Thursday, November 02, 2006


Basing it on observed reality (such as the halt in global warming since 1998) would be too much to expect altogether, of course. Comment on the Stern model below by Tim Worstall. Tim enlarges on his comments on his blog

The Stern Report is now out and as usual with these sorts of things we're going to have the most almighty cat fights about what it all means. A number of observations:

1) The report itself, although not much of the commentary upon it, gives a timescale of 'centuries to a millenium' for the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps, if that indeed happens at all. No, despite what the papers seem to say, no one is predicting sea level rises of 7 metres in only 94 years time.

2) In order to make mitigation now work financially instead of adaptation later it is necessary to work on the concept of discount rates. The report insists that we should use very low ones with the effect that such mitigating spending now looks better.

3) Quite rightly (to my mind, of course) the point is made that the poor need to be encouraged, even aided, to become richer so that they will be more able to make whatever adaptations are necessary. This would seem to indicate once again that we should abandon our own trade restrictions: nothing helps the poor more than buying the things they make. Free Trade for Gaia perhaps?

There's one part, where they do their own modelling, that I think (again, please note, this is my opinion) is an horrendous error, so bad that I think it discredits everything else. The entire logic behind the call to action runs like this: If we don't change our ways now then people in the future will be poorer than they could have been if we did change our ways. As long as the costs to us are less than the increased income in the future from our doing so, then it is a moral imperative that we should indeed change.

However, the model of the future that is used to calculate said future incomes and costs is the 'A2' model from the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES), the basis of the IPCC report. (Page 61, chapter three of the Stern Report.) This assumes a medium high emissions scenario, a population of 15 billion in 2100 (!!) and a definite slowing of globalization so that we maintain a series of regional economies with little diffusion of technology. This is referred to as the business as usual (BAU) scenario.

However, that is something of a misunderstanding of the SRES scenarios. Each scenario has an equal probability, there is no such thing as 'this is what will happen unless we do something'. There are other families of scenarios, like the A1, B1 and B2 ones. The A1 family, for example, is based upon the international movement of people, ideas and technology and a strong commitment to market-based solutions. It's worth noting that this produces a world, in aggregate, twice as rich as the A2 one used by the Stern Report and given the lower population, one four times as rich per head of population.

So if indeed it is true that we have a moral duty to ensure that our descendants are as rich as possible (which is, after all, the report's justification for mitigation now) then don't we also have one to push the world in the A1 direction, not the A2? More globalization for example? That would have a much greater effect on their standards of living than any of the mitigation that the report proposes. Missing this point means that I'm rather less than impressed with the rest of the report. (Please note that all SRES scenarios assume no mitigation attempts.)


Britain is to send the author of today's landmark review on global warming to try to win American hearts and minds to the urgent cause of cutting carbon emissions - as it emerged yesterday that the government has already signed up former US vice-president Al Gore to advise on the environment.

Sir Nicholas Stern, who this morning publishes an authoritative report on climate change warning that inaction could cause a worldwide recession as damaging as the Depression of the 1930s, will lobby politicians and business people in America at the turn of the year.

In a separate development, the environment secretary, David Miliband, said the government was discussing imposing green taxes. But the Treasury, which commissioned Sir Nicholas's study, stressed: "The key message of Stern is that international action is required ... The chancellor decides on taxes and he will do so in the pre-budget report and budget."

The government hopes the review will gain traction in the US because it focuses on the economic case for change. Sir Nicholas's analysis warns that doing nothing about climate change will cost the global economy between 5% and 20% of GDP, while reducing emissions now would cost 1%, equivalent to o184bn.

He argues that international negotiations to find a successor to the Kyoto protocol on reducing greenhouse gases must be accelerated, starting at UN talks in Nairobi next month.

The prime minister has said any such agreement needs the support of the US, which refused to join Kyoto because it said it would harm the economy. The White House said last night that it had not read the report. But Kristin Hellmer, the White House counsel on environmental quality, said: "The president has said from the beginning that climate change is a serious issue, and he is taking action on it."

She disputed charges from scientists that the administration had been hostile to the concept of global warming, and that it had set back international efforts to limit greenhouse gases by rejecting the Kyoto treaty.

Alden Meyer, director of policy and strategy with the Union of Concerned Scientists, a US group, suggested the only prospect for a policy shift before the next presidential election in 2008 would be if a delegation from the vast majority of US business - including the coal, utilities and car manufacturing industries - lobbied the White House for action. But he added of today's review: "It is a benchmark in a long process that is going to continue after the release."

Jonathan Porritt, director of the government's independent watchdog, the Sustainable Development Commission, added: "I think it is on a par with the influence of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the way in which the scientific evidence that they have marshalled has bit by bit obliged politicians to get into a much more pro-action stance on climate change."

Hopes of a political consensus on green taxes were raised yesterday as David Cameron, the Tory leader, told the BBC he would be prepared to impose taxes on aviation. His remarks followed the publication of a leaked memo from Mr Miliband urging Mr Brown to consider tough levies on flights, motoring and inefficient household appliances.



"The Sun", Editorial:

The government's plans to hammer motorists and holidaymakers with extra taxes to halt global warming are simply not good enough. Our readers are already among the world's most heavily taxed people. Huge numbers of them need cars to get to work. They toil for long hours to make an honest living. For many of them public transport can never provide an alternative.

Road charges and punitive taxes on fuel will break the financial back of many families. These are the families who already face massively increased council tax bills - imposed by an expensive army of new snoopers. After paying that lot, will workers be able to afford foreign holidays at all - let alone an extra 5 pounds on their flights?

The proposals contain far too much stick and not enough carrot. Hybrid "green" cars are still too expensive for the lower-paid. Zero road tax plus other financial incentives would help sell them. It must be remembered that the government has turned its back on REAL ways of tackling global warming for far too long. Now, in a panic, it typically tries to punish the people for mistakes of its own making.

This government has already frittered away billions on outdated public services and potty projects. It should bring forward plans to cut spending and make savings. If taxes are to help, they must be REPLACEMENT taxes, not new ones.

Without question global warming is the world's biggest problem. But the answer involves EVERYONE in the industrialised nations changing their ways. The British taxpayer can't do it alone.


Consumers could be hit by steep price rises for a range of goods from food to hotel breaks under plans to tackle climate change being considered by David Miliband. The Environment Secretary is consulting taking sweeping powers to extend curbs on greenhouse gas emissions so that they cover many more businesses, including supermarkets and hotel chains - curbs that at present apply only to the big industrial users. The costs incurred are potentially huge and are likely to be passed on to the consumer. The proposal to take "enabling powers" to extend the carbon-trading scheme to other sectors will be taken in the new Climate Change Bill, Mr Miliband confirmed yesterday.

But amid signs of a government split on how to respond to Sir Nicholas Stern's report on the impact of global warming, Gordon Brown is to reject Cabinet calls for swingeing tax rises on motorists and domestic consumers, The Times has learnt. Airline passengers and drivers of large "gas-guzzling" vehicles will bear the brunt of green tax levies, to be introduced by the Chancellor in his last Budget in March. But Mr Brown is opposed strongly to measures that would allow petrol prices to rise even when the world price of oil slumped, as proposed in a leaked letter to him from Mr Miliband.

The disclosure over the weekend of Mr Miliband's "wish list" of taxation measures angered the Treasury and sources were blaming "rogue elements" in No 10 yesterday for its appearance over the weekend. Mr Brown was said to be upset because the leak focused attention on speculation about tax rises rather than on the central message of Sir Nicholas's report; that if the world took concerted action on global warming growth need not be affected. Allies of the Chancellor described the leak as an attempt to put pressure on Mr Brown and to test his modernising credentials.

When they appeared with Sir Nicholas at the launch of his report yesterday both Mr Brown and Tony Blair emphasised the importance of international action - rather than domestic taxes - to reduce carbon emissions. Mr Brown made it plain that he was pinning his hopes on a massive expansion of the carbon trading scheme, by which governments aim to reduce pollution through market mechanisms. He suggested that the scheme, under which firms have to buy credits to emit more than a set level of greenhouse gases, should be extended by linking it with others in California, Australia, Japan and elsewhere.

The Climate Change Bill will enshrine in law the Government's long-term aim of reducing carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. Thousands of organisations, from supermarket groups to hotel chains, are not covered by EU schemes limiting carbon emissions. The "enabling powers" would allow ministers to extend these curbs at will across the rest of Britain's businesses - with potentially huge cost consequences. Many companies that broke possible limits on their emissions and were forced to buy "carbon credits" would be likely to pass on costs to the consumer.

The Environment Department confirmed that the powers could be used to extend curbs to "non-energy intensive" sectors. It said in the summer that measures for businesses not covered by the EU trading scheme, and which account for a tenth of Britain's greenhouse gases, could bring carbon savings of 1.2 million tonnes a year by 2020. David Frost, the head of the British Chambers of Commerce, said that the measures would amount to "stealth tax" in which "business becomes the villain".


British Labour party loses faith in multi-culturalism

At his press briefing yesterday, the Prime Minister made it clear his Government's approach to cultural diversity had changed. He may have couched his position in careful language, but the conclusion was inescapable: integration, rather than multi-cultural separatism, is now official policy. By saying that he "fully supported" the decision of Kirklees council to suspend the Muslim teaching assistant who had refused to remove her veil at work, and then reinforcing this point with the observation that the veil was a "mark of separation", Mr Blair removed any doubt about the Government's position.

He was, in effect, affirming that the contentious views expressed over recent weeks by Jack Straw, Ruth Kelly and John Reid were not maverick individual opinions, but part of a larger, concerted revision of the Cabinet's stand. Mr Blair, unsurprisingly, wanted to avoid the appearance of an outright volte-face: at one point, he suggested that there should be "a balance between integration and multi-culturalism". This would be a logical impossibility, since the policy of multi-culturalism, as it has been understood and practised, is antithetical to integration.

Ministers are now clearly ready to embrace the argument that they have attacked for many years as insensitive, even bigoted: if Britain is to succeed in absorbing diverse peoples, ethnic minorities must accept the mores of their adopted country. Private religious observance should always be respected, but its practices cannot be permitted to contravene either civil law or the social rules that make community life workable.

Most crucially, the Government's new stand implies that there is an obligation on the part of all those who settle in this country to relate to the larger society and to accommodate its expectations. As the shadow home secretary, David Davis, has said, we cannot afford to encourage a form of "voluntary apartheid" by allowing minority groups to withdraw into cultural isolation. Mr Davis described this as a "series of closed societies within our open society". In fact, such separatism, which the philosophy of multi-culturalism promoted, is a threat to the very existence of an open society.

Mr Blair announced yesterday that he wants an "open and honest debate". That debate is already under way and it is becoming more open and honest by the moment. If ministers wish to engage in it, they must explain how they intend to deal with the small proportion of the British Muslim population that is aggressively opposed to integration, and acknowledge the need for an education system that equips the young of all races with the historical understanding and national pride they need to participate fully in British life.



Devolution has not - as its cheer-leaders endlessly proclaimed- strengthened the Union. It is weakening it. In Scotland, the clamour for full independence grows apace, while in Wales, the Assembly in Cardiff is hungry for greater power - and is getting it. Meanwhile, the 49 million people who live in that neglected corner of the United Kingdom called England face a yawning democratic deficit. This slumbering giant has yet to be particularly exercised by the intrinsically unfair nature of New Labour's half-cocked constitutional settlement.

Scottish and Welsh MPs can vote on matters affecting English constituencies, while English MPs have no such reciprocal rights over what happens in Scotland and Wales. This potential instability needs to be addressed now. If there is any "unfinished business" in New Labour's constitutional reforms, it is giving the English greater control over their affairs. Specifically English laws ought to be dealt with by English MPs - just as the Scottish Parliament deals exclusively with Scottish measures and the Welsh Assembly, in the new powers it gained in July, deals with Welsh matters.

More here. See also here


Undergraduates who study for as little as 20 hours a week are more likely to be awarded a first-class degree at a newer university than those at older institutions, a survey says. Scientists at Cambridge have to work 45 hours a week to obtain a top-class degree; those studying physics and chemistry at the University of Central Lancashire have to study 19 hours a week for a 2:1 or a first.

The Higher Education Policy Institute survey of 15,000 first-year and second-year undergraduates questions the true value of a degree, showing that some students work far harder than others, depending on the subject. Although tuition fees are now paid upfront in a loan by the Government, graduates must pay them off once they earn 15,000 pounds. Banks estimate that by 2009 a student's debt will be approaching 30,000 pounds, which most will be paying off until their mid-thirties.

The survey, published today, shows that while, on average, students claim to be working 25.7 hours a week in lectures, seminars or private study, medics and dentists are apparently working ten hours a week more. Overall the study shows that undergraduates on courses in mass communications put in five hours fewer than the average each week. The differences were more pronounced between subjects than between different universities, although those at older universities studied more.

Bahram Bekhradnia, of the institute, said: "If students are putting 32 hours a week into engineering and 21 hours a week into business studies, is a degree telling you the same thing about the universities and the experience the students have had? You can get a 2:1 with different amounts of effort." The authors say: "This report does not prove that the degree classification system is flawed, but it certainly raises questions that need to be addressed." They note that 60.9 per cent of students of physical sciences at Plymouth University receive a 2:1 or first-class degree for working 20 hours a week. At Cambridge, where students may have twice the A-level points, they work 45 hours a week for the same class of degree.

About half of students were disappointed by some aspect of university - mostly with the quality of teaching. Nearly 30 per cent of overseas students - who pay much higher fees than British and other EU students - said that their university experience did not represent value for money.

Drummond Bone, of the vice-chancellors' group Universities UK, said: "There is no national curriculum in higher education, and so we should not be surprised that different courses at different institutions involve different use of facilities, contact hours and so on."

Oxford University plans to open a research centre in India next year, to exploit funding and talent in the fast-growing economy. The Said Business School is in talks on opening at least one centre, probably in Bombay or Bangalore, and hopes to open several. They will not offer degrees, but will link Indian policymakers, corporate leaders and researchers with experts at Oxford.


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