climate change current affairs politics

Six reasons why Trump could be won over on climate change

There’s been a lot of hand wringing in climate change circles over Donald Trump winning the US elections. Under president Obama, America had finally begun to come round to climate change, at least at the government level. It was very late and hesitant, but finally turning in the right direction. All bets are off with Trump. Those first steps could be very swiftly reversed, and with the US uncooperative, the world will not be able to stop climate change.

It’s difficult to know what Donald Trump really thinks about anything, and climate change is no different. At best, he appears unconvinced on the subject, and at worst he thinks it’s a conspiracy. Either way, we can’t expect serious action. It’s equally difficult to know what he’s actually going to do in office, because he appears to be making it up as he goes along. But if he makes good on his election promises then he’ll be withdrawing the US from the Paris agreement, and throwing his weight behind fossil fuels, including coal. The EPA will be cut down to size, and the latest news is that NASA’s globally respected climate research will no longer be funded.

Trump can’t have it all his own way – the economics are against him on coal, but he can still do a huge amount of damage. The timelines are so tight on climate change that even if he does nothing at all, that would be bad enough. We don’t have four years to wait around. America needs action on climate change, and so does the rest of the world.

Can Trump change his mind? Even though he is busy surrounding himself with people who agree with him, he does appear to be able to take advice. Nobody is unreachable. We can probably assume with some confidence that Greenpeace or the WWF won’t be able to talk him round, but others may speak his language. I’ve been thinking about it, and I reckon there are at least six ways that Trump could be brought round on climate change.

Business – as he will tell you himself at length, Trump is first and foremost a business man, and so business leaders are the most obvious people to take the message. They’re on the case already. An open letter was sent to Trump earlier this month calling for a commitment to the climate. It was signed by Nike, Intel, Gap, Monsanto, and hundreds of other US businesses. There’s also Trump’s own business empire. When his own interests are threatened by the climate, he will act – and indeed he has done so already. His golf courses or the prospects of his vineyards may win him over.

Military – the rest of the country may be moving slower, the US military knows all about climate change. They’ve correctly identified it as a risk, they factor it into their scenario planning, and have contingencies in place. He gets to pick his security advisors, but there’s only so long Donald Trump can go as Commander in Chief before this is explained. It comes up too regularly in risk assessments, and as a factor in overseas conflict – including Syria.

Trade talks – one of Donald Trump’s biggest promises is to renegotiate trade deals, and climate change could become a sticking point here. Trump’s America is planning on being a climate freeloader, but the rest of the world may take a view on that. Everyone wants to trade with the US, so it would be a brave country that made it a deal breaker, but the climate can and will come up in negotiations. China has already notified Britain that climate concerns would feature in any post-Brexit deal.

California – out of curiosity, I looked up the campaign for Californian secession on the morning of the election, and it had 1,115 followers on Twitter. It has a few more today. I don’t think secession is going to happen, but we will see states take responsibility for their own climate action. A California delegation held a series of meetings at the Marrakech climate talks this month, investigating whether or not they could remain a contributing member at the state level if the US pulls out. Even if that doesn’t happen, many states or even cities may choose to act independently, or cooperate with each other despite the federal government.

Grassroots – Trump could turn out to be his own worst enemy. If he makes big moves to disrupt or block climate action, he could prove a radicalising force, both domestically and internationally. Climate change moves in slow motion, and it is hard to build a sense of urgency. He could prove to be exactly what the movement needs to shake off the complacency and get people out on the streets – blockades, civil disobedience, occupations, who knows what might happen. Many people believe that only a mass movement can stop climate change, and Trump could be just the spark it needs.

Disaster – finally, there’s one last thing that could change Trump’s mind, and that’s climate disaster. America has experience of this already, several times over. While it’s never straightforward to link individual events to climate change, the trend is upwards, exactly as climate science predicts. The number of billion dollar weather disasters in the US has doubled in the last five years. I thought that Katrina might be the event that makes the connection for people, but it wasn’t. Then I though Sandy would do it, and then the California drought. Apparently not, so I’m under no illusions. But surely it can’t be ignored forever. If nothing else, the mounting insurance losses will force the issue.

I’m not optimistic about any of this, but I do think that climate change is reaching a point where it can’t be ignored any more. As president of the USA, climate change is going to come across Trump’s desk, and he can’t brush it off with the usual sarcasm. Climate denial is an increasingly untenable position, and any one of the factors above – or a combination of them – may force a change of mind.


  1. I presume and hope that similiar forces are at play in the UK. We might have signed the treaty but our Government, as you all well know, are doing very little to encourage real action.

  2. “… climate change is reaching a point where it can’t be ignored any more … Climate denial is an increasingly untenable position …”

    As I’ve said here quite recently, the much-lauded Paris Agreement is the prime example of climate change being ignored. A treaty that exempts the developing countries (responsible for over 65 percent of global GHG emissions) from any obligation, legal or moral, to reduce those emissions is a monument to “climate denial”: and When Trump discovers that the USA’s prime competitor – China – has so out-played and out-manoeuvred his predecessor that it is free to continue increasing its emissions for the foreseeable future while the US is seriously constrained, that it’s the leading emerging economies that are – and have been for many years – determined to “block climate action”, he may well wish to trigger a fundamental review of the whole issue. A serious threat to withdraw from the Agreement may be precisely what’s needed to get the world to face up to reality. I suggest, Jeremy, that – if you really want the world to start to move in “the right direction” – you should be campaigning for exactly that.

    1. I’m well aware of the flaws in the Paris Agreement, but before we get to that, can I ask an honest question? In the past you’ve been adamant that climate science is all wrong, there’s no consensus and certainly no need for action. Have you changed your mind, or do you still hold that view?

      1. I’m always happy to answer an honest question. But first I’d like some evidence of what you say I was “adamant” about. Did I ever say that “climate science was all wrong”, that “there’s no consensus” and “certainly no need for action”? I don’t think so – but am prepared to stand corrected.

        BTW, from the perspective of anyone who believes GHG emissions must be substantially reduced, the Paris Agreement doesn’t merely have “flaws” – it’s a total disaster.

        1. I’m not going back through our previous debates, you know what I mean – have you come around to the idea that the climate is changing and that human activity is the main reason?

          1. You asserted that I was “adamant” in making three claims. Well, I have been back over several of our previous debates and I’ve found no evidence whatever supporting that assertion. If yours was as you said an “honest question”, I think you owe me an apology.

            As for your current question, as you know I’m a lawyer with no scientific training. My opinion about climate science is therefore of no serious value. But, for what it’s worth, I understand that since the early nineteenth century atmospheric temperatures have risen (slightly) and I accept that human activity may well have contributed to that. And that, Jeremy, has been my position since I first discussed these matters with you. I haven’t changed my mind.

            Now let’s get back on topic. Do you agree that a Trump threat to withdraw from the Paris Agreement might be exactly what’s needed to get the world to start to move in what you believe is “the right direction”?

  3. Fishing for apologies already? I was trying to start with a clean slate.

    I’ll tell you why I ask – we’ve debated enough in the past and I’m not keen on a pointless argument. If you’re interested in how to create meaningful climate action, then let’s talk about it. If you’re just out to pick holes in something that you’d rather see fail anyway, then I’m not inclined to participate.

    In answer to your question, no. The Paris Agreement is poor, but getting that far is still an achievement. It’s based on voluntary contributions, so I don’t agree with your analysis that China has played America.

    1. You start your “clean slate” by making three assertions about my views none of which are true. i would have thought that called for an apology. But, if you disagree, so be it. Let’s move on.

      My interest is in whether or not what you describe as “meaningful climate action” – by which I assume you mean the global community taking serious action to reduce GHG emissions – is likely to happen. I have shown, I believe conclusively, that it is not: the Paris Agreement is (from the perspective of anyone hoping for such action) is not just “poor”, it’s a disaster.** And that has happened because China in particular outmanoeuvred the US. I suggest that it’s best to face up to that reality rather than to live – as you seem determined to do – in a comfy dreamworld.

      ** Here’s Professor Cambell’s view (see reference above):

      [The Paris Agreement] gives the newly industrialising countries such as China and India a permission to emit as much as they see fit. These countries have been principally responsible for the huge growth in emissions since 1990 and they will be responsible for their continued huge growth until 2030. The Paris Agreement therefore makes the policy of mitigation of global warming impossible.

      1. If I lived in a comfy dreamworld where the Paris Agreement had solved all our problems, why would I still be writing about climate change?

        So it would seem neither of us have any idea what the other’s views really are.

  4. No, the dreamworld to which I refer is not a world that believes the Paris Agreement has “solved all our problems”, but a world that refuses to accept that (as Professor Campbell has it) “the Paris Agreement … makes the policy of mitigation of global warming impossible”.

    I confine my views on climate change to the area where I have expertise: international law and politics. I believe an aspect of those views is clearly expressed here: But, if you’d like me to expand on or explain anything, I’d be happy to try to do so,

    1. I don’t agree with Campbell’s idea that Paris makes it impossible. It was bordering on impossible before, it was certainly impossible without a global deal, and I don’t see how Paris tips it over into conclusively impossible.

      I also don’t see how China has outplayed the US. All the contributions are voluntary, with every country submitting its own plan. These are non-binding, and I thought that was common knowledge.

      Campbell seems to miss the fact that it’s China pushing the US for action at the moment, not the other way round.

      1. The reason Campbell (and I) say that the mitigation policy is impossible is that Article 4.7 of the UNFCCC and Article 10 of the Kyoto Protocol specifically permit developing countries (including all the newly industrialised countries (NICs) such as Chine and India) to emit as much as they see fit – a permission actually now strengthened by Article 4.4 of the Paris Agreement.That Agreement was signed by nearly 200 countries last year and has now been formally ratified. Thus the permission accorded to developing countries is enshrined in international law. Yet the developing countries are responsible for over 65 percent of global GHG emissions, with the NICs almost entirely responsible for the huge growth in emissions since 1990 and set to continue that growth until at least 2030. The practical effect of all this is that it is now impossible to implement a policy of urgent and substantial reduction in global emissions. That’s Campbell’s opinion. Why don’t you agree with it?

        It’s extraordinary that the West (really the US), in view of its declared policy on climate change, should have allowed the NICs this absurd privilege. But a review of the detailed pre Paris negotiations in 2014 and 2015 reveals what happened. India and China made it clear that they would accept no other outcome. And the US, desperate to avoid another Copenhagen-like debacle and to protect Obama’s “legacy”, weakly went along with it – just as India and China knew they would if they didn’t waver. That, Jeremy, is how China outmanoeuvred the US.

        Of course China is pushing for action: they’ve secured a deal that is hugely to their advantage (and to the West’s disadvantage) and they’re determined to see it implemented.

        1. I don’t agree with your conclusion that mitigation is impossible, because it assumes that developing countries don’t want to curb their emissions. They have the right to emit, and that needed to be in place or there would have been no deal – it would be hypocrisy otherwise. It doesn’t mean they will do nothing. China takes the climate much more seriously than the US does, and its investments in renewable energy outstrip any other nation on earth.

          That ambition extends well beyond China. As I wrote about the other week, dozens of developing countries intend to be zero carbon. They could build coal power stations if they wanted to, but they don’t, because they understand the consequences of climate change.

          India is an outlier, and there are others, but Campbell seems to be treating developing countries as a block, with very low expectations.

          1. It might be comforting to think that, notwithstanding their right to emit, developing nations really intend to curb their emissions. But that’s a view unsupported by the facts.


            ** Already responsible for 30 percent of global emissions, is investing heavily in coal-fired plant: LINK, LINK, LINK, LINK and LINK.

            **Moreover, China is massively involved in supporting coal projects overseas: LINK, LINK, and LINK.

            ** None of this is likely to be helped, to take one example, by its plans to build 66 new airports over the next five years: LINK.

            ** It’s true of course that China is investing heavily in renewables. But, as shown here (LINK.), although wind and solar power consumption has increased by a substantial 47 Mtoe (million tons of oil equivalent) since 2008, consumption of fossil fuels has grown by a massive 601 Mtoe over the same period.

            Other developing countries

            ** As you’ve noted, India like China is investing heavily in fossil-fuel power.

            ** But not only India – CO2 emissions in SE Asia are set to double by 2040: LINK. It’s a pattern found throughout the developing world.

            ** Yes, last year a massive $156 billion spent on renewables by developing countries. But, of that, $103 billion (66%) was spent by China: LINK. So, as so often, the story is really all about China – not what’s happening throughout the developing world. And I’ve already noted how Chinese renewable growth is dwarfed by fossil fuels. In any case, to put the issue into context, wind and solar are responsible for only 3.5% of Chinese electricity production: LINK. And that means only 2% (including “biomass” – i.e. wood, dung etc.) of primary energy consumption.

            In any case, the issue was neatly summarised (LINK) by James Hansen (leading climate scientist and activist):

            Can renewable energies provide all of society’s energy needs in the foreseeable future? It is conceivable in a few places, such as New Zealand and Norway. But suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.

            No, the real story is that developing countries are serious about their exemption from any obligation to cut emissions. And they’re serious because of their understandable intention to prioritise economic development and poverty elimination. Few, if any, have a serious intent to become “zero carbon”. You claim otherwise – referring I think to the Climate Vulnerable Forum’s recent declaration. But I believe actions speak louder than words. For example: Bangladesh, The Maldives, Nigeria, Ghana, Vietnam, Kenya. An extract from the latter:

            “With the support of its state-owned banks, China is investing heavily across Africa. And despite showing off the climate champion badge for its US$3.1bn contribution to international climate finance, much of that investment is going into coal development.”

  5. Your comments went in the spam filter Robin, too many links at once.

    This is argument by Google, and Google will give you what you look for. I’m not ignorant of all this stuff, but go and do some more Googling with different searches and you’ll get the other side: China’s wind power boom for example, the fact that it leads the world in solar installations and renewable energy investment. Look up the five year plan and what that will mean for air pollution and thus coal. There are two sides to this story.

    That doesn’t mean we can be complacent, or that the problem is somehow solved. Climate change is an enormous mountain to climb, so I don’t have a rosy view in the slightest. But neither do I think we should just shrug and say ‘impossible!’ and damn future generations to a wrecked climate.

    1. This is most certainly NOT argument by Google. I’m a boring person who, for four years now, has been following what’s happening internationally very closely – and who has read up the detailed history of the matter going back to the 1972 Stockholm summit. I don’t for a moment deny that “China … leads the world in solar installations and renewable energy investment”. The problem is that it also leads the world, by a huge margin, in fossil fuel investment – investment (both at home and overseas) that dwarfs their renewable investment. See above: in China, renewables represent only 2% of primary energy consumption – and that includes “biomass” – i.e. wood, dung etc. Exclude those and it’s probably closer to 1%. China’s primary concern is, as you say, to tackle urban pollution. Hence its closing of old coal-fired power plants. But – again see the evidence above – it’s busily opening new ones away from its cities. Urban pollution is a wholly different issue from climate change. And there’s abundant evidence that China is not concerned about the latter: they’re unconvinced about the “wrecked climate” hypothesis.

      I seriously suggest that you get used to this uncomfortable reality.

      1. Then you’ll know that the economics of coal is shifting dramatically, and that investment in coal could turn out to be a bad bet. You’ll also know that China has an over-investment problem generally, incentivising regional authorities to build roads, power stations, whole cities, without really asking if they’re needed. And you’ll know that Chinese coal consumption peaked two years ago.

        I’m not for a moment saying that China is a carbon hero and that all is well in the world. As I’ve said already, why would I be writing about climate change if the matter was solved?

        What I’m disagreeing with is the idea that mitigation is impossible. I also fundamentally disagree with the idea that not only can nothing be done, it’s also the developing world’s fault. That’s a spectacular dodging of historic responsibility.

        But this is a bit strange, to be honest, to have you lecturing me about how bad things are and how over-optimistic I’m apparently being about the climate.

  6. 1. Is it likely that investment in coal will turn out to be a bad bet?

    Answer: if you live in the West, probably Yes. But if, like most people, you live in the rest of the world, certainly No.

    2. Does China have over-investment problems generally?

    Answer: probably yes.

    3. Did Chinese coal consumption peak two years ago?

    Answer: no.

    4. Is mitigation impossible?

    Answer: in theory no. But the developing world’s current actions make it virtually impossible in practice.

    5. Is it a “spectacular dodging of historic of historic responsibility” to say (as I did just now) that the developing world’s current actions make mitigation virtually impossible?

    Answer: no – it’s an accurate observation.

    6. Is it “a bit strange” that I’m pessimistic about GHG reduction whereas (if I read you correctly) you’re a qualified optimist?

    Answer: not in my view – I’ve always thought GHG reduction unlikely.

      1. And do you think greenhouse gas reduction is necessary?

        Answer: I don’t know. But, as it’s most unlikely to be reduced, I hope reduction is unnecessary.

        1. Can I suggest you settle the matter for yourself one way or another. It’s pretty important. If I spent so much time trying to convince people that it can’t be done, and then discovered that it really has to be done regardless, I’d be rather embarrassed that I’d been part of the problem for so long.

          1. You wholly misunderstand my position, Jeremy. I’m sure that – for the reasons I’ve stated here in some detail – global GHG reduction is most unlikely. I’ve come to that conclusion from a detailed, careful and objective review of the facts. That would therefore be my position if I were convinced that reduction was necessary. Equally it would be my position if I were convinced that reduction was unnecessary.

          2. Your misunderstanding of my position now is precisely the same as the misunderstanding you expressed here over five years ago: Far from “working against those trying to create a sustainable society” as you said then or being “a part of the problem” as you say now, I had then (and have now) no doubt that gaining an understanding of what’s really happening – rather than living in a dream-world of what you’d like to be happening – is the only way to move forward.

            You may note how prescient I was in 2011 about the prospects for a legally binding, globally applicable emission reduction deal. As I predicted, there was no such deal and, as a result, serious reduction is now most unlikely. And that happened because the West (essentially the USA), despite its stated belief in potentially catastrophic climate change, completely failed to press its case in negotiation, allowing the developing world (essentially China) to achieve the total exemption it demanded.

            Now consider that for a moment. Had I had the slightest influence in 2011 (which of course I didn’t) and had Western leaders listened to me, the outcome might have been very different. Hmm … “part of the problem”? I don’t think so.

            And, yes, I have some thoughts about how to cope with today’s situation. Although of course no one’s going to listen to me today any more than they did in 2011.

  7. Then yours is a futile position, and all you’re doing is wasting everybody’s time – your own included. There are lots of unlikely things that still ought to happen: can we eliminate malaria entirely? Will the pay gap between men and women ever be closed?

    If we all said ‘unlikely, probably impossible’, it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy. But enough people think otherwise to go and do the unlikely thing. If you’re spending your time pointlessly undermining those people, then don’t flatter yourself that you’re being objective – you’re being part of the problem.

    Let me remind you that you’ve submitted written evidence on climate change matters, so you’re far from a passive observer, and yet you admit that you don’t know whether or not emissions reduction is necessary.

    This is far too important an issue too be neutral about it. You need to settle the matter of whether or not human activity is the key factor in climate change, and therefore whether or not emissions reductions are necessary. Until you do, any debate with you is pointless.

    I don’t want to be rude, but as you say, we have been here before.

  8. 1. “Yours is a futile position.

    I’m addressing those who are convinced that humans must urgently and substantially reduce their GHG emissions if they are to avoid potential catastrophe. I don’t know if that’s your view – but it’s certainly the view of many in the West. I’m demonstrating to them with clear evidence that, as those responsible for the overwhelming bulk of emissions have no wish to reduce them, urgent and substantial reduction is most unlikely.

    I believe that’s today’s reality. And facing up to reality is never futile – far from undermining people, it empowers them.

    There are three ways of dealing with that message. One is to show, with evidence, that it’s incorrect. The second is to accept it and see what can be done to alter today’s reality. The third is to shoot the messenger and pretend his message was not delivered. You (assuming you accept the necessity for urgent and substantial reduction) have chosen the third.

    2. “You’ve submitted written evidence.

    True. It was exclusively concerned with my expertise in opinion research. Any views I might have had on climate change were completely irrelevant.

    3. “This is far too important an issue to be neutral about it.

    What’s wrong with being neutral when commenting on a complex and highly contentious issue? For example, should journalists reporting on the ghastly events in Aleppo have to decide which faction they support?

    In any case, there are experienced and highly qualified scientists expressing a range of wholly differing views on climate change. On what possible basis can I – totally without scientific qualification – be expected to choose between them? For example, Ding Zhongli, Vice President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (and described as “the final word on climate science for the Chinese Communist Party”), has observed that a significant relationship between temperature and CO2 “lacks reliable evidence in science”. I find that surprising – obviously many, possibly most, experienced climate scientists in the West disagree with him. But it would be absurdly arrogant for me to assert that he’s wrong.

    4.”We have been here before.

    True. You were wrong then. And you’re wrong now.

    1. This is why I asked my honest question at the beginning. Should have stuck to it. “Any views I might have had on climate change were completely irrelevant” is not good enough. It’s like a Tottenham fan making suggestions for running Arsenal, or a Tory advising Labour.

      Come back and debate when you’ve made up your mind about climate change.

      1. “‘Any views I might have had on climate change were completely irrelevant’ is not good enough.

        Nonsense. My views then were the same as my views now. As I said above, “for what it’s worth, I understand that since the early nineteenth century atmospheric temperatures have risen (slightly) and I accept that human activity may well have contributed to that”. My submission to the Select Committee was entirely based on my skill and expertise in opinion research – it wasn’t remotely affected by my (limited) understanding of the science of climate change.

        Now an honest question for you: do you think that humans must urgently and substantially reduce their GHG emissions if they are to avoid potential catastrophe?

          1. So you’re running away from my simple question! I’ll try again:

            Do you think humans must urgently and substantially reduce their GHG emissions if they are to avoid potential catastrophe?

            A “yes”, “no” or “don’t know” will do. Don’t worry – I’m interested in your view, not in debating it.

    1. Why are you finding it so difficult to answer a simple question?

      Do you think humans must urgently and substantially reduce their GHG emissions if they are to avoid potential catastrophe?

      I look forward to an answer. Thanks.

      1. Extraordinary that you should be asking this question. It’s yes and I write about it week in, week out. Have done for a decade. Thanks for noticing, that totally makes my point about the futility of our exchanges.

        1. It’s yes.

          Thanks – interesting. The key words in my question are “urgently” and “substantially”. Although your blog is clear that GHG reduction is needed, I missed those conditions – perhaps I haven’t read it sufficiently carefully. Given the developing world’s exemption from making cuts and the evidence of its massive FF investments, I’d be interested to know how you think urgent and substantial reduction might be effected. But I suppose that might lead to debate – which, in my case, is not allowed. See my next post.

        2. Let’s debate climate action when you’ve made up your mind about whether climate change action is necessary.

          I’m completely unqualified to form a view on this.

          I find it remarkable that you seem not to understand that climate science is a subject that comprises a huge range of scientific disciplines with highly experienced specialists working on different pieces of an extraordinarily complex puzzle. Even closely related disciplines present a difficulty. For example, in an interview with the BBC, Professor Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia (whose research includes the detection of climate change), when asked whether natural influences could have contributed to global warming, declined to answer observing, “This area is slightly outside my area of expertise”. Yet the influence of natural effects is a critical issue of climate science.

          If Professor Jones is ill qualified to deal with such an issue, it’s absurd to expect someone such as myself, without any scientific training or experience whatever, to have a useful view on a question of climate science – neutrality is the only sensible option.

          Yet you seem determined to treat climate science as if it were a fundamentalist religion: it’s a question of faith – understanding and scholarship are irrelevant. So, before anyone may even discuss it, they must decide: are they a believer or a non-believer? Neutrality or agnosticism is not an option.

          Come on Jeremy, you know that’s nonsensical.

  9. There’s a simple reason why I don’t want to argue with you. It’s this: you’ve picked a fight here on the blog many times in the past, while boasting on other sites that you were doing so. So unfortunately I can’t really know if you comment in good faith, or because you enjoy arguing on the internet as some kind of retirement hobby.

    Hence my question. If you’ve changed your position and we have something interesting to talk about, let’s talk. If not, let’s save each other the trouble, because we know it won’t go anywhere productive.

    It seems it’s the latter, in which case let’s not repeat ourselves.

    1. ”I can’t really know if you comment in good faith”

      I absolutely assure you that my comments here are (and always were) in good faith. And I’m not remotely interested in picking a fight – I’m looking for an exchange of ideas.

      ”If you’ve changed your position and we have something interesting to talk about, let’s talk.”

      I’ve already set out my view on climate change science. It’s this: for what it’s worth [for the reasons set out above, not much], I understand that since the early nineteenth century atmospheric temperatures have risen (slightly) and I accept that human activity may well have contributed to that. That’s my view now – the same as my view then.

      What’s changed and what makes a discussion now interesting, important and potentially valuable is this: international climate politics have developed significantly over the last five years. And the impact of that development has seriously important implications – implications that read directly across to your view that humans must urgently and substantially reduce their GHG emissions if they are to avoid potential catastrophe. By definition (our last discussion was five years ago) in a discussion now we would not be repeating ourselves.

      So, as I said earlier this evening, ”given the developing world’s exemption from making cuts and the evidence of its massive FF investments, I’d be interested to know how you think urgent and substantial reduction might be effected.” To my mind it’s virtually impossible. But you have other ideas and I’d like to know what they are. My interest is wholly sincere.

      So what’s your position? You must surely think that this is, not just interesting, but critically important?

  10. I could spend long hours discussing my position with someone who’s interest in climate change is largely academic and possibly sport. Or I could spend that time writing the blog instead. I want to use my time wisely. I am after all – and we agree on this – facing improbable odds.

    I’ll write a post on China in the next week or so.

    1. I’ve devoted a lot of time over recent years to following the course of international climate negotiations and reading up on the history of such negotiations since the UN Conference in the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972. It’s a story that has huge impact on the modern world. My interest – in the changing nature of international power politics – is of the greatest practical importance and is certainly not “academic”. It’s deadly serious and about as far from being “sport” as is possible.

      My conclusion from all this is that the developing world’s exemption from making cuts and the evidence of its massive FF investments make urgent and substantial emission reduction virtually impossible. Yet you, someone who takes the issue equally seriously and also spends a lot of time on it, disagree with that conclusion. So I’m genuinely interested to know why you think why I’ve got it wrong – why you think urgent and substantial reduction is a real, if challenging, possibility.

      An outline of your views would be adequate. As I said above, my interest is wholly sincere. I believe we might both benefit from an exchange of thinking.

      1. I think I’ve said this three or four times now: I completely agree that it’s virtually impossible. However, because I’m convinced that emissions reductions are the only way to avert dangerous climate change, we have to keep trying. I’m not naive about our chances, but it’s the right thing to do.

        Your view is completely different. I quote: “fears of dangerous man-made climate change would seem to be based on no more than an interesting but unverified hypothesis”

        That was you in 2009, when you were a regular commenter on every post I wrote about climate change, picking holes in any mention of a scientific consensus, evidence, the validity of the IPCC, etc.

        If you’re not convinced that it matters, it’s easy and convenient to throw up your hands and say ‘impossible’. That’s the luxury of being a sceptic, but climate change is a serious matter of justice, and not something you can be neutral about. To be blunt, either do something constructive, or get out of the way.

        But I’m repeating myself on this comment string, which is itself a repetition of arguments we’ve had in the past.

        1. “To be blunt, either do something constructive, or get out of the way.”

          Fair comment. See below.

          “I completely agree that it’s virtually impossible.”

          So we both face the same enormous challenge. Let’s see if either of us can outline how a solution might possibly be implemented.

          “You’re not convinced that it matters”

          True. But nor am I convinced that it doesn’t matter. I’m neutral because – for the reasons I’ve explained at some length – I’m hopelessly ill qualified to have a valid opinion on a matter of scientific complexity

          A possible solution.

          First, it’s essential to understand the essence of what we’re up against – why is a solution virtually unachievable? My view – derived from detailed study of climate negotiations – is this: the ratification of the Paris agreement marked the culmination of a remarkable transfer of power whereby the developing economies (represented by the newly industrialised countries (NICs), especially India and China) wrested control away from the West (the US and EU). And, wholly at odds with the West – which had declared repeatedly that emission reduction was the essential – the NICs are adamant: economic development and poverty elimination must have overriding priority. And, in their view, that means expanding their fossil fuel based capacity. Moreover, underlying that is abundant evidence that China (and perhaps also India) is unconvinced that GHG emissions are a serious threat. (Of course they’re worried about urban pollution – but that’s a different matter.)

          The challenge therefore is to find a way of overcoming all that. I think I may have identified a possible way forward – something that might at least be the beginnings of a solution. In my view, developing that, far from throwing up my hands and saying ‘impossible’, is most certainly doing “something constructive”. If you’re interested, I’m even ready to share my initial thoughts with you.

          But first I have two questions. (1) Do you agree with my analysis of the challenge? And (2), if so, what constructive actions are you taking to deal with it? (I trust I will not have to ask you to get out of the way.)

    1. “1) In part.”

      Before I can decide if it’s worthwhile sharing my initial thinking, I’ll need to know with what part(s) you don’t agree.

      “2) I’ll write about it on the blog.”

      Good plan – I look forward to that.

  11. Okay – I think the breakthroughs in negotiations in the last couple of years show a power sharing, not a power grab. There was no reason why the West should be in charge of climate talks and dictating terms to developing countries, especially as China is now a bigger emitter. The shift I see is from ‘I won’t if you won’t between the US and China to ‘I will if you will’, which is more cooperative. So I don’t think China has outwitted the US, or that Trump is going to see that they’ve been played in any way. He’s against the deal anyway, so it’s a moot point.

    Besides, the whole Paris Agreement is based on voluntary contributions. America’s are every bit as voluntary as anyone else’s. They only become binding if individual nations choose to unilaterally decide that for themselves, as Britain has done. I’ve read your paper on it and know you refer to older documents that haven’t been rescinded, but the progression from Kyoto to its expiry to this agreement is pretty clear.

    I also disagree developing countries don’t care about climate change, or that China is only playing along. Beijing will be underwater if current projections are correct. Flooding in cities is a major problem already. The country has a whole raft of initiatives to adapt to and mitigate climate change, so this idea that China is faking it for political gain doesn’t add up.

    Finally, I don’t see the international agreement as the be all and end all of climate change action. It’s a big part of it, but government is one of several driving forces behind climate action.

    Outline your plan if you wish. If it’s to carry on making the developed world richer and help the developed world catch up, while focusing on adaptation where necessary and transitioning gradually to better energy sources that happen to be low carbon then a) that’s a non-plan, as it’s business as usual, and b) it’s a recipe for climate disaster. But hopefully you’ll surprise me.

  12. Thanks, Jeremy – an interesting analysis. I agree with some of it: for example, that there’s no reason for the West to be in charge of climate talks. But essentially your view is very different from mine. Your ‘I will if you will’ is where the world (especially the US and China) must be for there to be any prospect of urgent and substantial cuts. But we’re a long way from being there now. And it’s getting there that’s the challenge my thinking is attempting to address – a solution would incidentally be quite unlike the caricature indicated in your final paragraph. But, as your view of that challenge is so very different from mine, there’s little point in my outlining my initial thoughts now.

    I believe that, in particular, you’re far too sanguine about China. So I’ll focus on that.


    There’s abundant evidence that official scientific opinion in China is unconvinced about the significance of AGW. For example, on December 12 (1:43 pm) I quoted Ding Zhongli’s observation that a significant relationship between temperature and CO2 “lacks reliable evidence in science”. And here’s an extract from the opening paragraph of an article available now on the Chinese Academy of Sciences website (English version):

    Global warming, namely the unequivocal and continuing rise in Earth’s climate, is one of the hottest and most debatable issue at the present time. … worldwide scientists are still skeptical and debate on the possible explanation of the global warming never ends. Research shows that the IPCC’s model tends to underestimate the impact of natural factors on the climate change, while overestimate that of the human activities.”

    If you’re interested, I can also refer you to recent Chinese research about for example, sea levels (a small deceleration observed), today’s global temperature being within natural ranges of past changes, a 368- year temperature reconstruction showing how it was ”noteworthy that 20th century warming was not very obvious”, acceptance of the reality of the hiatus in the surface temperature record … and more.


    In any case, if China – by far the greatest emitter of GHGs (more than the US and EU combined) – truly thought GHG emissions threatened humanity with catastrophe, it would surely be joining the West in taking urgent action on reduction. But it isn’t. On the contrary, it’s continuing its huge infrastructure developments – for example, its plans to build 66 new airports over the next five years and its vast investments in coal-fired plant (including coal gasification projects), both at home and extensively throughout the world (see my links above). And how about its creating several new islands (for oil extraction, economic and military reasons) in the South China Sea? These islands are only slightly above sea level. If it really thought they were likely to be swamped by sea level rise within the foreseeable future, it would hardly be spending billions on their development. None of this indicates serious concern about GHG emissions.

    You say you’re planning articles on your blog specifically about a solution to your take on the challenge and about China. That sounds interesting: I’ll look out for both.

    1. There are sceptics in China, sure, but you posted that quote on Bishop Hill two years ago. Got anything more recent or relevant? (Where are you getting your climate change news from these days, by the way?)

      Browse the latest news releases from the China Academy of Sciences, the country’s official scientific body, and your case doesn’t really add up. Here’s a story from five days ago that says “reducing carbon emissions is a global problem that needs a global solution”, or this one that talks about “the urgent need for reductions of carbon emissions”

      1. Policy

        Two things are driving China’s policy on fossil fuel emissions: (1) the need to radically reduce urban pollution and (2) an ambition that GHG reduction should weaken the Western (US and EU) economy, while the Newly Industrialised Countries (especially China and India) continue to emit GHGs. Whereas the first – essential if the communist party is to be sure of retaining its grip on power – is proving to be worryingly difficult, the second, because the West’s pre-Paris negotiating surrender, has been remarkably successful.


        There are sceptics in China, sure”. Yes, and it’s remarkable that they author comments on the Chinese Academy of Scientists website. Er … that doesn’t happen in the West. “Got anything more recent or relevant?” I referred to four examples of recent research in my last comment – all postdate that CAS quote (itself BTW referring to a paper entitled “High Correlations between Solar Activity and the Earth’s Averaged Surface Temperature Proved by NSSC Scientists”). In any case, a quotation from 2014 is hardly out-dated. And a CAS quotation that questions the IPCC’s conclusion on attribution could scarcely be more relevant.

        The opinion expressed in the first press release you cite (about the satellite launch) has no scientific value. The closest the second comes to science is this comment (following a suggestion that climate change may have caused the extinction of dinosaurs): “Scientific research has now suggested that the same situation could happen to humankind given the impacts of climate change on core ecological processes.” That vague (“suggested” “could happen”) observation may be true. But there’s no indication that China even agrees with it or with the research conclusion. China has produced other examples of such statements: they all help to put pressure on the West for urgent GHG reduction.


        But, in any case, actions speak louder than words. And, if China really believed that AGW threatened catastrophe, it would not be taking the actions I referred to in my last comment. Investment in overseas coal projects is an important example:

        An extract:

        With the support of its state-owned banks, China is investing heavily across Africa. And despite showing off the climate champion badge for its US$3.1bn contribution to international climate finance, much of that investment is going into coal development.

        Much more detail here:

      2. Where are you getting your climate change news from these days, by the way?

        There aren’t many places that cater specifically for the news that interests me: international climate change policy and politics. In any case, I rarely take stories at face value, but as a lead for further research. One that I’ve found most useful, visiting it most days, is “Climate Home”. Another (where I’ve been tempted to comment from time to time) is the climate change section of “The Conversation”. Although rarely on my topic, I enjoy “Climate Etc.” (Professor Judith Curry’s blog) as it attracts comments from all sides of the debate. “The New York Times” has some useful articles (you may have noted I cited a few above) and “China Dialogue” and “Power Engineering International” can be interesting and relevant. The International Energy Authority and the EU’s Joint Research Centre (“EDGAR”) are useful for background data. When pre-Paris negotiations were in full swing, “ClimateTracker” (the “Daily Tck”) was very useful – and I still read its associated “Tree Alerts” most days. But commonly I find myself in unexpected places – so there are a lot more.

      3. There are sceptics in China, sure.

        Yes, and I’ve noted two: (1) (December 12, 1:43 pm) Ding Zhongli, VP of the CAS and (2) (on Wednesday) the author of a significant CAS comment on recent research. Here’s another:

        A few years ago, Xie Zhenhua, described as “China’s top climate change negotiator”, said this:

        There are disputes in the scientific community. We have to have an open attitude to the scientific research. There’s an alternative view that climate change is caused by cyclical trends in nature itself. We have to keep an open attitude.


        It’s interesting therefore that, just a few years later, responding to a question about Trump’s threat to “cancel” the Paris deal, Xie Zhenhua, now described as “China’s veteran climate chief”, said this:

        I believe a wise political leader should take policy stances that conform with global trends.


        However, even more interesting, the same article notes how “Xie’s close relationship with US counterpart Todd Stern was instrumental in building support for an international climate agreement.

        So Todd Stern’s key partner in establishing the “breakthrough” pact was a prominent climate change sceptic. Hmm …

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