Houghton on rich nations’ moral imperative to cut emissions AND help developing countries

August 22, 2007 at 1:54 pm | Posted in BBC, Carbon emissions, Carbon reductions, China, Climate change, Coal-fired power stations, EU, Houghton, Radio 4, Sequestration, Sutainability, Today Programme | Leave a comment

We really have to cut our developed country emissions as well as trying to help the developing countries to get their own energy by sustainable means.

Sir John Houghton, speaking today on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, which began with this introduction:

BBC Today Programme Host:

“‘Rich nations could do their bit to tackle global warming without having to cut greenhouse gas emissions at all: they could pay poor(er) countries to do it for them.’

That suggestion comes from a senior climate change official at the United Nations. Green campaigners say the idea is unethical and unworkable …”

The host was joined in conversation with BBC Environment Analyst, Roger Harabin. (Update: BBC News report by Roger.) An audio statement followed from Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), who agrees with those who argue that, theoretically, any country should be allowed to cancel out 100% of its emissions by buying permits from abroad. This, it must be said, is Mr. de Boer’s personal point of view, and you can listen to his explanation in the link below. I do not agree with Mr. de Boer, and nor does Sir John Houghton, who made some good points in the remainder of this brief audio segment …

BBC Today Programme Host:

“Sir John Houghton was the lead editor of the first three reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the final one of which addressed that issue of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. Sir John Houghton, is on the line. Good morning. What do you make of this idea?”

Sir John Houghton, former co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

“Well, it’s an idea, of course, which has been around for some time and it’s a good idea to do some carbon trading, and do the best you can with the money you’ve got, as far as reducing carbon emissions is concerned—but the problem will not be solved that way because there is an enormous moral imperative on the rich nations: we have grown rich because we have used cheap energy from coal, oil and gas over more than 100 years. It is only recently we have realised the damage we are causing, and that damage falls disproportionately on poorer nations, so we have to do a great deal more than just buy our way out if it in the way Mr. de Boer is suggesting.”

BBC Today Programme Host:

“But he says, as you heard in the interview, that the atmosphere doesn’t care where these reductions are made, as long as they’re made. So, surely, on a practical basis, if this can be done, then what’s the problem?”

The problem is that it won’t actually do enough to cut emissions to the extent that’s needed. We really have to cut our developed country emissions as well as trying to help the developing countries to get their own energy by sustainable means. Now, that’s an enormous task and an enormous challenge for developing countries, for which they need our help with, and we, in our turn, have to do a great deal to cut our emissions—not only to cut them by efficiency means, but also by other means of getting energy than by fossil fuels. Now we can do that, and the cost of doing that is not enormous, and the cost of backing the developing countries will be quite large too because they have a lot of coal and they want to use that and they find other means of doing it, than using coal or sequestering carbon dioxide from coal power stations into the earth. The European Union has a very good joint project with China which is building the first carbon capture and storage power station from coal in China jointly with the European Union, and that’s a marvellous way to do it. We partnerships with the third world, and that is, of course, being suggested by Mr. de Boer.”

Listen to Could rich nations do their bit to tackle global warming without having to cut greenhouse gas emissions? (6:06 minutes) from the BBC Today programme. Hear what Mr. de Boer said before Sir John Houghton came on the phone line with the above comment (that I transcribed because the BBC does not provide transcripts and there was a typo of ‘moral imparity’ instead of ‘moral imperative’ that caught my eye in the news report that caused me to investigate what kind of moral imparity could Sir John be referring to?!)

It does seem to me that people will try to wriggle their way out of situations, and the wealthier the squirmer, the more attractive the option to buy a way out seems. This will not solve the problem! (Do we need to hit our heads against a brick wall again, to get this message across? I guess so.)

Update: however, Mr. de Boer is sounding more reasonable in this piece published (after my post) by AP via Forbes:

De Boer said an important element in the post-Kyoto climate regime will be how countries can gain credit by helping the developing world.

“It makes sense to get the biggest bang for your bucks, to identify the most cost-effective emissions reduction options around the world. The atmosphere doesn’t care where you reduce emissions as long as you reduce emissions,” he said.

“Having said that, there is a responsibility … for industrialized countries to take the lead through domestic emissions reductions,” he said.

While legally binding targets cannot be imposed on unwilling nations, they are “important for the credibility of the process.”

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