I recently submitted evidence to a key Parliamentary Select Committee on a key issue of our time: the huge increase in carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels relatively inefficiently in parts of the world which have low levels of state regulation (e.g. China). This ‘outsourcing’ or ‘offshoring’ of emissions completely undermines Britain’s supposed reduction in carbon emissions since 1990.
We share one world. It doesn’t benefit us or our common world at all if we reduce carbon emissions in one place, only to increase them more in another…
Memorandum submitted by Dr. Rupert Read (CON 09)
Dr. Rupert Read, University of East Anglia and Co-ordinator of Eastern England Green Party. (Note: This submission is not made on behalf of UEA, though it does draw at one point on my own academic research.)
Summary: This submission:
- Draws on the author’s political and journalistic experience to note and explore the failure of the previous Government to come clean about Britain’s rising carbon emissions, once one takes into account factors such as ‘embodied’ emissions, and calls on the present Government to embrace honest full disclosure of the record, using a consumption-based emissions reporting system (and including in this air travel beginning in the UK, and some portion of sea travel);
- Draws on the author’s philosophical research to note and explore the danger of taking ‘developing’ countries to be more economically ‘efficient’ as a reason for justifying under the banner of ‘globalization’ the ‘offshoring’ of industrial production there – because such offshoring is often carbon-inefficient, as consumption-based emissions reporting would make clear.
- For a period of years, I pursued first David Miliband and then his brother Ed, in the relevant government Departments, seeking to get them to answer the questions that I outlined at the links just below, concerning the crucial issue of embodied emissions and related reasons why Britain’s seeming emissions reductions since 1990 have been delusive: See for instance Who will lead on combatting dangerous climate change? & The Miliband commitment to climate change is mostly just rhetoric
- As I suggested in my more recent article at Left Foot Forward, one possible way forward with this is for
emissions … to be counted where they originate, in the countries that can potentially control them.However, I also noted that
Of course … it would … be perfectly possible to exercise significant control over them, if our country were willing, as I believe it should be, to control products’ entry into our borders partly on the basis of their emissions footprint.(I would urge the Committee to consider this point: that it is not enough to assess emissions on a consumption basis. We should also control what products we import on the basis of those assessments.)
- I received no answer from the Milibands to my queries as to the misrepresentation of Britain’s record of emissions-reduction under Labour, until finally I managed to button-hole Ed Miliband in person: as briefly outlined in the Left Foot Forward piece referenced above. The Coalition government has a heavy responsibility upon it (1) To be honest in reporting Britain’s record on emissions, which is in reality one of growth, not of Page 38 reductions, and (2) To change to a system of consumption-based emissions measurement.
- My current philosophical work, done in part in co-operation with UEA’s environmental scientists, and in co-operation with colleagues in the Green House thinktank (see Jonathan Essex’s submission from Green House, for detail), focuses on the needful effect of our reaching and breaching the social and ecological limits to growth (notably, the limits on the carbon-absorptive capacity of the atmosphere, without dangerous temperature-rise and chaotic climate effects) on our politics and our economy (See e.g. my recent published academic papers referenced at Talking Philosophy.) One crucial moral of this work of mine (and of the current work of my student, Ruth Makoff) is this: That it is disastrous for our chances of maintaining climatic ecological viability that we continue as a society to measure
efficiency with reference to minimising labour costs rather than with reference to minimising material throughput (i.e. minimising ecological impact). This can be swiftly illustrated in a way that is directly relevant to the current inquiry of the Committee:
- Very roughly, over the past 20 years Britain has exported a very large amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to China. These emissions, produced in China and consumed in Britain, are not counted at present in Britain’s GHG emissions figures. They are counted in China’s. When one studies China’s GHG emissions figures relative to China’s GDP and other economic indicators, one finds that the energy – and emissions – intensity of production in China is far greater than that in Britain. In simple terms: Production has moved to China, because of the cheapness of Chinese labour. But, viewed in terms of the global ecological economic efficiency, this is a crazy change to have made, because, though Chinese production is ‘efficient’ relative to labour (because China is, as Tony Judt aptly phrases it, a ‘low rights’ country, where labour is treated more brutally than here), it is inefficient relative to energy and emissions. It is only because the latter are not priced in any remotely-adequate way (to reflect the damage of climate-dangerous emissions, not to mention the using up of scarce hydrocarbon resources), and not rationed or capped at all, that production has moved to China in the first place. It would have been more rational, considered from the point of view of the global ecosystem and the political economy of the world in the context of that limited ecosystem, for much of this production to have remained in Britain (and in the U.S., etc.), and only for industries which are labour-intensive but not energy – or emissions – intensive to have migrated to China.
- This massive global irrationality has been concealed from British voters and consumers because of the way in which emissions are counted (in the place of their production rather than of their consumption), because of the fact that they are barely if at all registered on products, because of the fact that they are not controlled at all at point of entry, and because it is convenient for British political elites to downplay this irrational inefficient exporting of emissions (See above for my account of the Milibands’ downplaying of this.).
- This must change.