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Emissions of hypocrisy on the increase

Sonorous Presbyterian tones rumble through the room: “We have fewer than fifty days to save our planet from catastrophe.” Gordon Brown is preaching to the Major Economies Forum. Yet Brown and his government stand accused of being amongst the world’s greatest climate change hypocrites.

Hypocrisy no. 1
The Treasury has gone to court to defend the right of the state-owned RBS bank to finance companies involved in enterprises that pollute the planet, add to emissions and seize land from indigenous people.

Campaigners from Platform, the World Development Movement and People & Planet vowed to appeal after failing to convince a High Court judge to order a judicial review of the Treasury’s position on RBS investments. In particular they highlight Vedanta, which is mining bauxite on sacred land in Orissa in India. A scathing report from the government’s own business department accuses Vedanta of disrespecting the rights of indigenous people.

The Treasury hired a high-price QC to defend its position that it would be wrong to consider climate change and human rights when it evaluates the "commercial" interests of state-owned bank.

Hypocrisy no. 2
The government has been exaggerating its claims of reductions in CO2 emissions, according to the UK Statistics Authority. Sir Michael Scholar, the authority’s chair, has accused the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) of producing “unsatisfactory data”.

Scholar wrote to Tim Yeo, chairman of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, saying that a statistical bulletin released by the DECC in February “fell short” of the code of practice for government statistics.

The government claims CO2 emissions have fallen by 12.8% compared to 1990 levels. But almost a third of that is made up of carbon credits purchased by polluters in the EU trading scheme and do not represent actual cuts. The real reduction is more like 8.5%.

Scholar told the Commons committee: "In this case, the figures mentioned are, in our view, likely to be used by non-expert observers to judge progress in reducing CO2 emissions within the UK. We regard the quoted figures, and particularly the percentage change, as unsatisfactory in the context of that use."

Hypocrisy no. 3
The government own Climate Change Committee suggests that only the recession, resulting in less energy use by industry, can save New Labour from failing to meet targets. From 2003 to 2007 greenhouse gas emissions were falling at less than 1% each year, well below the target.

The Committee also said that much of the reduction in recent years has been in non-CO2 gases. CO2 emissions in the period 2003-07 averaged a 0.6% annual reduction. Where CO2 emissions have fallen, the extent to which this has been through implementation of measures to improve energy or carbon efficiency is very limited. Broadly speaking, it has been as a result of carbon offsetting.

Of course when it comes to hypocrisy, Brown is not alone in advance of the Copenhagen climate change summit in December. His EU colleagues talk big numbers but in reality, Germany, Italy and Poland have no intention of acting because they put achieving a return to capitalist economic growth before everything else.

And you could argue that the world’s number one hypocrite is China. If it was truly “the People’s Republic”, they would be acting now to prevent the impact of climate change on the Chinese people. As it is, Beijing is playing diplomatic games with the major economies over carbon emissions. Meanwhile, China is engaged in the large-scale buying up of resources in Africa and the Middle East with absolutely no concern for the environment.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
22 October 2009