Surreal photos in the paper this morning, as Chinese wade waist high through flooded streets in Henan province in China. The surreal thing about it is that despite being deep in flood waters, most of them are still holding up umbrellas. Also in the paper this morning “Insurers facing record payout for natural disasters.” Global losses amount to £31 billion for the first six months of 2021, according to estimates. I think we’re going to need bigger umbrellas.
Meanwhile, on this vexed question I co-sign a letter co-ordinated by the Global Commons Institute, to the Financial Times:
‘In Leslie Hook’s FT article (20 07 21) John Kerry said of climate funding,“President Biden is trying to figure out what to do” adding, “we can’t be doing less than a totally fundamental, basic level of acceptance and responsibility.”
As co-signatories to the Byrd Hagel Resolution, both Joe Biden and John Kerry know this, as the Resolution insisted that all countries had to accept either emissions reduction or limitation commitments. It was passed 95-0 by the US Senate in June 1997.
Later that year, at the COP-3 meeting of the UNFCCC, the resolution fed into what was very widely known as Contraction and Convergence (C&C), which the US introduced into the final debate, supported by China, India and the Africa group of nations, not least if ‘emissions-trading’ was to be included.
As they agreed there was no other way to integrate all the arguments in play, it is fundamental to note that the US delegation specifically accepted the simple basis of ‘entitlement’ as converging on the global per capita average of emissions under a global cap on emissions. They asked the Global Commons Institute (GCI) for support and to demonstrate and advocate this framework as widely as possible, especially in China, which GCI duly did. There was widespread acceptance of this principle after COP-3. It even became the basis of the UK Climate Change Act in 2008.
At COP-15 in 2009 the Chinese government carefully distinguished between actual emissions and emissions entitlements, pointing out that differences between emissions above and below the average could and should as 'credits and debits' be traded or taxed away.
Sadly squandering all these precedents for a sufficient climate framework, we have now wasted twenty four years since COP-3 as the global annual output of CO2 emissions has now doubled to ~14 billion tonnes carbon/year and in John Kerry’s words elsewhere, we are now writing humanity's 'suicide note'.
In his Reith lectures Mark Carney described a C&C approach as the first best option, at the same time adding that it was never going to happen. But that begs a question: if not C&C, what framework will COP26 deliver which is better? Are we to have a comprehensive framework based market, or just another hit-and-miss market based 'framework?'
Colin Challen, Former Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change
Robin Stott, FRCP FFPH Executive member of the UK Climate & Health Alliance
Bill McGuire Professor Emeritus of Geophysical & Climate Hazards
Aubrey Meyer, Director of the Global Commons Institute
It is very hard to imagine that COP26 will be any different from its predecessors. Perhaps we’ll have to wait for the insurers to go to the wall before ‘sufficient’ action is taken.
Here’s the running order of the main news stories last night on the BBC (PM Programme at least):
1. Boris Johnson’s senior advisor Dominic Cummings saying that after Johnson was elected there were almost immediately discussions in No. 10 about how to get rid of him. (Like yeah)
2. How Jeff Bezos had his 10 minutes in space (and sadly came back)
3. John Kerry, the US climate change envoy saying we had to deal with humanity’s climate change ‘suicide note’ and this needed China (who else) to set its targets much higher—or else the rest of the world would have to get to zero carbon emissions much sooner. This, according to Kerry, was ‘mathematically accurate.’ Mr Kerry, you are a complete fuck. If you and your sort had adopted the Contraction and Convergence approach when you had the chance to, either in the 1990s or even as late as the Copenhagen COP meeting in 2009, you could have saved some honour in talking about what is ‘mathematically accurate.' But since the US was and is one of the world’s biggest culprits in terms of contributing to climate change you chose not to. And now you want to pre-distribute the blame to China, which frankly is not historically responsible for the bulk of the problem. If that’s your attitude, you are indeed a useless fuck with no idea about how to solve the problem.
Yes, the swearing is regrettable. But entirely justified.
To The Guardian, which this week (to its credit) is leading with a series of articles on the use and abuse of the Pegasus cyber surveillance software developed by Israeli company NSO. I shall be very interested to see how the Guardian concludes the series. Will it find:
a) NSO is an above board cyber security business which cannot be held responsible for any abuse of its product by the governments it sells it to
b) NSO is a ‘rogue’ company that knows its product is abused and was quite happy to reap profits from regimes many would find dubious
c) NSO is a company, authorised by the Israeli state to sell its product to all-comers as part of the Israeli government’s long term strategy to dominate the cyber security industry, possibly with the intention of gathering intelligence on anybody and everybody who could be a threat (or useful in other ways).
I’m plumping for c). The NSO business is just one of many that emerged from the Israeli Defence Force’s (IDF) Unit 8200, which boasts of its globally leading cyber intelligence capabilities. It’s one of the reasons why Israel is effectively the ‘plus one’ in the so-called ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence sharing network of the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. This hasn’t prevented, by the way, Israel spying on its allies. Anyway, the following quote from a story in the New York Times yesterday gives us a clue why c) may be the chosen option:
“Israel secretly authorized a group of cyber-surveillance firms to work for the government of Saudi Arabia despite international condemnation of the kingdom’s abuse of surveillance software to crush dissent, even after the Saudi killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, government officials and others familiar with the contracts said.”
One should remember that ‘graduates’ of the IDF’s Unit 8200 will remain reserve members of the IDF for many years—the IDF is mainly staffed by reservists. The mere fact that they go off to set up businesses in the private sector does not end their career with the military. It is perhaps purely conjecture to imagine that it is a continuation of it, just with higher rewards.
+Here in jolly old Scarborough it seems the 10 million visitors we welcome each year have all come on the same day. The Met office suggested our temperature reached 25 degrees centigrade and there’s not been a cloud in the sky. A bit like one’s memory of childhood in the 1950s when every summer’s day was bright and sunny. But as a panellist in the Big Ideas By The Sea Festival this weekend I was indoors presenting in a session called ‘Environmental Provocations’ and decided to be as honest as I could be about the utter failure of our leaders (of all varieties) to do what is necessary and sufficient to get to grips with climate change. The situation is dire as anyone this week in California and Germany might tell you. At least one can take a single but unhappy positive out of that: the impacts of climate change are a direct threat to us too, not just to poor people in the south about whom we don’t care about very much really. Oh!! Isn’t that a bit harsh?
My view is that immediate behavioural change (and of course technological solutions if they ever emerge in sufficient quantities and time) is absolutely required, but since no politician will argue for serious behavioural change we have to rely on vacuous promises that some amazing techno solution is just around the corner, like carbon capture and storage (CCS). We were told 20 years ago that CCS was coming in 20 years’ time. Now it’s another 20 years. People don’t seem to understand that the amount of CO2 already pumped into the atmosphere with the attendant feedback mechanisms is already enough to take the temperature increase well over the Paris Agreement’s mythical 1.5 degrees target. Scientists are rushing to their models trying to figure out how we underestimated the speed of change. And now the billionaires are queuing up to leave the planet.
+Perhaps appropriately I have just completed my most ambitious artwork yet: ‘Chal’s Apocalypse.’ This takes as its inspiration the Getty Apocalypse which the Folio Society kindly reproduced in facsimile form in a limited edition. That was a starting point anyway, and 82 pictures later I am relieved not to have to go any further. But as I write I am listening to Thomas Tallis’s choral music which resonates from the age of monastic singing. It sounds really cool. Cool in the sense that being indoors sheltered by thick stone walls might be one of the best locations to be in yet another unprecedented heatwave . . . . along with some nice monastic red wine.
+Another session of the Big Ideas By The Sea Festival was a talk by Dr David Abrutat (a GCHQ official historian) about the history of the GCHQ site in Scarborough, which we were told is the world’s oldest signals intelligence base, having been set up before the First World War. It was apparently instrumental in the sinking of the Bismarck in WW2. We do have the remains of a much older signal station in Scarborough which the Romans built on the headland, but that didn’t gather intelligence so doesn’t count. I was the only person to ask a question at the end of the talk. I suspect that most of the audience were current or ex-‘spooks’ from the base and wouldn’t want to break the omerta of the Official Secrets Act. I knew Dr Abrutat wouldn’t answer my question but I asked it anyway: did the base follow Iraqi signals intelligence before the 2003 Iraq war? If they did, it will have probably provided the definitive answer to the question whether Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. If our ’SIGINT’ could accurately spot the whereabouts of a U-boat one hundred years ago, it could hardly have been a problem to locate what the UN’s Dr Blix failed to find in 2003.
I have at last completed my immersion in recent Conservative Party politics. Not a very pleasant experience—that is, if Sir Alan Duncan, ex-Tory MP and minister is anything to go by, in his increasingly manic diaries (In The Thick Of It). Very few people come out of this tome with much credit, indeed I think the only people who do are those who agree with Sir Alan, particularly on the subject of Brexit, which dominates the second half of the book. And increasingly makes it repetitive and boring. Duncan was a foreign office minister during most of the time covered (2016-2019). Apart from being around to prop up as best he could the premiership of Theresa May he spends most of his time jetting around the world, and though it’s not part of his brief, to the Middle East. His oil state connections are kept fresh, but since we don’t learn what he took up in the private sector after he left parliament in 2019 it’s hard, though not impossible to surmise that he may be floating around the oil business again. This association may explain why in the entire book he only mentions the phrase climate change once, and then only to criticise Extinction Rebellion who briefly held up some London traffic but perhaps more importantly threatened to close down Heathrow, a place where the carbon footprint of Duncan’s shoe leather alone probably equals the annual output of Sheffield (to pick a city at random). The vitriol he dishes out to his Tory colleagues is far more heartfelt than what he serves up for Labour MPs. He should be banned from the Carlton Club pronto. Some of his contempt befalls Andrea Jenkyns, the Tory MP for Morley and Outwood (so a partial successor of mine). “The ghastly Andrea Jenkyns MP is calling for Theresa May to be challenged. She is a brainless nothing.” (9/7/18) Later on we learn that Jenkyns is a “fucking idiot.” She may well be, but at least had sufficient grey matter to defeat my other partial successor, who was widely considered to be the brains behind everything.
Duncan makes out that he never felt too miffed at never making it into the Cabinet, despite having been so loyal to his leaders. Sadly his denials are somewhat undermined by his continual references to not being promoted and indeed to the lack of merit of most of those who are. He was perhaps seen as being a bit up himself. One gets a glimpse (amongst innumerable glimpses) of his ego when he writes (4/6/19) after attending a royal banquet for President Trump “There are some great photos of the banquet in the Daily Telegraph, in which James [Duncan’s partner] and I are both clearly visible.” I would have thought that probably wasn’t worth mentioning. But as I have said before, Duncan deserves credit for openly supporting Palestine, and indeed for also being the first Tory MP to come out as gay.
What can one take away from this volume? Obviously Brexit was (and remains) a toxic issue for the country, and Duncan’s diaries show how toxic it was for the Tory Party. Perhaps now they think they have cleansed themselves of any pro-European instinct, and with their majority and charismatic leader will lead the UK to some Olde Engerland arcadia. But these diaries show how diminished the Conservative Party is, with an intake of new Johnson-indebted MPs who have swelled the ranks of a small minded cabal, which as the recent vote on slashing foreign aid demonstrated has no concept of the inter-connectedness of global problems. They will find they can’t run away from these problems which are multiplying at an alarming rate. New royal yachts and anti-Chinese rhetoric won’t cut it. At some point they will be defeated, and what a mammoth mess will be left for somebody to clean up.
Impossible not to be impressed with this ad on Bing, showing somewhere 'near' Scarborough as some sort of semi-tropical paradise. I wonder what those islands are—maybe the result of sea level rise? Or perhaps this is a Scarborough somewhere in the Caribbean? Anyway, with images like these no wonder people often jet off on holiday with inflated expectations of their hotel, etc., (suffice to say this is not the Travelodge in Scarborough). Perhaps a reference to Trading Standards is called for? I realise of course that this kind of ad is endemic, across services and products. It’s just ‘generic.’
I attended a webinar today with Lord Deben (John Gummer as was) organised by the Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group (PRASEG). Deben is chair of the UK Climate Change Committee (UKCCC), which recently published its sixth carbon budget for the UK. This is a document that goes into quite a bit of detail about the various proposals it considers necessary to get carbon emissions under control. It also uses diplomatic language to fret over the fact that we’re not doing enough. Indeed, we’re still in awe about how much will be achieved in the future with technologies like carbon capture and storage, which if one believed the hype 15 years ago would now be up and running on a commercial scale. We’re still waiting. And the numbers on biofuels, like the wood pellets shipped from the USA to replace coal fired power stations here appear to be falling apart, so no magic bullet there. Clearly just waiting for governments to do what is necessary and sufficient to tackle climate change is naïve. At the present rate of progress we’re screwed, and its time people like Deben stopped mincing their words. There’s been too much equivocation. When asked if he supported the idea of carbon rationing Deben said he opposed it. It’s time to recognise that rationing will come sooner rather than later. The people of California are now being asked to limit their use of electricity. That will be hard, given the heat they are experiencing. Without behavioural change we can manage, we’re going to get behavioural change we can’t manage and it won’t be pretty.
Another day, another Tory diary. I thought the bitchiness of our natural born rulers was well exposed in Sacha Swire’s magnum opus (Diary of an MP’s Wife, see blog 8th January 2021) but I think former minister Sir Alan Duncan’s contribution (In The Thick Of It) caps Sacha’s. I’m still ploughing my way through it, but this entry caught my eye: (Thursday 23rd March 2017) ’Dinner at Peter Mandelson’s house off Regent’s Park with a bunch of people from Lazard. Time with Peter Mandelson is never dull.’ (They obviously meet/met often?) An earlier entry (10th January 2017) sees our hero meeting ‘former MP Archie Norman at the airport. He is now chairman of Lazards. He said Labour’s wily supremo Peter Mandelson was speaking warmly of me the other day. Oops . . worrying!’ Mandelson is a ‘senior advisor’ to Lazards, so we can guess what a part of that role entails. Given Duncan’s deep ties with Gulf oil states, one can see how a chat with him would help Lazards self-declared expertise ‘We are skilled at managing complex projects in the infrastructure sector, such as mining, oil and gas, power, transport, and other vital areas. We advise from start to finish, including investor mobilization, coordination, and monitoring, as well as all aspects of project financing.’ (Lazards website) Perhaps it is down to people like Lazards, with their ‘senior advisors’ and chums which explains why post-pandemic global fossil fuel investments continue to outstrip those in renewable energy. No doubt following their own good advice Lazards' registered HQ is in Bermuda. (‘Bermuda is world's worst corporate tax haven, says Oxfam’ Guardian, Monday 12th December 2016). Oh what a carefree life! And this is the advisor you think you need, Starmer? But at least Mandelson seems to have turned a blind eye to Duncan’s highly creditable pro-Palestinian sympathies. I wonder if that might confuse Sir Kier?
+Two items. The first is a story which I was led to by the Microsoft newsfeed. No reports in the mainstream media. Slow strangulation is not as photogenic as buildings crashing to the ground.
Gaza, a narrow strip of land beside the sea, needs desalination to supply water to its population, but electricity shortages mean it is unable to produce enough for everyone to drink. Israel is enforcing a blockade on the territory that prevents fuel and materials needed to run and repair its power stations, from getting in. This is one of the causes of the territory's dire electricity shortages, which are now causing a water crisis, as without electricity Gaza's main desalination plant cannot run. Observers warn that without help the issue could become a much bigger humanitarian crisis. (Newsflare 10th July)
Starve them to death! Make them die of thirst! Who should we blame for this? (Yes, I do know, there's a mention in the article)
+The second item is an article I wrote for the Yorkshire Post 10 years ago (written as we faced a referendum on proportional representation). I think it is still topical. Naturally, what I proposed here has as much a chance of success as a confession on Boris Johnson's part to his new parish priest . . .
I'm all in favour of scrapping the first past the post (FPTP) system of electing MPs – over the lifespan of the Parliamentary Labour Party it has done us few favours. After Labour came to power in 1997, we gradually whittled away at FPTP in the elections for Europe and the devolved administrations. If we had direct elections to a second chamber to replace the Lords it would now be inconceivable to use FPTP.
But the debate on alternative voting is superficial. It sidesteps important issues which it seems are too close to the democratic bone to be dissected in public. The most pressing issue has to be about political accountability, chiefly in circumstances when a coalition government is elected (as seems more likely these days) but even when one party achieves power on its own.
Political accountability means "doing what you promised". Yes, I mean actually doing it. Delivering on those promises that were made at election time. Indeed, political accountability means being honest about all policies, both your own and your critique of others'. If we are to have a greater prospect of coalition government, then we cannot afford to have a replication of the manner in which the present Conservatives and Liberal Democrats came to power this year.
When the Yorkshire Post reproduced the photograph of Nick Clegg standing in front of his party's attack poster on the Conservative's presumed fondness for raising VAT, it reminded us of one of the cynical ploys political parties get up to in elections. Vince Cable has since described this as simply election point scoring, undermining his own reputation as an honest politician.
The fact is, by highlighting so publicly and negatively a policy ascribed to an opponent, the public could only be allowed one conclusion: the Lib Dems themselves opposed a VAT rise. Cable went on to say: "Well, that was the General Election, we've moved on". Frankly Dr Cable, it shouldn't be that easy. But for now I'll leave this particular episode, and no doubt plenty of other possible let downs, to Liberal Democrat party members to chew over.
What I want to suggest is that the very nature of coalition government will need addressing if we are to have an electoral system which makes coalitions more likely. Since I am not against the possibility of coalitions, I want to see them work. But above all we – the electorate – should be confident about what it is we're voting for. We cannot have parties using coalition-forming processes simply to chuck overboard key election pledges they made in order to gain power.
As a first step (and there are others) I'm calling for a Political Standards Authority (PSA) to do for political parties what trades descriptions legislation does for dodgy traders. If a party says it will do something then it should be held to it. If it finds it cannot deliver, it has to be forced to say why. If parties want to lie, obfuscate, change their minds or dissemble, then let them face the penalty for deceiving voters, with sanctions up to and including outright bans on future participation in elections, hefty fines on leaders and suspension from Parliament.
Most of the reforms that parties are generally prepared to accept do not address the fundamental question of simply telling the truth. It is almost second nature for politicians to be economical with the actuality for a large variety of reasons, some of them even justifiable. But if we are to avoid engendering even more cynicism among the public, we ought to install some safeguards against political cynicism among the practitioners.
The PSA would comprise expert and knowledgeable people, whose service would preclude them from being active in party politics 10 years either side of their membership of it (that lets me out then). They would have the power to receive complaints from any source, and very much like the Parliamentary Ombudsman, would make judgments on those complaints it deemed serious enough and based on enough evidence to pursue. Its judgments should have the force of law. Transgressors should face the penalties I mentioned above.
What is the difference between somebody who sells you a pig in a poke and an undeclared fiscal policy? Why should one face criminal prosecution and the other merely a sweaty moment on the floor of the Commons? For millions of people, the policies (or absence of
them) offered in general elections are real and substantive things, not merely the latest outpouring of an adolescent think tank. Real jobs, real schools, real issues – when you only have one chance every five years to make this "purchase" you should get what it says on the can.
We live in a consumer age, and our politics reflect consumerist behaviour with behind-the-scenes political marketing easing out old fashioned ideas about ideology and replacing it with up-to-the-minute branding. We need new controls to ensure that this quiet revolution does not eviscerate the voter's contract with the politician.
What to make of the final (?) pull-out of British troops from Afghanistan? Listening to General Sir Nick Carter, chief of the defence staff this morning you would think there were three equally weighted options, only one of which could lead to the country being taken over by the Taliban again. For once I agree with Iain Duncan Smith when he said in parliament that it all sounded like the end of the American pull-out from Vietnam. If there was a sea nearby, we might have seen helicopters being pushed over the sides of ships into the sea. I have always been ambivalent about the Afghanistan war. I supported it in 2001, since it had UN approval, and however one might regard such approval it was pretty overwhelming. My view was also bolstered by the desire to see the end of a tyrannical, brutish misogynistic Taliban regime. What they did was appalling. But it isn’t enough, is it, to use one’s own military power merely to impose ‘our standards’ on another country, no matter how illegitimate their regime? At various points we might all have been invaded by other countries with their own mission of superior civilisation. So there has to be a rule, and a reliance on it no matter how shaky or fragile, about international relations. Since the UN did not approve the invasion of Iraq, I couldn’t vote for that. As has often been pointed out quite correctly, it was an illegal war, with all the consequences we are now familiar with. But it doesn’t feel much different in Afghanistan.
As things stand, a deeply corrupt Afghan government is unlikely to survive, and I think the country will be plunged into civil war and warlordism—and many of those warlords will be no better than the Taliban. I can only hope that there are enough women’s militias fired up and ready to fight their male oppressors that they can prevent the entire country stepping back 20 years. If that were the case, then perhaps our intervention wouldn’t have been entirely in vain.