Reviews | COP26: Industrial capitalism and how the UK triggered the climate crisis


Last month, the journal Nature published an article calculate what it means. “To account for a 50% probability of limiting warming to 1.5 ° C … by 2050, we find that nearly 60% of petroleum and fossil methane, and 90% of coal must remain not extracted “, conclude the authors. If we want better than a 50% chance, we have to burn less.

Berlin Mercator Research Institute put it another way. If we want to stay within the 1.5 ° C target, it says: “The atmosphere cannot absorb … no more than 400 gigatons of CO2 … Annual CO2 emissions are estimated at 42.2 gigatonnes per year. With emissions at a constant level, the budget should be exhausted in less than eight years. “

At the 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen, the countries of the South rallied under the banner of “1.5 to survive”. Conditions created by more warming than that, they stressed, would likely leave much of their land uninhabitable.

At the 2015 conference in Paris, it was finally agreed that the world should not warm more than 1.5 ° C above pre-industrial levels. As world leaders meet in Glasgow, they must figure out how to achieve this goal in less time than it took them to set it.

Rather than getting serious about this task, Boris Johnson, the bombastic host of the conference, will likely use it as a global ego booster. The combination of Brexit cock-ups and one of the world’s worst COVID responses left it looking a bit like an eejit, and although he enjoys the role of a jester, he doesn’t like to be seen as stupid. Here’s a chance to do what he does best: pompously blame others for doing their best.

Just as Johnson’s enthusiasm for technological solutions to climate change matches his enthusiasm for technological solutions on the Irish border, he will be as quick to blame other countries for the climate crisis as he will blame them for his mess on the Brexit. In particular, it seems likely that he will try to imply that it is all China’s fault and portray Britain as an eco-utopia.

It is therefore important to understand how much Britain has caused this crisis.

Britain and the blame

The UK may appear to be a progressive voice on climate change, having engaged himself a 68% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 from 1990 levels.

The first problem is that the government has no serious plan to achieve these goals. The second is that they assess Britain’s responsibility as narrowly as possible.

Indeed, the UK is arguably more responsible for the climate crisis than any other country.

For his 2011 book “The No Nonsense Guide to Climate Change,” researcher Danny Chivers examined historical emissions data and compared it to current population levels. Between 1850 and 2007, he found, the UK was responsible for more CO2 from fossil fuels per person than any other major country. The only country with a historically higher carbon footprint per person was Luxembourg.

A decade later, Chivers did the numbers again for me. “Each UK resident sits on around 1,200 tonnes of historic CO2, which makes us one of the most polluting countries per person in the world,” he said. Among the countries responsible for more than 1% of emissions, “We are fighting for the first place in the table of historical responsibilities with a per capita figure similar to that of the United States, against 150 historical tonnes per person for China and 40 tonnes. per person. no one for India. “

The infrastructure and relative wealth we enjoy in the UK were built on huge amounts of past pollution, much of which is still in the atmosphere today.

These figures only take into account emissions from the UK landmass. If a UK company designs a product in the UK, sells it in the UK and counts its profits in the UK, but outsources its manufacturing to Vietnam, then its emissions are counted in Vietnam. And because the UK is one of the most deindustrialised countries in the world, this offshoring of emissions means Britain underestimates its carbon footprint more than most other countries.

A report for WWF last year, for example, argued that around half (46%) of UK emissions come from products made overseas to meet UK demand.


About Lucille Thompson

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