After you Claude












Britons only generate 1.42% of the world’s carbon emissions. No-one else is doing much to reduce their emissions. We are doing a lot and should not do more until everyone else joins in. This is the facile, Treasury inspired, argument being deployed by the cognoscenti of the political and media establishment who think all this climate catastrophe stuff is wildly exaggerated.

This would be a daft argument even if it were true. Its implication is that Britain will be okay if no-one else does any more to reduce their carbon emissions. As the recent IPCC reports make clear, a changing climate will be pretty awful for everyone and Britain, as a nation wholly reliant on the success of other economies for its success, will be no exception.

We certainly do need other nations to do more, but saying that we are not going to do anymore ourselves until they do is hardly persuasive. It amounts to surrendering  sovereignty over our climate to others. We will simply have to accept whatever climate they are prepared to serve up. If this argument were to carry weight our climate will be determined by the political equivalent of a circular firing squad.

As it happens, this singularly complacent argument is not even true. Out of the 217 countries for which we have data, 34 reduced their emissions between 1992 and 2010. Of those 34, 29 reduced their emissions by more than the 8% that the UK managed, including Denmark, Germany and Romania.

Of course 8% of UK carbon is rather more important for the climate than 25% of Danish carbon, but it is not a good basis for the argument that we are doing more than others. According to a recent report by Globe, the organisation of legislators tackling climate change, 66 nations have now joined the UK in putting climate related legislation on to their statute books.

The reality is that a combination of events and analysis has driven governments everywhere to start taking climate change seriously. They are still a long way from doing enough. But they are not doing the nothing so frequently claimed.

There is a variation on this argument which focuses on everyone’s favourite climate enemy – China. In this version it is simply not worth us doing anything since whatever effort we make will be overwhelmed by the continued expansion of coal use in China. This is the ‘Yellow peril with climate horns’ argument – a familiar beast from our past.

Here again, there is far less to this argument than meets the ear. China does indeed use a lot of coal and it is using more each year. But driven mostly by the concern of the emerging Chinese middle class about the quality of the air they breathe, China is already setting aggressive targets to reduce its coal use. A third of China’s provinces have targets that would reduce coal use by 655 million tonnes – about 1.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide – by the end of the decade. The rise in coal use has fallen from 9.4% in 2011 to 2.6% in 2013. It’s not great but no-one could say they are not trying.

The reality is that the transition to a carbon neutral economy called for by the IPCC is already underway. It is certainly a slow start but the momentum is gathering, not the least because of the huge fall in the cost of renewables. As with any transition, vast new opportunities are arising for those smart enough to take them. If David Cameron wants Britain to be in the global; race to take these opportunities he should tell the nay-sayers in his Cabinet that they are not only harming the climate, they are also damaging our economy.


Tom Burke

London, 15th April 2014




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Discussing Climate Change on the Jeremy Vine show – BBC Radio 2 – 31st March 2014










“Climate change is happening now, and what we’re seeing is it’s nastier and faster than we thought even ten years ago.”

“I think the mood really has changed, not just in Britain but around the world, and people now at least accept the problem is there and it’s happening. Now there will be a big debate about what we should do about it.”

Listen here





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‘Events, dear boy, events’ have put climate change back on the agenda


This article piece first appeared in The Guardian on Wednesday 26 March 2014

The decline of climate change on leaders’ agendas has been reversed – not by new analysis, but two years of extreme weather


events dear boy events









British prime minister, Harold Macmillan, was once asked what was the most difficult thing about his job. ‘Events, dear boy, events’ was his now famous reply.
Put more colloquially, and much less elegantly, stuff happens and politicians have to deal with it. Things that happen can transform the political landscape, for better or worse, in a flash as Margaret Thatcher discovered in 1982 when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. Her successful response to this event transformed a looming electoral defeat into victory.

Analysis is a far less insistent driver of politics. Governments can, and often do, ignore analysis, even to the point of disaster. Successive US governments were warned time and again by intelligence analysts that they were losing the war in Vietnam. But this was never enough to stop the war. One unmanned Sputnik briefly circulating the planet was, however, enough to release billions of dollars into the successful American effort to put a man on the moon.

Until the unfortunate climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009 the politics of climate change was primarily driven by analysis. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up by governments in 1988. Its job is to advice the 120 participating governments on the science of climate change. In the subsequent 26 years it has published five assessment reports based on the published scientific literature on climate change.

Its summary for policy makers is agreed line-by-line by governments and has so far led to climate legislation in 66 countries. Each report has increased confidence in the science of climate change and alerted politicians to the magnitude and urgency of the issue. Copenhagen, however, revealed the depth of the political difficulty of taking their advice. Combined with the aftermath of the banking crisis, this led to a significant lowering of climate change on the agenda of global leaders.

This decline has now been reversed. Among the global leaders who have already put their mark on the issue in the run up to the climate summit in Paris in 2015 are President Obama, President Xi, Chancellor Merkel, President Hollande and Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. It is not new analysis that has led to the restoration of climate change to the leaders agenda. This has simply reinforced what we already know. It is events, in particular two successive years of extreme weather events all over the world, that are now drawing political leaders back to the issue.

Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 was the most dramatic of a series of extreme weather events that have occurred over the past two years. It inflicted some $68 billion worth of damage to the United States and produced the extraordinarily rare sight of a prominent Republican praising President Obama. But Sandy was only a precursor to an exceptional year of extreme weather events in every part of the world. Temperatures were so high for so long in Australia in 2013 that the weathermen had to add an extra colour, purple, to the weather charts to warn of the dangers of extreme heat. The summer of 2014 has been even hotter.

In the same year China had its wettest May for forty years; California recorded the hottest temperature, 54C, ever recorded anywhere on earth; there was another drought in Brazil; the strongest typhoon ever to strike land devastated the Philippines and Bangladesh recorded its lowest ever temperature. Parts of the UK are still underwater three months after the St Jude storm began an eight week period of continually violent weather.

This is only a partial list of the weather extremes in 2013. Such events are natural occurrences. But not extreme weather events, everywhere on the planet, in the same year.

These events contributed to an overall loss of about $125 billion in 2013 from natural catastrophes. They are a powerful reminder of the chapter headings in an early James Bond novel: ‘Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action.’ It is now clear that we are seeing the beginning of ‘enemy action’ by the climate as it responds to an increased burden of carbon in the atmosphere. The changes we are seeing today are a result of the carbon burden we had added by the end of the seventies.

This has increased global average temperatures by 0.8C. If we continue our current dependence on fossil fuels we could find ourselves in a world that is more than 2C warmer before the middle of the century. Much of what is today considered an extreme weather event may by then be the new normal. In the face of this onrushing flood of events those politicians still subsidising the use of fossil fuels resemble nothing so much as a forlorn, and dangerously irrelevant, King Canute trying to hold back the tide.


Tom Burke


Wednesday 26 March 2014




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This article first appeared in Business Green.





The public discourse on climate policy is asymmetric. It has been dominated by the climate makers. These are the fossil fuel industries and their customers. This has led to a badly distorted portrayal of climate policy risk. As a result, we have heard a great deal from the energy intensive industries which make up a very small part of our economy but nothing at all from the climate takers who make up the overwhelming bulk of it.

The climate takers are the rest of the business community. They provide almost all the growth, jobs, goods and services in the economy. Typically, energy is a very small part of their cost base. Policies to tackle climate change have little impact on their bottom line but a changing climate is already hitting their profits. We have yet to hear very much about climate policy risk from them.

The climate makers have very familiar names: Shell, Exxon, Peabody, Centrica, RWE. EoN, Bayer, Dow, Holcim. These are very large companies, well organised with a loud voice through organisations such as the CBI, EEF and Business Europe. No-one has ever heard of most of the climate takers. They are the garages, pubs, shops and host of other small business who have no voice at all in the climate policy debate. Even where there are famous names – Tesco, Unilever, Nestle – they have yet to make their voice heard on climate policy.

The recent floods in Britain, in which a changing climate played a part, cost small businesses at least £830 million. No-one knows how many of them will simply disappear as a result. BIS appears not to have bothered to find out. But this is just a taste of what is to come for the climate takers. The impacts of a changing climate that we are experiencing now are driven by a rise in global temperatures of less than 1°C.

We are currently on course for a world that might be 2°C warmer before the middle of the century. This will be a world of increasing weather extremes and rising food and water prices, especially in the cities of the emerging economies we are depending on for growth. Some climate takers are beginning to recognise what is at stake. 100 US ski resort owners wrote to President Obama last year asking for more urgent action on climate change. Alarm is growing in both the French and Californian wine industries.

The asymmetry in the public debate on climate policy has been a significant barrier to government action. The loud voices of the climate makers have dominated the headlines and panicked politicians. Most economic analysis has looked in the wrong direction, asking whether we can afford a successful climate policy. As a result we are very aware of the costs of climate action. This suits the climate makers.

The question that really matters to the climate takers, and to the public, is whether we can afford policy failure on climate change. This is where we are currently heading. Reliable estimates of thee costs are hard to come by, not the least because economists have largely failed to develop dependable techniques for counting them.

To have an even chance of keeping the rise in temperatures below the 2°C governments agree is the threshold of dangerous climate change we need to build a carbon neutral global energy system by around 2050. All of the major fossil fuel companies are currently projecting that demand for coal, oil and gas will more or less double by then. They are planning to invest $6 trillion dollars over the next decade to meet that demand. Clearly, the climate makers are on a collision course with the world’s governments. But they are also on a collision course with the climate takers.

Governments have not yet shown themselves to be brave in the face of a changing climate. They have consistently bowed to pressure from the fossil fuel companies and the energy intensive industries. Unless the climate taking business community gets its act together and creates a more balanced realm of public discourse on climate policy its interests will continue to be bulldozed by the climate makers.


Tom Burke

March 10th 2014




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Shale gas: four myths and a truth


The EU Shale Gas Revolution_850px
























Some argue that the solution to rising energy prices and energy security concerns lies not in cutting demand for energy imports by improving energy efficiency whilst expanding Europe’s renewable energy capacity, but in exploiting the substantial European shale gas reserves. They point to the example of the US as showing the way forward. In the US the shale gas boom has seen liquid natural gas imports reduced by 77% from their 2007 peak by 2012 [4] and US gas spot prices reduce from a 2008 average of $8.86 to $3.73 in 2013[5]. The US is expected to start exporting shale gas from 2015. Building on the US example, it is frequently argued that European shale gas represents a plentiful and cheap source of energy that will not just cut European energy prices but also improve energy security and help address climate change.


This briefing looks at whether the fundamentals underpinning the proposed EU shale gas revolution support these claims.





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I recently came across a quote from Benny Peiser from the Global Warming Policy Foundation. He was writing in the Daily Mail. What he said was “ Not only is much of the science behind the idea of global warming now being disputed, but, at a time of such widespread economic hardship, we simply cannot afford to misdirect scarce economic resources on such a massive scale.”

Whether or not dealing with climate change would ‘misdirect’ scarce economic resources is a legitimate topic for debate. There are many good reasons to think that improving energy efficiency, smartening our electricity grids and deploying newer and more sophisticated technologies would make better use of scarce economic resources than trying to prop up a failing status quo.

But this is not what I want to take issue with from Peiser’s article. Instead I want to focus on one word because it reveals the kind of trickery with words that is commonplace among climate contrarians. The word is ‘now’. It may be a bit unusual to focus so much attention on such a small word but let me explain why.

What Peiser wrote is “….the science behind the idea of climate change is now being disputed….”( emphasis added ). The clear implication of this sentence is that the science was formerly not disputed and now is disputed. The reader is being invited to think that something new has happened and that something that was previously agreed is no longer agreed.

He could have written that the science behind climate change is disputed. If he had done so I would have agreed with him and not bothered to write this article. But he added the word ‘now’. This is sly. Adding the redundant word is intended to induce the Mail reader into thinking that something is happening in the world of climate science that he or she had not been told.

Why I find this so objectionable is because it both traduces history and reveals a profound ignorance of the scientific method. The science of climate change has always been disputed. That is how the scientific process works. There will always be disputes among climate scientists about the workings of the climate.

Over the past twenty four years, however, climate scientists have put an enormous, and largely voluntary, effort into making sure that governments and the public are well informed about what they do not dispute among themselves. With each report they have published their confidence in what they have agreed has grown. Nothing has happened to cause them to change their minds.

The science of climate change is now being disputed. But not by climate scientists. It is being disputed by the right wing politicians who founded the Global Warming Policy foundation. As research into how the climate work continues there are always disputes in the scientific literature but what is published in the public reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is exactly what they do not dispute.


Tom Burke


March 11th 2014



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Making John Redwood angry – it’s nothing personal


This article first appeared in Business Green on the 17th February 2014


Redwood Big Ben


I recently made John Redwood MP very cross. He was so cross he accused me of making ‘a very unpleasant personal attack’ on him. He was mistaken. I did no such thing. I did, however, disagree very strongly with what he had to say about climate change. There was nothing personal in my argument. I would have made exactly the same points in an equally robust way to anyone sharing his opinions on the climate.

He is by no means the only person to hold such views which is why I am troubling you with an account of what happened. The occasion was a live debate about the floods on Sky News. Here’s what Mr Redwood had to say when asked if we needed to do more to deal with climate change: ‘What we have got to do in Britain, a relatively small but relatively prosperous country, is to make sure we spend our money wisely and adapt to the conditions as they change.’ He went on to say, ‘Climate is always changing……so extreme events do occur from time to time …… the anti-flood authorities should be doing more to protect people’.

This is the Marie Antoinette approach to climate change. It amounts to saying it’s not our fault the climate is changing, stuff happens so get used to it and hope the government will do more to protect people. We may be a small country but that relative prosperity Redwood refers to still makes us the sixth or seventh largest economy in the world and thus one of the larger carbon emitters. This struck me as being more than a little complacent so I said so.

Our prosperity is precisely what is most at risk from a changing climate. The future growth for Britain’s businesses lies in the success of the rapidly growing urban populations of the emerging economies. Climate change is already driving up food and water prices in those cities thus driving down their ability to buy our goods and services. Furthermore, as the Governor of the Bank of England has pointed out, the current floods, as well as devastating people’s lives, could also put the recovery at risk.

A changing climate means there will be more extreme weather events doing more damage to homes and businesses. Redwood’s advice was that have ‘to accept now that there isn’t the political will in the world to control manmade carbon dioxide’ and that we have no choice but to ‘adapt to circumstances as we find them’. Redwood is a former Cabinet Minister. Imagine the outcry if he had offered the same advice about stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons or the spread of infectious diseases.

It is a fundamental responsibility of our government to protect and promote the interests of sixty million Britons. As we are discovering the hard way, a changing climate, with its more extreme weather events, is very definitely not in our interest. It is both irresponsible and immoral for a politicians to suggest that there is nothing we can do about climate change. So I said so. This was not a personal attack on Mr Redwood but it was a forceful rebuttal of his view of our national interest.

As it was, I was even more dismayed by his ignorance. ‘Climate is always changing’ he said, ‘the climate changes for all sorts of reasons, I mean volcanic activity, the jet stream, water vapour in the atmosphere, cloud formation and the sun’s cycles as well as man-made carbon dioxide.’ This is not true. The climate has been remarkably stable throughout the course of human history. The boundaries of that stability are well understood and we are now breaking them.

It is the weather that is always changing. Many factors, including those mentioned by Mr Redwood, do indeed influence the way in which the weather changes. However, the extreme weather events we are now witnessing cannot be explained by those factors. Climate scientists have repeatedly pointed this out. It is only when you factor in the increasing concentration of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels that they can be explained.

It was a famous Conservative politician, Edmund Burke, who pointed out that an elected representative owed his constituents his judgement, not his vote. My challenge to John Redwood was that in being complacent and ill-informed about climate change he was in no position to offer his constituents good judgement.

If this tale were simply about one erring politician it would not be worth your attention. But Mr Redwood is not alone. His reasoning, that the climate is always changing and there is nothing we can do about it, is repeated too often to be mere happenstance. It is quite clear that what he was really doing was just repeating a ‘line to take’ that is being aggressively promoted by the climate denying community. Their goal is as simple as it is destructive – to sow enough confusion in the public mind to prevent governments acting effectively to reduce our combustion of fossil fuels. Wittingly, or not, it is clear whose side Mr Redwood is on in this battle.
Tom Burke

February 13th 2014



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Discussing Climate Change and Floods – BBC Radio 2 – 14th February 2014


Discussing climate change and floods – BBC Radio 2 with Jeremy Vine – 14th February 2014

“A way to think about what we are experiencing now is this; this is the trailer for climate change the movie, if you don’t like the trailer then you probably won’t like the movie very much, this will get worse and worse and worse if we don’t do something about reducing our emissions of carbon dioxide.”

BBC Radio 2 14th Feb 14




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Discussing Climate Change on LBC Radio – 16th February 2014


Discussing climate change on LBC Radio with Andrew Castle on 13th February 2014

“If you like these events are the trailer for climate change the movie, and if you don’t like what’s happening in these events, then you definitely won’t like what happens if we do nothing about it.”

Andrew Castle – The Whole Show – 16 Feb 14


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Discussing Climate Change on LBC Radio – 13th February 2014


Discussing climate change on LBC Radio with Nick Ferrari on 13th February 2014

“The climate is changing because we are putting greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, in some places that will lead to warming, in some places it will lead to drying and in some place it will lead to places getting wetter. The point is the climate is changing and the whole of our human history has been in a period of extraordinarily stable climate, we’re now disturbing that stable climate.”

Nick Ferrari – The Whole Show – 13 Feb 14



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