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The measure that matters

By John Le Mesurier - posted Friday, 29 October 2010

Internationally, Academies of Science and other scientific institutions recognise, explain and recommend on the need to curtail greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit global warming. They advise their respective governments of options which can be taken to achieve these reductions and the consequences of conducting ‘business as usual’.

The response of governments has largely been encouraging. All have accepted the scientific advice given. All have declared that they are taking action to reduce emissions and all have agreed that this is necessary to limit temperature increase to no more than 2C above the preindustrial level by 2100.

Among the world's leading polluters are those who declare that they are effectively reducing their emissions. They say this is being achieved through initiatives such as reducing the intensity of their emissions, increasing off-sets through land use, using energy more efficiently, seeking action by industry and by increasing the level of energy produced from renewable sources.


Lamentably, a few refuse to take a national approach or commit to realistic reduction targets, the USA for example. Some justify their approach by asserting that protection of their economies and popular welfare (code for company profits) must be accorded a higher priority than the causes of global warming and its effects. Others argue that more developed countries should reduce their emissions first.

The contention that the basic measure of emissions should be calculated on a per capita of population basis is a dangerous nonsense where global warming is concerned. It may be advocated by a few economists of prominence such as Dr Ross Garnaut though understandably, not by climate scientists.

Think about the logic of it. Countries with the largest populations, the highest and most rapidly growing levels of greenhouse gas emissions will have lower per capita emissions than most countries with relatively small populations and lower emissions. Ergo. The highest polluters should be permitted to continue polluting until they reach the same per-capita level as countries with much lower emissions.

On the basis of this argument, China which emitted 6.538 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2007 (4.58 tonnes per capita) should be permitted to increase its total emissions and Australia, which emitted 374.045 million tonnes CO2 in 2007, (20.58 tonnes per capita) should be required to cut its emissions until per capita equilibrium is reached.

We are being asked to believe that emission of 6 million tonnes of CO2 is of less importance to global warming than is emission of 374 thousand tonnes or 16 times less. Yet it is obvious, even to an economist, that 6 million tonnes of CO2 have a far greater effect on global warming than does 374 thousand tonnes.

Nations responsible for the highest levels of greenhouse gas pollution are among the most vociferous in protesting their good intentions, though they often sound as though they are justifying their choice of action - or is it inertia?


Japan argued that mitigating action such as better use of land and encouraging industry to take voluntary action would result in a reduction of its emissions which in 1990 were 1.172 billion tonnes of CO2. They were expected to fall by 25% by 2020.  By 2010 they had in fact increased to 1.327 billion tonnes. Off-setting action has obviously been ineffective, something Japan now recognises.

It should be expected that the efforts of the largest emitting countries would by now have at least slowed and hopefully stopped an increase in the concentration of CO2, CH4 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Has this happened? No. Indeed just the opposite outcome has been achieved with global atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations showing unabated growth.

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About the Author

John Le Mesurier born in Sydney and educated at State Schools, then TAFE where he completed a course in accountancy. John is now employed as an accountant with responsibility for audit and budget performance. He has no science qualifications but has read extensively on the topics of global warming and climate change, both the views of scientists and sceptics.

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