THERE was something of a carnival atmosphere on Edinburgh’s North Bridge yesterday as the climate change protest group Extinction Rebellion halted traffic. Commuters trying to get home from work weren’t all enjoying the show, though there didn’t appear to be much antagonism towards the good-humoured protesters, with their banners reading: “There’s no Planet B”.

Unlike Brexit, Scottish independence or even CND, climate change just doesn’t provoke fierce public emotions any more. Indeed, the problem for environmentalists, in the West at least, is perhaps that they’ve been too successful. The science of climate change is now more or less universally accepted, since the BBC started banning climate-change deniers like Lord Lawson from the Today programme. If everyone more or less agrees, there’s no controversy.

Civil disobedience, and stunts like superglueing naked bottoms to the safety glass in the House of Commons, at least gets attention. Politicians insist that they are listening (if not watching too closely). The UK is, perhaps surprisingly, one of the world leaders in CO2 reduction, and emissions are now lower than in Victorian times. The Scottish Government is committed to net 100 per cent elimination of greenhouse gases by 2050, and has exceeded its emissions targets since it began the process of decarbonisation a decade ago. Admittedly, this is largely down to the closure of coal-fired power stations, like Longannet, and there remain problems with home heating and transport.

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The electrification of vehicles is moving forward – though much too slowly because of the lack of charging points across Scotland. But it is happening. Petrol and diesel cars are to be phased out after 2032. In fact, the internal combustion engine may become obsolete in towns some time before that, so rapid is the development of electric vehicles, especially micro-transportation like electric scooters and e-bikes. Buses and lorries, though, are another matter, and diesels are defended by powerful economic interests like the road hauliers and distribution companies like Amazon.


Climate protesters like the Guardian columnist George Monbiot insist that we must “overthrow capitalism” to save the planet. But technology is turning the market green at a remarkable rate. The cost of renewable energy has fallen faster than anyone could have imagined 10 years ago. According to the investor bible, Forbes, solar and wind energy is about to make coal, gas and even nuclear power obsolete in the West in the next couple of years. It says three-quarters of US coal-fired power stations are already uneconomic, despite Donald Trump’s promotion of coal. There’s even talk of imminent divestment in loss-making fossil fuel stocks causing a global financial “correction” or stock market crash.

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However, the Extinction Rebellion protesters are right to warn against complacency. The battle against climate change is far from over. President Trump disgraced America by withdrawing from the Paris Climate agreement. But the US is not the world’s worst polluter. The inconvenient truth, as Al Gore might put it, is that protests against climate chaos are futile if countries like China continue to open a coal-powered station nearly every week.

There has been much dispute about this claim, which environmentalists say is a racist myth designed to shift the blame for climate change to a developing country. However, there is no doubt that the second-largest economy in the world is also the biggest single polluter. China is responsible for one-third of global CO2 emissions, and that’s largely down to its anachronistic dependence on burning coal.

One of the greatest obstacles in the way of meeting 2015 Paris climate target of capping global warming to two per cent above pre-industrial levels (let alone the UN climate Panel’s call for a cap at 1.5 per cent), is the persistent use of coal, largely in south-east Asia. China currently consumes half the world’s coal and has increased coal-powered capacity by 40 per cent since 2002, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

True, China is also emerging as a world leader in renewable energy and is opening huge solar farms by the week. But promises by the communist government to curb coal use have not been honoured. According to the Global Energy Monitor, China is in the process of adding 256 gigawatts of coal-fired power, equivalent to the entire capacity of US coal. Hence the claim that it is opening a coal plant every week.

The IEA say that to meet the UN targets, China would have to close all its coal-fired power stations within the next 30 years. That isn’t going to happen. Indeed, according to the German environment and human rights NGO, Urgewald, China is busy exporting coal-fired power stations to at least 17 countries, from Kenya to the Balkans. In Serbia, Chinese companies are building the country’s first coal-fired power plant in 30 years.

And it’s not just China. The IEA estimate that Asia as a whole is becoming coal central, with hundreds of coal power stations in the pipeline. Indonesia and Vietnam are turning to coal as are Bangladesh, and with Chinese help, the Philippines. Japan has returned to burning more coal following the disaster at Fukushima nuclear plant in 2011. Without the active involvement of these countries, then the efforts of countries like the UK will be in vain. And of course in communist countries like China, climate protesters would be in jail, not on the streets campaigning.

Developing countries have a strong case for special treatment. They can legitimately claim that the current warmth of the planet is not their fault. China has only become an industrialised nation in the last 30 years, whereas we in the West have been pumping C02 into the atmosphere since the start of the industrial revolution 200 years ago. Living standards are poor for the vast majority of ordinary Chinese families, who consume only a fraction of the goods and services we enjoy in the UK. Chinese citizens, therefore, have a much smaller carbon footprint.

These are strong arguments and are recognised by the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change. Despite America’s objections, there may have to be resource transfers to developing nations, if they are to curb their uneconomic coal use. This is a global problem demanding global action and time is running out. In a very real sense, we are all in this together.