The ‘historic’ US-China climate deal

I was in Melbourne when the agreement between China and the USA was announced, and  The Age headlined it on the front page as ‘Climate Changer’, which I took to be a short form of ‘Climate Game-Changer’. The ABC said the same sort of thing on its evening news telecast, but I was too busy to follow the story up. A week later, it has vanished from the media — and tastes like cold toast.

Nonetheless, the believers have no doubt, and have asked why Australia is not joining the two big powers. Some were incensed that Mr Abbott said that coal was a good thing for humanity when he opened a new coal mine in Queensland, and others have pictured our Prime Minister as ‘an international laughing stock’ for so saying. The only foreign source I could find that even used the phrase was The Independent in London, which said, shortly before the G20 meeting in Brisbane, that Tony Abbott’s government risks becoming an international laughing stock, thanks to its attempts to block discussion of climate change.

There’s no sign that anyone laughed, or were reported as doing so, and the phrase really means that the speaker believes that people in other countries who feel like the speaker would be scornful if they knew what Mr Abbott had done or not done, and that makes the speaker embarrassed, because he/she feels that they are laughing at the speaker. People are fond of using this phrase, but again, that tells us very little.

What exactly was the historic agreement about? Well, the two Presidents agreed that climate was important, and that emissions were important. China said its own emissions would peak by 2030, if not before, and then decline, while the US said it would reduce its own emissions by from 26 per cent to 28 per cent of its 2005 levels by 2025. I hope you know what the Americans are proposing to do, because it’s difficult for me to understand. In any case, President Obama has no chance whatever of getting any necessary legislation through the House and the Senate in the last two years of his term, so it’s not at all clear what meaning his promise contains.

As for China, the simplest reading of President Xi’s statement is that, all being well, China will have deal with its energy problem in a couple of decades or so; the air in China will be cleaner; and there will be some sort of equilibrium in demand and supply for power. But there is no indication at all in his statement that China will be doing anything in the short run. ‘Wait until 2030!’ will be his cry. Why anyone who is truly concerned about emissions thinks this is a good thing simply escapes me. Why should other countries do anything, if China is following this policy? China leads the world in emissions, and in a week has more effect on global emissions levels than anything we in Australia can accomplish in a year.

And that kind of puzzlement crept into the comments on a so-called ‘Fact Check’ in The Conversation, where the virtuous believers did their best to defend the view that China would and could build astonishing large numbers of solar and wind power plants, that its demand for coal would probably peak in the early 2020s, and that we don’t need to worry about emissions because China will be dealing with them with far-sighted and enforced planning (who needs democracy?).

Chinese data are not good, though they are getting better, and statements by energy companies, state utilities and state planning commissions need to be read with a degree of scepticism. It would be much better, I think, to monitor what actually happens, especially in watching Chinese demands for coal, uranium, oil and gas (yes, it will be building nuclear power plants too, apparently). That takes time.

Back to The Conversation. Critical commenters pointed out that no one was mentioning the nuclear initiative that would have to be part of the Chinese response. There is just no way that renewables can do the job, and indeed the Joint  Announcement of the two leaders refers specifically to nuclear energy, as well as shale oil, and even coal. There is no emphasis on alternative energy.

One plaintive commenter said I don’t think this is a very fair-minded effort. There is no mention that China’s CO2 emissions will be a lot higher in 2030 than they are now and the quantum (in GW) of coal-fired power plant will be much higher then than now. That immediately suggests the authors are on an advoacy mission rather than a fact-checking exercise.

Amen. The whole story is a bit of  mystery. China is not proposing to do anything in particular about emissions for the next fifteen years or so. It is building an economy quickly, and needs more and more energy to do this. That will require more power stations of various kinds. It has real pollution problem, not the so-called ‘carbon pollution’ one: the air over much of populated China is very dirty, and the people don’t like it. By 2030, the leaders hope, they will have improved that problem by closing old power stations and building new, less polluting, ones.

All that is good news, of a kind. But to picture it as some kind of major step forward in the battle to ‘control climate’ is just fatuous.

Join the discussion 35 Comments

  • Doug Hurst says:

    All true Don – the Chinese were always going to do what suits them and now have support to do so from President Obama and much of the Green-Left. And don’t forget India, with its plans to also burn ever increasing amounts of coal and no talk at all about CO2 reductions.

    Happily, it won’t matter. The almost total lack of historic correlation between temperature and CO2 levels tells us that CO2 is but a bit player in a complex and unpredictable climate picture. It is not, as you are fond of saying, the Earth’s thermostat.

    The only confident prediction possible is that as CO2 levels rise the earth will green. No one knows if we will be hotter or cooler in 2030 – we will just have to wait and see – but the Chinese and Indians obviously don’t believe they will do great harm.

  • BoyfromTottenham says:

    Hi Don,

    I’m sorry Don, but I’m not sure what were you referring to with your closing comment “The whole story is a bit of a mystery.”. As an avid reader of political history (including the use of propaganda) I think the joint “announcement” was pure political window-dressing, probably organised by China as a way for both leaders to win brownie points with their chosen audiences without actually deviating from their energy strategies, which as far as I can tell are entirely pragmatic in China’s case, and entirely ideological for the USA. How things change…I think it used to be the other way around.

    cheers.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      The mystery is why the media didn’t do the ordinary dispassionate inspection of the Announcement. I did not express myself clearly enough.

      • John says:

        Don:

        If you think it is a mystery why the “media didn’t do the ordinary dispassionate inspection of the announcement”, you haven’t been watching the media for the last couple of decades. There is hardly a media person who is not a committed believer in Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming/Climate Change.

        • David says:

          John I cant believe I am writing this. Have you ever read any thing from News Limited ?

          • John says:

            David:

            Read the words, “hardly a media person” is not the same as “no media person”.

          • David says:

            My apologies John

            ” There is hardly a media person [except for all the journos at tiny insignificant News Limited] that is not a committed believer in Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming/Climate Change.

            🙂

          • David says:

            …. Oh and all the shock jocks at Macquarie Radio Network

          • David says:

            and the guest commentators from IPA

          • David says:

            but other than that no one else

          • Don Aitkin says:

            While your additions here are apposite, you need to remember that it is only in the last couple of years that The Australian has moved into largely critical editorial and substantive comment about AGW. Before that the paper’s official position was that it ‘accepted the science’, whatever that meant in theory. In practice, it meant that it supported AGW and ran few critical pieces from commentators. Its editorial position was not critical at all. There other News Ltd papers (Courier Mail, Herald Sun etc) basically did not report it save when there was a new IPCC AR.

  • Lysander says:

    Don – is this climate catastrophism the other way?

    http://www.newsmax.com/Headline/dark-winter-cold-global-cooling/2014/11/16/id/607672/

    A former NASA employee has written a book about 30 years of solar inactivity, deadly cold in the US and even the possibility of food riots, revolutions and war…

    • JMO says:

      When I was in the US last month, their met was predicting as cold, if not colder winter, for the US this year. One reason is the Great Lakes have not warmed over the cool wet summer of 2014 after their coldest winter in 2012/13. As we left LA flying back to OZ on 30 October, I heard of a massive cold front came down form the north and snow falls, even as far south as South Carolina.

      It was the earliiest heaviest snowfall for years (maybe on record).

  • JMO says:

    I have been to China in 2008 and 2009 and believe me they
    have a massive pollution problem, you are lucky to see a patch of blue sky
    amongst the grey brown pollution, you cannot see across Tea Min Square, its
    hard to see much beyond the other side of the Pearl River in Guanzo. The
    pollution is everywhere across the country in the east, out west only around
    the big cities such as Urumchi. The people are sick of it and will be
    sick (very sick) if this pollution continues.

    But all this is not CO2 (a colourless harmless and the most mild of the
    atmospheric greenhouse gases) but ash, aerosols and particulates from
    burning cheap high ash coal (not Australia’s black coal which is one of the
    best least polluting coal in the world). (I am amazed the number of people who
    think the pollution they see is CO2!!)

    So yes, for both leaders this climate agreement is political, Xi so he can
    claim back home he has started to address the pollution/CO2 problem and appease
    the public at home and Obama who is desperate to salvage something, anything,
    for his 2nd term presidency.

    When I looked at the photo of them shaking hands, the body language said it
    all. Obama knew he had lost his shirt and Xi was just going for the ride.

    The White House reckon they can reduce US emissions by 26-28% under current
    legislation – well we’ll see.

  • David says:

    Define “major step”. In the last week the USA, China, Japan, England, Canada, France and Great Britain have all committed to either reduce CO2 emissions and/or provide funds to mitigate climate change.

    Not a bad week.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Major step: an initiative that actually does something (in this case) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and thereby (maybe) reduce global temperature.

      David, these ‘commitments’ are worth exactly what?

    • Gus says:

      China has not committed herself to anything: they said they’d continue to *increase* their emissions for another 15 years. Japan and Canada have turned their back on Kyoto. Germany, as a matter of fact, has recently announced they were going to drop their 2020 emissions target, because they can’t do without coal!

  • PeterE says:

    Talk about smoke and mirrors!

  • David says:

    Gus

    Re our bet regarding global temperature trends. Could I please order

    Pumpkin Soup

    Sirloin steak with salad

    Slice of pav

    2 Coopers red

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jul/21/world-breaks-temperature-record-june-hottest-may
    Cheers David 🙂

    • Gus says:

      First, the bet is about 2030, second, the trend is to be evaluated using proper statistical methods, third, the data is to be based on satellite measurements.

      • David says:

        Don’t like your chances Gus. 🙂

        Hottest May and June on record. At least for those two months the pause is finished, I’m afraid.

        And you don’t need any special statistical skills to identify an all time maximum.

        So could I have my stake medium rare, with pepper sauce. And if they don’t serve Coopers a bottle of red will be fine.

        • Gus says:

          It’s all nonsense. Look at

          http://www.drroyspencer.com/latest-global-temperatures/

          and see for yourself that nothing unusual is happening and global temps just stay put fluctuating up and down as they normally do. Neither of the months you have mentioned are “hottest on record” anyway and trustworthy record for them does not even exist for before 1979.

          However, you should also look at how the current solar activity period is unfolding, for example, here:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_cycle_24#mediaviewer/File:Solar_cycle_24_sunspot_number_progression_and_prediction.gif

          Observe that we are currently at the peak of solar activity. This is, unusually, the second peak of a double peak cycle. It does happen sometimes. Observe that the highest value was in February 2014, but the ocean accumulates–you actually need to look at the time integral of solar activity and compare this to ocean temperatures. Even without this though, compare both graphs and observe how the global temperature, as measured by satellites, mimics solar activity. For example, look at the valley between the two most recent peaks in the solar activity graph, then look at the valley between the two most recent peaks in the global temperature graph–they correspond, as do the peaks, to the same points on the time line.

          Since the current prediction for solar activity is to drop towards 2030, I feel confident of winning the bet.

          • David says:

            Gus
            Using your satellite data. Copy to Excel. Sort Global temperature by month then year. October (i.e. 10) 2014 is highest on record!
            Could I finish with a short black and couple of after dinner mints. 🙂
            .

          • Gus says:

            The sun was unusually active in October. Could it be the third peak in this cycle #24? Quoting from Wikipedia:

            “Four solar flares occurred within 5 days from sunspot AR 12192, which is both the largest sunspot of solar cycle 24 and the largest since 1990. On October 19 there was a major X1.1-class solar flare. October 22 an M8.7-class flare was followed the same day by an X1.6 event. The October 24 X3.1-class solar storm was strong enough to trigger a radio blackout. Larger than the planet Jupiter, the AR 12192 sunspot was visible during a partial solar eclipse seen in North America.”

            Our November, in turn, was exceptionally cold with temperature in the Upper Peninsula dropping to -25C. I know. I’ve just come back from there.

          • David says:

            Gus
            Humor me. Send me a link to some time series data (preferably monthly) for solar activity. I will regress that against your temperature data and test the correlation.

          • David says:

            Look at this data set for solar sunspots for example. No way is it going to explain the temperature rise 1970 to 2014. Look at it! It is basically cyclical, if anything decreasing slightly from 1970 to 2000, yet global temperature has been increasing!

            http://science.nasa.gov/media/medialibrary/2013/01/08/tsi_composite_strip.jpg

            You are so full of BS. 🙂

          • Gus says:

            See doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201423391. The authors points out that the sun has been in the “grand maximum” mode throughout the whole of the 20th century. This is why the earth’s global temperature has been rising throughout that period, but, note, only very little, a mere 0.7C since the end of the little ice age. As the activity abates, global temperature will similarly drop.

            Because the ocean accumulates incident heat, to find the real correlation, you need to compare global temperatures, which are defined by the ocean first and foremost, the atmosphere itself having too little heat capacity to matter, with the running integral of temporary solar activity, not activity itself. For the same reason, temperature drop is not going to be instantaneous.

            For the most recent paper on the link between solar activity and climate change that discusses various physical mechanisms, see doi:10.1134/S1024856014060104, Atmospheric and Oceanic Optics November 2014, Volume 27, Issue 6, pp 506-510.

          • Gus says:

            Don’t bother. It’s been done already. See, for example, doi:10.1016/j.asr.2014.08.016, doi:10.1360/972013-1089, doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00843.1, doi:10.1088/1748-9326/9/11/115009, doi:10.1016/j.asr.2014.08.007. There’s plenty more.

  • Gus says:

    “>>> China said its own emissions would peak by 2030, if not before, and then decline… <<<"

    What sort of a "commitment" is this? Expressed in other words, they say "we're going to continue *increasing* our emissions, without restraint, for another 15 years." They do not say how fast their emissions are going to "decline" afterwards. Perhaps it'll be by 0.004% per annum.

    This is perhaps the silliest theater I've ever seen in international politics.

  • […] Minister will be or is the winner within the German cabinet. Others say, no, he accepts the target. I said in my last post that one should not accept at face value statements about the future made by state planning […]

  • Anders Valland says:

    Is this not just another one of those “commitments” needed to have something to show for the COP in Paris next year? I believe they all agreed to do some homework and come back with “commitments” for the COP. The EU did this a couple of weeks back with their 40% cut for 2030, which of course is dependent on the other parties of the COP to commit likewise.
    Anyway, China seems to have “committed” themselves to peak in power demand at the time they peak in population. It will happen, regardless of what they say, or do, today. The US has “committed” to something that will probably never happen because Obama won’t be doing another term.

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