Lord Deben and the bureaucratic mindset
Mar 19, 2015
Bishop Hill in Climate: carbon budget, Deben

Experts (it says here) at the University of Leeds have declared that the UK is not really cutting its carbon emissions; it is merely exporting them to China.

The analysis shows that CO2 emissions produced within the UK fell 194 million tonnes in 2012 compared with 1990.

But the cuts were outweighed by a rise of 280m tonnes created abroad during the manufacture of goods imported to Britain.

So it seems that these experts have discovered what Nigel Lawson has been saying for nearly ten years (H/T Paul Matthews). As he put it in An Appeal to Reason (2008):

...the UK has managed to limit its recorded growth in carbon dioxide emissions at modest cost, only by effectively outsourcing them to the developing world, in particular to China.

And Lawson was citing an even earlier study by Dieter Helm.

Graham Stringer has been banging about this for a long time too. Interestingly, in an exchange in Parliament last year, he was contradicted by Lord Deben, who claimed that because China was "doing things" about its emissions, the effect was diminishing:

If one were to rank countries according to the amount they are doing, China now would have to be well at the top. The argument that you move industry to China, for example, and therefore that results in greater emissions is increasingly not so.

Presumably that depends on the level of imports from China as well as the things that China is "doing" about emissions. But as these are going up anyway, and because the size of the carbon footprint unaccounted for is a whopping 100 million tonnes, it's fair to say that Lord Deben is talking out of his hat.

Despite this, the great man is still arguing the case today, quoted as arguing that the accounting approach that makes it look as if the UK is reducing its emisisons when in fact it is merely exporting them, is thoroughly to be admired.

We have considered using total emission figures more widely, but that would mean emissions being double counted - once in China's total and once in ours.

“More importantly, we have direct control over home-produced emissions. Manufacturing methods, carbon intensity, and energy distribution in China are outside our direct control.”

It's a perfect example of the bureaucratic mindset. Record-keeping and form matter far more than the realities on the ground and actually achieving anything.

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