Reality and Truth

Greg Sheridan: China is the real winner of Western climate politics The Australian, 17 June 2021 

The future of global greenhouse gas emissions will not be determined by  G7 countries but by developing countries, which have shown almost no  interest in imposing any cost on their development to meet climate  targets. 

The G7 meeting was a genuine success for Scott Morrison and for the West  generally. As Boris Johnson says, “the West is back”. However, there was  also a good deal of make-believe, fantasy fairyland about the G7. The only  leader who spoke with any realism on climate change was Morrison himself.  Seeking emissions reductions through technology is the only possible path  to a useful outcome. 

The G7’s goal is zero net emissions by 2050. The term “net zero” itself is a  kind of magic conjuring term. If you have human life you will have  emissions. Modern life means a lot of emissions. The only way you can get  to a fictional net zero – a modern equivalent of the alchemist’s ambition to  transform lead into gold – is by offsetting all emissions, yes all emissions,  with matching reductions. For every tonne of greenhouse gas you emit, you  must take one out of the atmosphere. So far the only way you do this is by  transforming formerly agricultural land to tree planting. But the world still  has to eat, so you pretty soon run out of agricultural land. 

The unreality of much of the G7 palaver on this comes in much earlier. The  Chinese are right when they say small groups of nations can no longer  dictate what happens in the world. The Western commentariat still seems to  think that the world consists of New York, Los Angeles, London and Paris. 

But here are some facts. China alone accounts for more greenhouse gas  emissions than the whole of the G7. The broad structure of emissions  growth and decline is that rich nations’ emissions are stable or declining,  those in developing nations are rising. The US’s emissions have declined 15  per cent since 2005. Australia’s by 19 per cent. 

According to UN and World Resources Institute figures, between 2005 and  2018 China’s emissions increased by more than 70 per cent, India’s by just  under 70 per cent, Indonesia’s by nearly 40 per cent. This pattern applies  across the developing world. 

The future of global greenhouse gas emissions will not be determined by G7  countries but by developing countries, which have shown almost no interest  in imposing any cost on their development to meet climate targets. As a 

country develops it urbanises, uses a lot of steel and concrete, seeks the  cheapest energy for manufacturing, mechanises agriculture. All this means  massive rises in greenhouse gas emissions. 

Let me illustrate how G7, Davos-man style make-believe works. Last week  The Economist magazine ran an editorial which said, in part: “… countries  accounting for over 70 per cent of world GDP and greenhouse gases now  have targets for net zero emissions, typically by 2050”. 

This sentence, while not containing an outright falsehood, is nonetheless  profoundly misleading in a way that is wholly representative of the make believe of this debate. To get to this figure The Economist has to include  China, which accounts for just under 30 per cent of global greenhouse  emissions. Beijing has, indeed, nominated a target date for zero net  emissions. And that target is 2060, nearly 40 years away. In the meantime,  China has said it will reach peak emissions by 2030, nearly a decade away. 

And if Beijing doesn’t meet either or both of these targets, who will sue it,  and before what court? So what is it doing right now? As Morrison  repeatedly points out, and he’s the only national leader who ever does, it’s  vastly more important what a nation does than what it says. Certainly  Beijing has installed a lot of renewable energy. But consider these following  China statistics which I take from a recent article in Yale Environment 360.  China’s carbon emissions increased by 4 per cent in the second half of 2020  (notwithstanding Covid), just as they increased in 2018 and 2019. 

In 2019, just under 60 per cent of China’s total energy came from coal. I  remember being sharply reproved by fellow panellist, the splendid Annabel  Crabb, the last time I was on the ABC’s Insiders for saying that coal was  continuing to boom. No, she said, she had statements from Western mining  executives saying coal was on the way out. But politically correct statements  are infinitely less important than facts. 

So what are the facts? In 2020, China brought 38.4 gigawatts of new coal fired power into operation. As the Yale article points out, this is three times  as much as came into operation anywhere else. Although the Yale article  doesn’t mention this, India, Indonesia and many other developing nations  also have extensive plans for new coal-fired power stations. China’s new  coal-fired power last year was more than twice Australia’s entire coal-fired  power. 

As the Yale article spells out, Beijing has 247 gigawatts of coal power in  planning or development. That’s more than the entire American coal fleet 

and some six times Germany’s total coal capacity today. Chinese provinces  last year approved 47 gigawatts of new coal-fired power projects. 

In China’s current five-year plan, the total of all non-fossil fuel power,  including all the renewables plus its sizeable nuclear sector, will grow to  just 20 per cent of the national power total. The Wall Street Journal reported  last week that China’s main economic planning agency, the National  Development and Reform Commission, had limited the scope of the ever  elusive national carbon trading system, which has still not gone into  operation, though we have been hearing about it for years and years on ABC  climate programs as though it were an established and fully operating  system. 

Most of the Western media so desperately wants the dominant climate  narrative – especially the bit where the West is the villain – to be true that they simply do not interrogate the facts. The pro-renewables REN21 policy  network reported this week that the share of fossil fuels in the global energy  mix is about the same today as it was a decade ago. 

How can this possibly be so if the whole world has been moving on climate  change, as we are so often told, and only we Australians have been lagging  wickedly behind? The problem is the world has not been moving much and  we have certainly not been lagging behind. Most movement that has  occurred is simply that heavy industry has been transferred from rich  nations to developing nations where it takes place under more lax  environmental regulation and thereby produces more greenhouse emissions. 

Morrison has to say and do enough that we don’t become subject to some  ridiculous European carbon tariff, but at the same time don’t bankrupt  ourselves. Meanwhile, China will develop its economy, and its military, free  of these restraints. Let’s at least face reality.

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