IS global warming really happening? Don’t bother to think – your answer no longer matters. Experts have decided, and the media now shriek ‘climate emergency!’ every time it rains a bit harder.
Earlier this year it rained much harder and in Pakistan there was disastrous flooding. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif says scientists have determined that the deluge was due to climate breakdown.
He claims it is ‘the responsibility of the developed countries, who caused these emissions, to stand by us’ and he will be seeking ‘climate justice’ from the international community.
The United Nations General Assembly has expressed support for Pakistan, and is appealing to rich governments to fulfil their promise of 100billion dollars a year to help developing countries, which are said to be least responsible for climate change, but most affected by it.
If the world really is going through a ‘climate breakdown’ due to rising emissions, the case for reparations seems reasonable. But it is based on the worrying situation we have reached where every bout of extreme weather, anywhere in the world, is blamed on the changing climate. There are two reasons for doubt about this: We have always had extreme weather, and we have detailed meteorological data for only the last couple of hundred years.
In the 10,000 years back to the last Ice Age, we have a rough idea about climate, but nothing about day-to-day weather. If meteorologists cannot say what kind of bad weather King Alfred’s subjects suffered in the year AD 874, for instance, then how do they know the Pakistan flood was not just the kind of extreme weather we should expect now and again?
However, the argument for compensation will be hotly debated at the forthcoming United Nations COP27 climate conference at the Red Sea resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt. There are two approaches: Either make the simple case for richer nations to help poorer ones, which leads to a North v South battle, or base reparation claims on the emissions data.
Most of the richer nations are in the northern hemisphere and many of the poorer ones in the south. UN Secretary-General António Guterres says wealthier countries ‘bear a moral responsibility’ to help poorer nations. He pointed out that 80 per cent of emissions come from the G20 group of nations, only three of which are in southern latitudes.
Another argument says that those who first started belching all that carbon dioxide into the atmosphere should pay for their carelessness.
This is a different aspect of ‘climate justice’. The UK was first, thanks to engineers and inventors such as James Hargreaves (1720-1778), who mechanised cotton production with the spinning jenny, and steam engine pioneer Richard Trevithick (1771-1833). Several European countries and the US followed fairly quickly. Should they be fined for their Industrial Revolution?
If, on the other hand, we simply look at who has contributed the most since 1750, the story is different. According to the ourworldindata website, the US is far and away the largest culprit, with an emissions total of about 400billion tonnes of CO2. Possibly a surprise to many is that China is second at about 230, then Russia (115), Germany (92) and the UK fifth with 78. These are totals emitted since 1750.
Yet another way of looking at this problem is to ask who is currently shoving the most carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. China is contributing about one-third of the total global emissions, the US one-tenth, India one-fifteenth. The UK’s portion, thanks to most of our manufacturing now being done in China, is one-hundredth of the total.
Imagine the scene at the COP conference in Sharm-el-Sheikh. Everyone is impatient to get off to the beach then move on to a delicious evening meal, with everything on corporate credit cards.
Pakistan, several other Asian countries, and representatives from the low-lying Indian and Pacific Ocean islands are seeking climate justice. They are not interested in the exact procedure, they just want compensation. From the richer countries of the world, of course. Some of those richer countries might argue that to be fair it should be all the G20 acting together.
Do the G20 countries agree to pay that 100billion dollars every year? Surely, they say, the current worst emitters are to blame. China may not agree. China might ask who started it. They should pay, there’s no question. China might point out that the US’s chimneys have pushed out more CO2 since 1750 than any other country.
The arguments could get quite heated, with everyone going to bed quite late on the first day at Sharm-el-Sheikh and for every one of the 13 days of the conference. Resolutions will be hammered out, word by word, hour by hour, and a form of agreement reached around midnight on the last day.
In the current world economic situation there is, of course, very little hope that any money will actually change hands. There is another good reason for pessimism: This is the 27th annual climate conference and at each one the assembled nations’ representatives have agreed that emissions must be reduced. Throughout those 27 years, emissions have steadily increased.
There will be much talk at Sharm-el-Sheikh about reparations. As usual, everyone will agree that something ought to be done. But any ‘climate justice’ help from North to South, or high-emitter to low-emitter, does not seem likely.
There will simply be preparations for reparations.