The Guardian recently reported that targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are ‘crucial to create the certainty needed for investors to back technologies such as sun, wind and tide; the current target is credited with spurring a huge rise in renewable generation’.

A strong argument, and who could deny that we are witnessing a rash of solar panels and wind farms spread rapidly across our landscapes?

But what is the quote above, and the article really saying, and what is the context?

1.       Targets are demanded by investors, ie the owners of capital. Thus, targets are essential for ‘solving’ climate change within the paradigm of neo-liberal economics. Targets are the language of neo-liberal economics. Neo-liberal systems cannot reproduce themselves without targets. To abandon targets would require a non-capitalist way of thinking about and responding to climate change. (Okay, state capitalist societies use targets, the old USSR, and China, but that is another debate).

2.       So to talk about climate change in the language of targets is an attempt to tame the beast, so it does not attack the capitalist hand that is feeding it.

3.       This attempted defence of targets is being mounted by The Guardian because in fact policy makers are watering down the targets for financing renewables. In other words, to frame the debate in terms of targets provides a very flexible framework for policy makers. The targets can be abandoned whenever they get inconvenient. If policy makers defined their response in terms of a clear set of values, it would be very difficult to change course. ‘Oh, we believed in a more equal and safer world yesterday, but today we changed our mind, because it would cost the richest 1% too much’.

4.       And in fact those targets are not working, as in the UK carbon emissions continue to rise despite the adoption of emission reduction targets 7 years ago at Kyoto in 2005

So someone please remind me again – why do we need targets?



07/25/2012 03:50

Hi Chris - we've met on Crisis Forum. I've been link-hopping (aka procrastinating!) and came to your site via a MediaLens article [http://www.medialens.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=684:game-over-for-the-climate&catid=25:alerts-2012&Itemid=69].

Why targets? They're just part of the 'hope factory' that keeps people quiet. If targets are set, politicians can pretend they have done something and those who need to feed their denial can pop some targets into the mix.

I know this is a very negative attitude but until we accept that it is our values that have to change, not just our technology and our attitude to energy, natural resources and each other (all species), then we won't make the right choices.

Take geoengineering - if we had made this value change already (you know, after 50 years of contemplating our impact on the environment), I might think it was worth a shot. But I am totally against geoengineering because I don't trust those who would be in charge of it. As we all have such different perceptions of the world around us, how can we ever agree on viable solutions? I sound like a conspiratorial nutter while others sound like they're not living on the same planet! How do any of us know that we are seeing things as they really are? (Rhetorical comment - sorry, my hormones must be playing up!)

Christopher Shaw
07/25/2012 09:30

Hi Mandy

Good to hear from you. I agree wholeheartedly with your comments. It is a shame that environmentalists are so keen to adopt the language of targets as it legitimates the political discourse.

08/16/2012 15:46

As you know, I'm sympathetic to your argument, though think your comment about UK emissions is wide of the mark, at least based on the reference you give. It is not true (based on current accounting rules) that UK emissions "continue" to rise. The report made clear that emissions have been falling fairly steadily year on year since 2003, with a huge fall in 2009 that dropped way below the trend line. In this context, that 2010 surpassed 2009 was not really a surprise. It was simply a reversion back to the slow decline of the previous years. Too slow, of course, and it ignores the embodied emissions in imported consumer goods. If we take these into account, then your comment is broadly true (UK emissions continue to rise).

08/16/2012 15:48

Sorry. 2009 was not a "huge" fall, but simply a fall that begins to approach what is required from rich nations like the UK. Yet since it occurred in the absence of widespread cultural change, it cannot be considered any kind of victory or positive sign.

Byron Smith
08/16/2012 15:51

Hmmm, more problems with form submission errors and echo comments.

08/20/2012 01:59

Hi Byron. Thanks for highlighting this. It's a fair cop, and I should clarify my position. I work off the reports which criticise the measurements which fail to take account of the manufacturing emissions we have outsourced to places such as China as well as emissions from air travel. An example can be found here http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2012/feb/07/uk-carbon-emissions-come-from in particular the 'true carbon emissions' diagram.

08/16/2012 15:47

Sorry. 2009 was not a "huge" fall, but simply a fall that begins to approach what is required. Yet since it occurred in the absence of widespread cultural change, it cannot be considered any kind of victory or positive sign.


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