Why Fraser Nelson's Olympic optimism about climate change and fossil fuel consumption may be misplaced
- 10 Aug 2012, 14:00
- Robin Webster and Verity Payne
The Olympics has prompted something of an identity crisis in the
media for Britain. Suddenly, we're good
at sport, everybody's
like ourselves, and global warming isn't a problem.
Well, that last point is what Spectator editor Fraser Nelson
opinion piece for the Telegraph, anyway. British success at the
Olympics has inspired him to proclaim:
"The world has never been richer,
healthier, freer or more equal than it is today".
We were interested to read the paragraph in which Nelson turns
to energy and climate change. To illustrate how much more
optimistic the British should be about our lot, he argues we
shouldn't listen to anyone who says climate change poses a future
threat. He claims:
"The truth is that the world's
fossil-fuel consumption is falling, mainly due to more efficient
cars and factories."
This is not correct, according to two authoritative assessments
of global energy use.
The most recent
BP Statistical Review of World Energy, released in June, gives
a view from the fossil fuel industry. It says global energy
consumption grew by 2.5 per cent in 2011. Overall, fossil fuels
represent 87 per cent of global energy consumption.
According to BP, demand for oil grew by less than 1 per cent in
2011, while demand for gas grew by 2.2 per cent. Demand for coal
increased by 5.4 per cent, or 8.4 per cent in emerging economies.
So according to the most recent BP statistics, globally we are
using more of all the major fossil fuels.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) - which publishes
statistics on global energy use - agrees. The graph below
from the IEA shows where the world got its energy from between
1971 and 2009. The purple, blue and green sections - representing
energy from coal/peat, oil and natural gas - have grown
substantially over the time period.
Coal accounted for 45% of total energy-related CO2 emissions in
2011, followed by oil (35 per cent) and natural gas (20 per cent).
The IEA estimates that emissions will
grow by 58 per cent globally by 2030 unless new policy measures
Global warming not synonymous with doom
So much for the causes of global warming. But what about the
impacts? Nelson goes on:
"Nor is warming synonymous with doom.
Scour the raw data of the Government's climate change "risk
assessment" (as I did) and you find that a warmer Britain will
mean, on average, 11,000 fewer deaths each year by 2050 because
fewer pensioners will die from the cold. But do not expect to find
this point made in any official report. The Environment Department
is there not to give impartial advice, but to scare us."
also looked at the Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) report
by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
(Defra) earlier in the year. It suggests there will be between
5,000 and 24,000 fewer premature deaths from cold as winters get
warmer, and that without measures to alleviate problems by the
2050s there will be an extra 1,000 to 6,000 premature deaths per
year due to hotter summers.
Setting aside the issues of whether scientists generally issue
warnings about climate change by saying it will cause "doom", (they
don't) and whether assessing the risks of climate change can be
reduced to predicting whether less people will die from cold in the
UK in a warmer world, (it can't), we also noted that overall Defra
does not suggest that pros will outweigh cons for the UK.
This table, which gives a summary of the risks and opportunities
the report identified for human health, illustrates the point:
Source: UK Climate Change Risk Assessment Government
That looks like a complicated picture, with real benefits and real
risks, and plenty of uncertainties. Highlighting one projected
positive outcome doesn't make that complicated picture
Anyway, back to the gold rush!