which fits with these predispositions.

    Maybe, just maybe, whether you're anti-BBC or pro-USA hasn't got anything to do with the actual problem here. But, arrrrggggggg!, I don't know. Maybe all those scientists who think that, on the whole, we're doomed are really just saying so that that they can increase their research funding and continue to live the pampered lifestyles to which they've become so accustomed. Maybe the politicians are just saying whatever they think they need to say to win votes. I wish I knew how to tell which of these – or any other possibilities – is correct!

    Reply: No, I do not start from prejudice pro the USA and anti the EU. If I have a prejudice it is against big government and its freedom curshing ways wherever I find them. Nor am I always against the BBC, but I do feel the need to help correct systematic pro EU/pro big government bias in BBC current afafirs when I detect it.

  14. Cliff
    December 16, 2007

    From the start may I openly admit I am a climate change denier. I would also like to be a carbon criminal but I am so over taxed by this current government I am not in the financial position to be.

    I am pro recycling because it makes sense.

    I am getting tired of the way the BBC always manages to mention climate change in many of their reports on the news and in new nature programmes.
    I strongly believe that the government funded research achieves the results they want as they are paying the piper. I believe the same is true of the BBC. They are funded via the government and therefore the government calls the tune, a not so veiled threat was made following the Dr Kelly incident in relation to the future of their funding if they didn't play ball.
    I struggle to understand the rationale behind cutting down rain forests to plant rape seed for bio diesel.
    I fail to understand how the fact that stable temperatures since 1998 shows climate change. I fail to understand why the ice caps on Mars are also melting at the same rate as our own on Earth, but then again, I am not funded by government so I can think independantly and make up my own mind.

    It seems to me both the BBC and the government have adopted the tactic that, if they say climate change as a result of man's activities is real often enough it will be accepted as fact.

    I lived in East London during the late 50s and early 60s, the air was thick with pollution from industry, town gas manufacture and coal fires. In fact the air was similar to that in developing industrial countries of today. Why did we not have "carbon problems" then?

    It makes sense to be greener but let's have a reality check here, I support John's view; incentives not penalties as poorer people will suffer.

    I feel it is likely to be too late to stop the pro climate change lobby as so many people have become financially reliant on the industries that have grown up in it's wake.

    It seems we have a culture in this country that gives too much influence to small single issue groups that shout loud often to the detriment of the silent majority.

  15. Steven Baker
    December 16, 2007

    It's not me in that video by the way; I simply found it thought-provoking.

  16. Daniel Hannan
    December 16, 2007

    This is a first-rate piece, John. There is a growing tendency in modern politics, not just eco-politics, to regard good intentions as a substitute for action, to see setting targets as an alternative to meeting them. The rise in the popularity of awareness ribbons, for example, correlates almost exactly with a decline in charitable giving. People feel that, by pinning on a ribbon, or wearing a wristband, they have done their bit, and so are under no obligation actually to contribute money. Bali is perhaps the supreme example of this tendency at work.

  17. Mark Williams
    December 17, 2007

    Daniel has hit the nail on the head, except that the supreme example is the government's proposed legislation to limit carbon emissions by legislation rather than by doing anything practical. How do they expect it to work? Which carbon emissions are legal and which are illegal because they take us over the limit? What is the penalty for failure? What is to stop a future minister repealing or amending the law because they find it inconvenient? Answer: nothing, but posturing over legislation is so much easier than making the effort (or taking the risk) involved in practical solutions.

  18. JV
    December 17, 2007

    Let's base caps and reductions on population density. The more densely populated a country, the more restrictions there should be on its CO2 emissions, and few or no restrictions on those countries with lower than average population density.

  19. b
    December 17, 2007

    China is the world's largest polluter. This is especially true when you look at things that are actual pollutants (i.e. not just CO2, of which China is also #1). Anyone who has spent time in a large Chinese city will be in no doubt of this fact.

  20. […] Redwood has written some interesting blogs about the BBC’s coverage of the Bali summit.

  21. Steven Baker
    December 17, 2007

    Having heard the rebuffs, the chap on YouTube has published an entertaining update, complete with many follow up videos:

    Now, I'm not endorsing this – I haven't time to watch every video posted – but the chap is entertaining, committed and provocative.

    The kids in his science class are privileged!

  22. Fensterbank
    December 18, 2007

    The problem is that the U.S. administration doesn’t want to do anything against the CO2-output.
    And thats the problem. The USA as the biggest exhauster of the world desn’t want to do anything. They disputed nearly to complete isolation, until the US delegation come around.

    So thanks god the EU is now a big political power in the world and does something against the climate change.
    But without the USA, Kanada, Australia, Russia, it doesn’t work.

    So I’m looking forward to the upcoming US-administration, (3 of the candidates said, they want to do anything!) and then we never have the problem with this retarded Bush.

    Greets from Germany, EU! 😛

  23. Roger Thornhill
    December 19, 2007

    I am against "fines" and "sanctions" as this is a form of extraterritoriality. It is a move towards the Socialist dream of world government.

    I am against the US behaviour (e.g. Nat West 3) also.

  24. Jonathan Robson
    December 19, 2007

    Is it any wonder that people tend to see Bush (not the US) as the problem. After all he will not ratify the Kyto Treaty – right?

    Wrong I'm afraid It was in 1998 that the treaty was signed by the US – Clinton and his vice-President Gore signed the treaty but did not put it to the senate to be ratified because as Al Gore said at the time – unless the developing nations agree to emmision cuts the US would not do so. Isn't it strange that this is convenetly forgotten by the media.

    By the way CO2 is not now or ever been a polutent. People may also like to know that the IPCC summary for policy makers – is not written by scientists but by politicians and beaurocrats – the science is "done" later to fit in with the summary. Its like writing a conclusion to a scientific experiment before you actually start experimenting.

    Reply: Yes – the Senate was against the Treaty on the Democrat as well as the republican side.

  25. DennisA
    December 20, 2007

    Global warming has stopped.

    David Whitehouse was BBC Science Correspondent 1988

  26. Bazman
    December 29, 2007

    It's interesting to note that all experiments to reproduce a man made self sustaining environment have failed. The earth will survive us, but will we survive the earth.
    Back in the real world has anyone noticed the lack of snow in recent years?

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