Geoffrey Lean gets all excited over in The Telegraph:
Spread the good news: growth does not have to mean destroying our climate A new report shows Britain achieved the greatest cuts in carbon per unit of GDP ever recorded by any country. There is hope for our planet
Well, yes, anyone who had been paying attention knew this already.
Nevertheless, we may yet look back on 2014 as the turning point, the moment that it became clear – beyond doubt – that economic growth need not endanger the climate. In truth – despite commentators' almost unanimous, if erroneous, assumption – growth does not depend on using more energy. Indeed, he British economy has grown by some 270 per cent since 1965, but at the same time its energy use actually fell - from 196.8 million tonnes of oil equivalent then, to 187.9 million now. Yet, in that half century, the number of cars on our roads has almost doubled, while the array of electric gadgets in our homes has proliferated.
The reason we know this already is because it's an assumption that is made in the models that tell us about climate change.
Just to recap. All of the computer models the scientists are using lie atop an economic model. It is necessary to guess at how many people there will be in the future, how rich they will be and what energy sources they are using to power that civilisation. Only then can any calculation of what emissions will be happen, the results of which can be fed into those computer models. And the originals of those models were the SRES. One the families of possible outcomes assumes this:
The global economy expands at an average annual rate of about 3% to 2100, reaching around US$550 trillion (all dollar amounts herein are expressed in 1990 dollars, unless stated otherwise). This is approximately the same as average global growth since 1850, although the conditions that lead to this global growth in productivity and per capita incomes in the scenario are unparalleled in history. Global average income per capita reaches about US$21,000 by 2050. While the high average level of income per capita contributes to a great improvement in the overall health and social conditions of the majority of people, this world is not necessarily devoid of problems. In particular, many communities could face some of the problems of social exclusion encountered in the wealthiest countries during the 20 th century, and in many places income growth could produce increased pressure on the global commons. Energy and mineral resources are abundant in this scenario family because of rapid technical progress, which both reduces the resources needed to produce a given level of output and increases the economically recoverable reserves. Final energy intensity (energy use per unit of GDP) decreases at an average annual rate of 1.3%.
Decent economic growth combined with a decline in energy intensity. Exactly the process that Lean is getting so excited about. The underlying economic processes in this family of models are that of continued roughly capitalist and roughly free market globalisation. That is, the continuation of the trends of the second half of the 20th century throughout the 21st. And those growth and energy intensity rates are simply straight line projections into the future of what happened in the past: straight line projections being usually the most accurate economic forecasts. Tomorrow will be much like today and so on.
And the projections go further. In this assumed world, if we start to double the portion of energy that we get from coal (an absurd assumption even on the face of it) then we are in A1FI, a world where climate change is a large problem. And if we continue to develop and adopt renewables, at roughly the same speed as we did in the late 20th century (note, it does not need to be as fast as in the past 20 years) then we are in A1T and climate change simply isn't a problem.
That is, we assumed, predicted, calculated even, 25 years ago that globalised capitalism plus a bit of technological advance would mean that climate change was not a problem. Lean is now getting all excited because globalised capitalism plus a bit of technological advance is going to make climate change not much of a problem.
It would have helped if he'd been paying attention from the beginning really.
Do also note the implication of this. This meeting of all the grand Pooh Bahs coming up in Paris doesn't matter a damn. Because the problem is already being solved by globalised capitalism plus a bit of technological advance: as the entire climate change juggernaut actually assumed it would 25 years ago.