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From Climate Scepticism


One thing leads to another. Robin Guenier’s article How To Destroy The Claim That The West Must Cut CO2 Emissions has led to quite a discussion, and in one of the comments under the line, Robin mentioned an article on The Conversation website. This led Jit to write What About Whataboutism?, and in a comment on that article, Robin mentioned part of the Climate Change Act 2008 Impact Assessment. The reference seems to me to be far too significant to be limited to a comment on an article, and in fact it merits much more detailed consideration, so profoundly fundamental is it to the whole “Net Zero project”.

The Impact Assessment runs to 126 pages, and is too large to analyse in detail here. For instance, the claims made (based largely on the Stern Review) that the costs of inaction exceed the costs of action (viz-a-viz emissions reductions) are highly debatable, both in terms of the economic assumptions made, and when considering that the UK’s action has, by and large, not been replicated elsewhere in the world, so that the benefits of climate change mitigation have not been seen at all. In other words, we have borne the costs, but not seen the alleged benefits.

The key section for current purposes, however, appears early, on page 7:

It should be noted that the benefits of reduced carbon emissions have been valued using the social cost of carbon which estimates the avoided global damages from reduced UK emissions. The benefits of UK action will be distributed across the globe. In the case where the UK acts in concert with other countries then the UK will benefit from other nations reduced emissions and would be expected to experience a large net benefit. Where the UK acts alone, though there would be a net benefit for the world as a whole the UK would bear all the cost of the action and would not experience any benefit from reciprocal reductions elsewhere. The economic case for the UK continuing to act alone where global action cannot be achieved would be weak.

The last two sentences are crucial. What does “global action” mean in this context? I would say it means “actions, not words”, and while there have been words a-plenty, there have to date been few meaningful deeds globally in connection with reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

EDGAR Database

EDGAR stands for “Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research”. As it says on its website:

EDGAR is a multipurpose, independent, global database of anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollution on Earth. EDGAR provides independent emission estimates compared to what reported [sic] by European Member States or by Parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), using international statistics and a consistent IPCC methodology.

Where better to look to see whether “reciprocal reductions” in greenhouse gas emissions have been achieved and therefore whether the economic case for the UK continuing to act, under the Climate Change Act, is weak or strong? The table of emissions isn’t perfect for current purposes, as it doesn’t enable us to compare 2008 (or 2009, given that the Act received Royal Assent only on 26th November 2008) emissions globally with those of 2023 or even 2022. The best we can do is compare 2005 to 2021, but that, I would suggest, is broadly adequate when considering the key point from the Impact Assessment.

Measurements are in Megatonnes of CO2. The start date in each case is 2005 and the end date is 2021:

United Kingdom: 562.09, declining to 335.36, a reduction of 40.33%.

Global emissions: 30,161.57, rising to 37,857.58, an increase of 25.51%.

China: 6,338.44, rising to 12,466.32, an increase of 96.67%.

India: 1,215.21, rising to 2,648.78, an increase of 117.96%.

Indonesia: 361.45, rising to 602.59, an increase of 66.71%.

South Korea: 516.53, rising to 626.8, an increase of 21.34%.

Russia: 1,735.03, rising to 1,942.54, an increase of 11.96%.

Pakistan: 132.46, rising to 219.79, an increase of 65.92%.

Bangladesh: 39.94, rising to 106.87, an increase of 167.57%.

The vast majority of countries, especially in the developing world, register increases, many substantial, some huge (running to several hundred percent). Of all the countries listed by EDGAR, the only ones of any size, with more than miniscule emissions, to show a decrease in emissions during the period 2005 to 2021 are the UK, the EU27 (a reduction of 24.18%), Australia (a 4.78% reduction, and its coal exports don’t count in its emissions total), Canada (a reduction of 2.5%), Japan (a reduction of 15.65%, and its emissions still represent 2.87% of the global total, compared to the UK’s 0.89%), Ukraine (a reduction of 47.49%) and the United States (a reduction of 20.14%). Thus it can be seen that of the world’s countries with emissions beyond insignificant levels in global terms, only Ukraine has made a greater proportionate reduction than the UK. The EU has managed a little over half as much in percentage terms, the USA has managed slightly half as much in those terms, and Japan has achieved even less, while the reductions achieved by Australia and Canada are extremely modest. In short, the rest of the world (with the exception of poor benighted Ukraine) isn’t following the UK’s “lead”.

If the EDGAR data, being based on changes in emissions between 2005 and 2021 is considered inappropriate, then the International Energy Agency must surely be considered a reliable authority by those who would defend the Climate Change Act – after all, they usually treat its pronouncements as Holy Writ. Well, the headline to its “Global Energy Review:CO2 Emissions in 2021” is “Global emissions rebound sharply to highest ever level”. It points out that the covid-induced reduction in economic activity, with consequent falls in greenhouse gas emissions in 2020, was more than reversed in 2021. Presumably emissions continued to rise in 2022, but we must wait a little longer for those figures. Not only did emissions generally reach an all-time high in 2021 but so, the IEA tells us, did emissions from coal, and emissions from the world’s power plants reached their highest ever level – driven by the biggest ever increase in year on year electricity demand: an increase which was more than 15 times larger than the drop in demand in 2020.

Let’s remind ourselves of the words of the Impact Assessment for the UK’s Climate Change Act:

The economic case for the UK continuing to act alone where global action cannot be achieved would be weak.

Unanswered Questions

What is the point of an Impact Assessment relating to legislation if nobody ever re-visits it some years later to assess the actual impact against what was envisaged when the legislation was passed?

Why was the net zero target introduced by Teresa May’s government without any apparent reference to the Impact Assessment?

Why did the Scottish Government legislate for an earlier (2045) net zero date? Did nobody involved in that decision read the Impact Assessment relating to the UK Climate Change Act?

Why did Chris Skidmore’s recent Net Zero Review not reference the Act’s Impact Assessment?


If Impact Assessments relating to UK legislation are to mean anything, then some years after the passage of the legislation in question, Ministers should be charged with considering the impact of the legislation in terms of its Impact Assessment. If anyone bothered to do so in the case of the Climate Change Act 2008 they would realise that the Act has not led to the rest of the world following the UK’s example. Consequently, the economic case for the UK continuing to act alone where global action has not been achieved is weak. It’s time to repeal the Act.