Monday, May 10, 2021
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Great pall of China will make carbon cuts futile

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SO that’s all right then. President Biden’s climate man John Kerry has spoken to President Xi’s climate man Xie Zhenhua.

‘The United States and China are committed to co-operating with each other and with other countries,’ said the official statement, ‘to tackle the climate crisis, which must be addressed with the seriousness and urgency that it demands.’ 

No change there, then.

Biden is holding a virtual climate summit later this week; 40 countries are invited, including China. Climate will also be discussed at Carbis Bay, Cornwall, where the G7 meeting will be held in June. If it goes ahead. Then comes the major United Nations Climate Conference (COP26) in Glasgow this November. If that goes ahead.


Surely, you might think, after all that talking something positive and meaningful will be achieved. But it is possible to have doubts, because there are four or five countries which between them contribute about half of global greenhouse gas emissions.  

China’s proportion is around 28 per cent. Several of those countries have millions of their people without electricity, and the cheapest, quickest and most reliable source of energy comes from coal-fired power stations. 

The BBC’s Roger Harrabin points out that ‘China is currently running 1,058 coal plants – more than half the world’s capacity.’ More are being built every day both there and across India and Africa. 

Who will tell these electrically-deprived people that they will have to wait until nuclear plants can be built, or great armies of turbines and vast areas of solar panels can be manufactured? This is why China has so far promised only to reach peak emissions by 2030. 


Here in the UK we are going for electric cars, ground-source heat pumps, wind turbines and solar panels. Every local council is fighting climate change.  

The media keeps telling us about the storms, the heatwaves, the cold spells, the droughts, the floods, the forest fires – all are evidence. So something must be done.


Yesterday it was revealed that Boris Johnson is to bring forward Britain’s current target for reducing carbon emissions by 15 years. It will set the UK on course to cut emissions by 78 per cent by 2035. 

Hitting the targets would require more electric cars, low-carbon heating, renewable electricity and, for many, cutting down on meat and dairy. And for the first time, climate law will be extended to cover international aviation and shipping. 

However, the UK contributes only around one per cent of the global greenhouse gas total. There are a couple of hundred other countries whose emissions are tiny fractions of one per cent.  

What this group (and of course the UK) does to reduce emissions will have not the slightest effect on our dirty atmosphere, because China’s current 28 per cent will go on increasing, we are told by their president, until 2030.

Will Biden’s virtual chat, the G7 and COP26 solve the problem? I doubt it.

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Ivor Williams
Ivor Williams is a freelance writer and has been a fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society since 1984.

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