Friday, January 05, 2007

Market madness and climate chaos

A day after British climate scientists warned that a resurgent El Nino and persistently high levels of greenhouse gases are likely to make 2007 the world's hottest year ever recorded, New Labour demonstrated its unsurpassed talent for rhetoric on climate chaos. Environment minister Ian Pearson even went so far as to accuse low-cost carrier Ryanair of being "the irresponsible face of capitalism". On closer scrutiny, Pearson’s exclusive statement to the New Labour-worshipping Guardian is all hot air, which itself probably adds to atmospheric warming in the process. What has upset Pearson is that the major airlines seem less than enthusiastic about joining the European Union’s proposed new market for airline carbon emissions. Scheduled to start in 2011, it would involve airlines buying and selling rights to pollute. Behind Pearson’s bluster is the fact that extending carbon trading to airlines will make no impact whatsoever on climate change. The airlines will go on flying and those passengers who can afford to pay any extra charges will do so. In any case, Pearson’s outburst hardly squares with the announcement in December by transport minister Douglas Alexander that British airports will be allowed to keep growing. Alexander rejected growing protests by local communities anxious about noise, pollution and traffic.

Kevin Smith, a researcher with Carbon Trade Watch, has tracked the evolution of the emissions’ markets and concludes: "Market-based mechanisms such as carbon trading are an elaborate shell-game of global creative accountancy that distracts us from the fact that there is no viable ‘business as usual’ scenario." In any case, the schemes become distorted in favour of the major corporations to the disadvantage of competitors and less developed economies. Smith points out that the corporations’ "corrosive influence" on the existing European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) meant that governments massively over-allocated emissions permits to the heaviest polluting industries. Market analyst Franck Schuttellar estimated that in the scheme's first year, the UK's most polluting industries earned collectively £940m in windfall profits from generous ETS allocations. Smith says: "Such schemes allow us to side-step the most fundamentally effective response to climate change that we can take, which is to leave fossil fuels in the ground. This is by no means an easy proposition for our heavily fossil fuel dependent society; however, we all know it is precisely what is needed. What incentive is there to start making these costly, long-term changes when you can simply purchase cheaper, short-term carbon credits?" Back to the Meteorological Office’s warning that there was a 60% probability that 2007 would break the record set by 1998, which was 1.20 degrees over the long-term average. "This new information represents another warning that climate change is happening around the world," the office said. The reason for the forecast is mostly due to El Nino, a cyclical warming trend now under way in the Pacific Ocean. The event occurs irregularly - the last one happened in 2002 - and typically leads to increased temperatures world-wide. While this year's El Nino is not as strong as it was in 1997 and 1998, its combination with the steady increase of temperatures due to global warming from human activity may be enough to break the Earth's temperature record, said Phil Jones, the director of the Climatic Research unit at the University of East Anglia. The least society can do in these circumstances is take immediate action to slash carbon emissions along the lines suggested by A World to Win.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

No comments: