All governments, including the UK, are telling us that they’re laser-focused on reducing carbon emissions. How are they doing? The chart above shows how they’re doing (source: Our World in Data). There’s a tiny flatline around 2020, but that’s because of the Covid lockdowns.
We have to stop burning fossil fuels and leave them in the ground. But with the current economy, and global scramble for resources, backed up by military force, it ain’t gonna happen. It looks as though, in a corporate-dominated, growth economy, no fossil fuels are going to be left unburnt. The catasrophic tar sands extraction and fracking industries have subsided for the moment, with the fall in demand and price of oil, but they’ll be back once they’re profitable again.
Kwasi Kwarteng was on Radio 4 on Monday, explaining how the UK has managed to ‘decouple’ economic growth and carbon emissions. Well, Kwasi, have a look at the chart above. Something’s not right about your statement, is it? I’m guessing that a lot of Western governments will claim the same thing, as their manufacturing base declines, but their consumption increases – of goods produced on the other side of the world and then transported across land, sea and air via fleets of trucks, planes and cargo ships.
But it’s much, much worse than that – governments are massively subsidising the fossil fuels industry, as ShiftOurSubsidies.org explain below (and here’s their latest newsletter, with more info and ways you can get involved).
Recently, Bloomberg NEF and Bloomberg Philanthropies produced a report on the scale and impact of global fossil fuel subsidies. It found that in the four years after the Paris Climate Agreement G20 members gave more than £3.3 trillion in subsidies for fossil fuels.
It found that the UK provided $93 billion in fossil fuel subsidies in that period, an average of $18.5 billion per year. Although the UK reduced its support for fossil fuels in that period by 18%, it was still $262 per person in 2019, relatively high compared with other G20 nations.
“On paper, global leaders and governments are recognising the urgency of the climate challenge and the G20 countries have all made ambitious commitments to scale down fossil fuel development and transition to a low-carbon economy. But, in reality, the action taken by these countries up until this point is a far cry from what is needed. As a host of climate emergencies intensify around the world, the continued development of fossil fuel infrastructure is nothing short of reckless. We need more than just words – we need action.” – Antha Williams, the environment lead at Bloomberg Philanthropies.
Read the report here BNEF-Climate-Policy-Factbook_FINAL.pdf (bbhub.io)
In a climate emergency, the UK Government is spending billions of pounds each year propping up the fossil fuel industry at home and overseas. This is driving up carbon emissions.
The Covid-19 health and economic crisis could make this situation even worse as governments decide on whether to spend trillions on rescue packages for fossil fuel and high-carbon industries as well as on stimulus packages to re-start their economies.
It is essential that the UK Government takes this opportunity to ‘build back better’ by giving no ‘no-strings’ bailouts of fossil fuel and high-carbon industries and by ensuring that stimulus packages are geared to investing in the zero-carbon economy.
We demand that the UK Government tells the truth about its fossil fuel subsidies and shifts taxpayers’ money from fossil fuels and industrial-scale bioenergy (from land-use change) into energy efficiency, non-emissive renewable energy, public transport and nature restoration. The UK Government also needs to show leadership in COP 26 and other international meetings to advocate and support urgent international action to be taken to end fossil fuel subsidies.
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1Mike Eaton August 11th, 2021
Yet again the so called “man in the sreet” is being lied too by governments and big business who wish to continue on the downward spiral and DO NOT or WILL NOT realise that when the world dies they are going to die with it! OK we may have a couple of so called space ships that may escape from this death and destruction but for how long – the occupants will need all that they have helped to destroy that they may live – so they will be delaying their own deaths by a few months at the most. I fear the only way to beat these fools is to become like them and desroy them first – but if we do that do we not become the same as them? So Sad!
2Steve Gwynne August 11th, 2021
What is being ‘covertly’ asked here is the rapid contraction of the global economy in which per capita prosperity rapidly decreases with a concomitant decline in tax revenues and a rapid decline in public service provision.
Similarly, ending carbon energy subsidies will send carbon prices rocketing which will make noncarbon technologies much more expensive.
What many carbon reduction activists fail to realise is that noncarbon energy technologies and the transition to a postcarbon economy will predominantly be driven by carbon energy, hence the very likely increase in carbon fuel consumption.
In other words, a postcarbon transition will take us to at least 2°C, if not more if rebound effects are not reduced through punative taxes and regulations.
Essentially, by failing to act in the 1970s, especially in terms of moderating human consumption expectations, we are now caught in a ‘progress trap’ along with a ‘paradox of growth’.
This can only be remedied by calculating what quantity of carbon energy will keep us under 1.5°C and then sharing that quantity equitably across the world. This would essentially require an unprecedented level of global cooperation in which carbon energy usage is strictly rationed on a country by country basis with an emphasis on directing carbon energy towards essential goods and services including the creation of noncarbon energy sources.
Obviously, the globally rationed quantity of carbon energy will need to reduce on a roughly annual basis with the inevitable economic, sociological and ecological disruptions being mediated by civic and civil cultural frameworks that encourage and reward cooperation in order to mitigate the likely rise in biological competition.
Overall, what carbon reduction activists need to clearly specify and provide comprehensive policy frameworks for, is that the only realistic goal of creating a sustainable, resilient and sufficient future for humanity is a transition from ‘human growth’ to ‘human stability’ which invariably means everyone becoming poorer which includes the State.
This ‘human stability’ trajectory will trigger biological competition at all levels of society and so comprehensive frameworks of civic and civil cooperation will need to be formulated if we want to avoid human civilizational descent, the progress trap (especially rebound effects) and the paradox of growth.
In other words, what is actually needed beyond irate carbon reduction alarmism is comprehensive ecological, economic and sociological cooperative frameworks by which to resolve the increasing urgency of the ‘carbon commons dilemma’.
Without these comprehensive cooperative frameworks, carbon reduction activists are simply pissing in the biological competition wind.
3Dave Darby August 11th, 2021
Steve – from your link:
“If we continue our obsession with growth, we will accelerate the deterioration of the energy-driven economy, worsen our environmental predicament and squander the resources which might otherwise have formed the basis of a sustainable economy. If, further, we continue to see the financial system as an adjunct of our pursuit of “growth”, we invite systemic collapse.
The irony here, of course, is that the pursuit of growth is, in any case, the pursuit of a chimera.
Conversely, if we aim for stability, and redesign our failing financial system accordingly, we might yet succeed in combining prosperity with sustainability.”
I don’t see states as part of the solution though. They won’t stop chasing growth, whatever policy guidelines activists or NGOs come up with, and whoever they have to go to war with. Solutions will have to come from grassroots imo, and whatever happens, there are going to be reductions in overall consumption. States are more likely to oppose this than support it. If we can ignore the corporate state agenda and build resilient communities, a reduction in consumption doesn’t have to mean hardship. Humanity would be better off without cars, motorways, flights, the fashion industry etc., and looking at a more sustainable future. Then there’s fixing things and sharing things, rather than throwing things away or every household needing a ladder / lawnmower / printer etc. Sounds trite and piddling, I know, but if multiplied by millions of households / communities resilience can provide more meaningful jobs, and have more of an effect on temperatures than waiting for government action that isn’t coming anyway.
4Dave Darby August 11th, 2021
[although I’m not optimistic – but I don’t see any other option other than ‘new economy’ institution building from communities, around a mutual credit (I know – obsessed) core]
5Steve Gwynne August 20th, 2021
I agree however local experiences are highlighting how a lack of internalised cooperative frameworks simply results in human competition, whether at the consumerist level (look at our pool of SUVs), status level (let’s use our race group power to claim autonomy) and political (free will sceptics and hard determinists vs political activism and human agency).
In this respect, without comprehensive cooperative frameworks, it is little wonder that the State is narrating growth as a social relations smoother, especially when faced with human population growth at national and global scales.
6Dave Darby August 20th, 2021
I can’t see any other way to move to a sustainable, democratic system. Voting results in superficial change at best (but usually results in negative outcomes) and talk of overthrowing anything is silly. The only way I can see is to build these kinds of institutions – https://www.lowimpact.org/economy/ in communities (not comprehensive) – in communities, and ‘replicate and federate’ them (thank you Graham Mitchell – https://www.lowimpact.org/national-network-social-care-co-ops-graham-mitchell-part-2/). Anything that can be done to facilitate this would be welcome, but I think this has to be the core of it.