Sunday, 30 November 2008

David Flint writes to Piers Corbyn, climate change denier

Reposted from:

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Open letter to Piers Corbyn

Piers Corbyn is a physicist who has published research on superconductivity, cosmology, solar physics, Sun-Earth relations and the weather. He runs a commercial weather forecasting business ( and disagrees with the IPCC consensus on global warming.

Piers has challenged the IPCC ' admit that there is no observational evidence … that CO2 levels (whether from man or nature) have driven or are driving world temperatures or climate change'. He’s issued a general challenge: 'If you believe there is evidence of the CO2 driver theory in the available data please present a graph of it'.

Here is my reply to the challenge.

Dear Piers,

Let me respond to your request for evidence by explaining why I won’t be providing any.

Since I’m not a climate scientist I must, even though I have a science degree, approach the issue as an informed layman. How is the informed layman to proceed in such a case?

a) He can ask whether the claimed effect is plausible based on what he does know. For instance I know that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, that there’s more in the atmosphere than there was before the industrial revolution and that temperatures and sea levels are rising globally. Now that doesn’t prove causation but it is consistent with it.

I also know that most of the reports I see on advances in climate science (in New Scientist for instance) suggest that change is now happening faster than was expected in the last IPCC report.

b) He can ask whether MOST of those who are competent to form a genuinely independent scientific judgement are agreed. In this case there’s a very broad agreement that increases in atmospheric CO2 are driving global warming. He’s entitled to note that there are always dissidents in science. Their existence is not evidence that the consensus is wrong.

c) He can ask whether the issue has thoroughly studied. Given the IPCC process climate change has perhaps been studied more thoroughly than any other comparable question.

d) He can ask whether the consensus is getting stronger or weaker. Plainly it’s getting stronger.

e) He can ask whether vested interests have been operating so as to undermine the science. In this case some of the world’s strongest vested interests have lobbied against accepting that increases in atmospheric CO2 are driving global warming:

  • The White House has censored US government scientists.
  • It has also pressed for the weakest form of words in IPCC drafting work.
  • Major multinationals have paid supposed climate scientists to contest the consensus in just the way that Big Tobacco sought to resist the evidence on smoking. (NB I don’t, of course, suggest you have been suborned in this way.)

f) He can ask whether people he knows personally have well-founded views on the science. In this case I know you. But I also knew David King at UEA’s School of Chemical Sciences in the 70s. So let’s call that a tie.

g) He can ask whether prominent non-scientists who are well advised on the science have accepted the consensus. Here I see that the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, the UK Prime Minister, the US President and an overwhelming majority of senior business executives polled by McKinsey last year have either accepted or moved towards acceptance of the consensus. Insofar as any of these have a vested interest it lies for the majority in denying, not affirming, the evidence for man-driven climate change. Evidence against interest always weighs more heavily than the contrary.

So out of the seven tests that I, as an informed layman, can make six encourage me to believe that increases in atmospheric CO2 are driving global warming. One is inconclusive. Actually, that’s about as good as it gets.

Now none of this creates certainty but neither, in practice, does science. Science is always somewhat provisional.

The real question now is that of public policy and here a version of Pascal’s Wager applies. If the consensus is right it would be dangerous to the lives of many people to wait the years that may be needed to approach certainty more closely. If the consensus is wrong and we act as if it were true we will waste money on insulation, wind farms and carbon offsets and some of us will take fewer foreign trips.

Morally, I don’t find that a difficult decision.

Climate Change from the BBC

Reposted from: - Climate Change portal

and Bloom: - personal action to take

What's Bloom?

Want to be more climate-friendly, but not sure how to go about it? You need Bloom.

1. Discover what you can do.

2. Choose the actions to suit you.

3. Do the actions you've chosen.

Tougher climate target unveiled

Reposted from:

Ed Miliband says greenhouse gas target is 'tough but doable'

The government has committed the UK to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by the middle of this century.

Climate Change and Energy Secretary Ed Miliband said the current 60% target would be replaced by a higher goal.

He told MPs the government would not "row back" on green issues in the light of the current economic crisis.

He also warned the big energy companies they face a crackdown on "unfair" pricing policies in his first statement as head of the new department.

Mr Miliband told MPs the government accepted all the recommendations of the report from Lord Turner's Committee on Climate Change.

The target does not include aviation or shipping emissions - but Mr Miliband said they would "play a part" in the government's overall strategy.

European row

It came as European Union leaders agreed to stick to their plan to cut greenhouse gases - despite a surprise demand by Poland and six other member states to drop them to ease the impact on industry struggling with the global credit crunch.

Speaking at the end of a two-day summit, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said: "The deadline on climate change is so important that we cannot use the financial and economic crisis as a pretext for dropping it".

Our children and our grandchildren will really not thank us if we just carry on and let this problem get worse

Ed Miliband
Climate change and energy secretary

But although all 27 leaders agreed to stick to the aim of cutting emissions by 20% by 2020, Mr Sarkozy acknowledged he faced a tough task in getting a unanimous deal on how to share out the burden of the switch to cleaner energy by the December deadline.

Mr Miliband also stressed the importance of sticking to climate change commitments despite the economic downturn.

He told MPs: "In our view it would be quite wrong to row back and those who say we should, misunderstand the relationship between the economic and environmental tasks we face."

'Tough but do-able'

He said he wanted to achieve a cross-party consensus on climate change, but added: "We all know that signing up to an 80% cut in 2050, when most of us will not be around, is the easy part.

"The hard part is meeting it - and meeting the milestones that will show we're on track."

Mr Miliband also announced that the government was ready to legislate to force energy companies to introduce fairer pricing for customers with pre-payment meters if they would not do so voluntarily.

He also signalled new help to encourage small-scale electricity generation though technology such as home-based solar panels and wind turbines.

He told the Commons the Energy Bill would be amended to introduce a "feed-in tariff" to guarantee prices for micro-generation projects which are able to supply electricity to the national grid.

It's like telling everyone you're going on a calorie-controlled diet but not counting cream cakes
Steve Webb
Liberal Democrat

Speaking later to BBC News, he said the 80% target was "tough but it is do-able" and could be met through measures including renewable fuels, nuclear power and individuals "doing things differently".

He said changes to the climate were "happening much quicker than we anticipated or even feared a few years ago" and it was "right to step up the pace".

"Our children and our grandchildren will really not thank us if we just carry on and let this problem get worse. The costs that they will face will be all the greater if we do that," he added.

Airport expansion

In a letter to Mr Miliband, Lord Turner said the tougher target would be "challenging but feasible", and could be achieved at a cost of 1% to 2% of GDP in 2050.

He also said a cut of 80% on 1990 levels by 2050 should cover all the major greenhouse gases - not just carbon dioxide - and all sectors of the UK economy, including shipping and aviation.

But because of practical problems in allocating emissions of international transport to the UK, they should not be included in the Climate Change Bill's five-yearly carbon budgets, he said.

Instead the overall target should be "at least 80%", with greater reductions in sectors covered by the bill if aviation and shipping did not make sufficient cuts by the middle of the century, he said.

But Lib Dem climate change and energy spokesman Steve Webb said Mr Miliband's decision not to include aviation and shipping in the 80% target made a mockery of his commitments.

"It's like telling everyone you're going on a calorie-controlled diet but not counting cream cakes.

"As we saw when the government gave the green light for Stansted expansion, there is a huge gap between what ministers say on climate change and what they actually do."

Shadow climate change secretary Greg Clark, for the Conservatives, welcomed Mr Miliband's announcements.

He said: "The choice between aggressive and ambitious action on carbon reduction and a successful, powerful economy is, in fact, not a choice at all - they are one and the same."

Mr Miliband's statement was also welcomed by environmental campaigners, including the RSPB, World Development Movement, WWF and Christian Aid.

Friends of the Earth executive director, Andy Atkins, said his group was "absolutely delighted" but added: "We cannot leave the cuts in aviation and shipping emissions to chance.

"The government must listen to the concerns of the public and majority of MPs who want to see a law that covers all the UK's emissions."

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Climate law 'could cost billions'

Reposted from:

By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website

Coal-fired power station on the outskirts of Beijing (AFP/Frederic J Brown)
The UK may be leading climate opinion - but at what cost?

The UK's Climate Change Bill - due to become law this week - may represent a poor deal for taxpayers, a former Conservative minister has said.

Peter Lilley MP says government figures show the bill's costs up to 2050 may far outweigh its benefits.

The worst-case scenario could put a net cost of £10,000 on each UK household, he says in a BBC News website article.

The government said the costs of not acting on climate change would be higher than the costs of acting now.

Mr Lilley says he does not oppose action to curb climate change.

"We all want to save the planet from overheating, just as we all want to save the financial system from meltdown,"

he writes in the BBC's Green Room series of environmental opinion articles.

"We accept that both rescues may cost us a lot."

But, he says, the Climate Change Bill, which is broadly supported by the Conservatives, may not represent value for money.

Green Room logo (Image: BBC)

The government has published an impact assessment for the bill that puts its costs at between £30bn and £205bn between now and 2050.

The benefits, it calculates, will lie between £82bn and £110bn.

"Would you insure your home with a company if they charged premiums which could be double the value of your house?" asks Mr Lilley, who has held the posts of secretary of state for social security, and for trade and industry.

Extra monies

The cost figure in the government's calculations represents the predicted difference between the UK economy with and without carbon-constraining measures.

It does not include costs associated with the transformation from high-carbon to low-carbon technologies, and the government acknowledges it "could be higher".

The monetary figure for the benefit of the bill does not represent a direct financial sum - instead it is designed to be a measure of the damage avoided by curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

The government believes there will be additional benefits not captured in this figure.

A spokesman for the Department for Energy and Climate Change told BBC News: "Our impact assessment estimates a range of costs and benefits, and it's not possible to simply assume the upper end of both.

Green Room logo (Image: BBC)
The government's own assessment contradicts the Stern Review

"Depending on factors like fossil fuel prices and the availability of low carbon technologies, there may equally be a net benefit of £52bn.

"Costs and benefits will of course be spread over the 42-year period."

The Climate Change Bill will set targets of reducing emissions by 26% from 1990 levels by 2020, and by 80% by 2050.

This is designed to be "legally enforceable". But Mr Lilley notes that the bill "will not punish ministers if they fail to achieve these targets".

'World mandate' on climate action

Reposted from:

By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website

An opinion poll in 11 countries has produced what organisers term a "global mandate" for action on climate change.

About half of the respondents wanted governments to play a major role in curbing emissions, but only a quarter said their leaders were doing enough.

In developing countries, a majority of people were prepared to make "lifestyle changes" to reduce climate change.

The survey was commissioned by the HSBC Climate Partnership, which includes business and environmental groups.

Lord Nicholas Stern, who led the 2006 Stern Review into the economics of climate change and now works as a special advisor to the HSBC partnership, said this amounted to a global mandate for stronger action.

Despite the financial crisis, climate change was very much in the minds of the general public
Francis Sullivan

"It does show that people in the world expect their governments to take strong action as as matter of responsibility, and hope they will work with other governments to take action," he told BBC News.

"It is not a story which says 'I will do something only if others do'."

The survey is published just five days before this year's United Nations climate conference opens in the Polish city of Poznan.

More than money

The survey revealed that 43% of people questioned put climate change ahead of the world's financial instability as an issue of current concern, even though the surveys ran in the turbulent months of September and October.

"Despite the fact this research took place at a time when the global financial crisis was taking off, climate change was very much in the minds of the general public as an issue of concern," commented Francis Sullivan, HSBC's environmental advisor and a former director of conservation with the environment group WWF.

However, the numbers saying they would alter their lifestyles to reduce climate change had fallen in the year between the previous survey, in 2007, and this one.

Lord Stern
The poll does give a "global mandate", Lord Stern believes

This still left sizeable majorities in most of the developing countries polled - Brazil, India, Malaysia and Mexico - saying they were willing to make changes.

In China it was just under half, as it was in the industrialised countries taking part - Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the UK and US.

The 2007 poll, conducted in a subset of these countries, had shown a larger proportion of people saying they would spend extra time or money to curb climate change.

The proportion who said they "heard a lot about" the issue also fell between 2007 and 2008, perhaps indicating a decline in media reporting. Last year saw blanket coverage of the series of reports put out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Overall, the findings broadly agree with a survey commissioned by the BBC last year, which found that two-thirds of people polled in 21 countries backed urgent action on climate change.

The HSBC Climate Confidence Monitor polled 1,000 people in each of the countries mentioned above, and in the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

The 100 months final countdown

The final countdown

Time is fast running out to stop irreversible climate change, a group of global warming experts warns today. We have only 100 months to avoid disaster. Andrew Simms explains why we must act now - and where to begin

Planet earth

Planet earth viewed from space. Photograph: Corbis

If you shout "fire" in a crowded theatre, when there is none, you understand that you might be arrested for irresponsible behaviour and breach of the peace. But from today, I smell smoke, I see flames and I think it is time to shout. I don't want you to panic, but I do think it would be a good idea to form an orderly queue to leave the building.


in just 100 months' time, if we are lucky, and based on a quite conservative estimate, we could reach a tipping point for the beginnings of runaway climate change.
That said, among people working on global warming, there are countless models, scenarios, and different iterations of all those models and scenarios. So, let us be clear from the outset about exactly what we mean.

The concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere today, the most prevalent greenhouse gas, is the highest it has been for the past 650,000 years. In the space of just 250 years, as a result of the coal-fired Industrial Revolution, and changes to land use such as the growth of cities and the felling of forests, we have released, cumulatively, more than 1,800bn tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Currently, approximately 1,000 tonnes of CO2 are released into the Earth's atmosphere every second, due to human activity.
Greenhouse gases trap incoming solar radiation, warming the atmosphere. When these gases accumulate beyond a certain level - often termed a "tipping point" - global warming will accelerate, potentially beyond control.

Faced with circumstances that clearly threaten human civilisation, scientists at least have the sense of humour to term what drives this process as "positive feedback". But if translated into an office workplace environment, it's the sort of "positive feedback" from a manager that would run along the lines of: "You're fired, you were rubbish anyway, you have no future, your home has been demolished and I've killed your dog."

In climate change, a number of feedback loops amplify warming through physical processes that are either triggered by the initial warming itself, or the increase in greenhouse gases. One example is the melting of ice sheets. The loss of ice cover reduces the ability of the Earth's surface to reflect heat and, by revealing darker surfaces, increases the amount of heat absorbed. Other dynamics include the decreasing ability of oceans to absorb CO2 due to higher wind strengths linked to climate change. This has already been observed in the Southern Ocean and North Atlantic, increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, and adding to climate change.

Because of such self-reinforcing positive feedbacks (which, because of the accidental humour of science, we must remind ourselves are, in fact, negative),

once a critical greenhouse concentration threshold is passed, global warming will continue even if we stop releasing additional greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
If that happens, the Earth's climate will shift into another, more volatile state, with different ocean circulation, wind and rainfall patterns. The implications of which, according to a growing litany of research, are potentially catastrophic for life on Earth. Such a change in the state of the climate system is often referred to as irreversible climate change.

So, how exactly do we arrive at the ticking clock of 100 months? It's possible to estimate the length of time it will take to reach a tipping point. To do so you combine current greenhouse gas concentrations with the best estimates for the rates at which emissions are growing, the maximum concentration of greenhouse gases allowable to forestall potentially irreversible changes to the climate system, and the effect of those environmental feedbacks. We followed the latest data and trends for carbon dioxide, then made allowances for all human interferences that influence temperatures, both those with warming and cooling effects. We followed the judgments of the mainstream climate science community, represented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), on what it will take to retain a good chance of not crossing the critical threshold of the Earth's average surface temperature rising by 2C above pre-industrial levels. We were cautious in several ways, optimistic even, and perhaps too much so. A rise of 2C may mask big problems that begin at a lower level of warming. For example, collapse of the Greenland ice sheet is more than likely to be triggered by a local warming of 2.7C, which could correspond to a global mean temperature increase of 2C or less. The disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet could correspond to a sea-level rise of up to 7 metres.

In arriving at our timescale, we also used the lower end of threats in assessing the impact of vanishing ice cover and other carbon-cycle feedbacks (those wanting more can download a note on method from But the result is worrying enough.

We found that, given all of the above, 100 months from today we will reach a concentration of greenhouse gases at which it is no longer "likely" that we will stay below the 2C temperature rise threshold. "Likely" in this context refers to the definition of risk used by the IPCC. But, even just before that point, there is still a one third chance of crossing the line.

Today is just another Friday in August. Drowsy and close. Office workers' minds are fixed on the weekend, clock-watching, waiting perhaps for a holiday if your finances have escaped the credit crunch and rising food and fuel prices. In the evening, trains will be littered with abandoned newspaper sports pages, all pretending interest in the football transfers.

For once it seems justified to repeat TS Eliot's famous lines: "This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper."

But does it have to be this way? Must we curdle in our complacency and allow our cynicism about politicians to give them an easy ride as they fail to act in our, the national and the planet's best interest? There is now a different clock to watch than the one on the office wall. Contrary to being a counsel of despair, it tells us that everything we do from now matters. And, possibly more so than at any other time in recent history.

It tells us, for example, that only a government that was sleepwalking or in a chemically induced coma would countenance building a third runway at Heathrow, or a new generation of coal-fired power stations such as the proposed new plant at Kingsnorth in Kent. Infrastructure that is fossil-fuel-dependent locks in patterns of future greenhouse gas emissions, radically reducing our ability to make the short- to medium-term cuts that are necessary.

Deflecting blame and responsibility is a great skill of officialdom. The most common strategies used by government recently have been wringing their hands and blaming China's rising emissions, and telling individuals to, well, be a bit more careful. On the first get-out, it is delusory to think that countries such as China, India and Brazil will fundamentally change until wealthy countries such as Britain take a lead. And it is wildly unrealistic to think that individuals alone can effect a comprehensive re-engineering of the nation's fossil-fuel-dependent energy, food and transport systems. The government must lead.

In their inability to take action commensurate with the scale and timeframe of the climate problem, the government is mocked both by Britain's own history, and by countries much smaller, poorer and more economically isolated than we are.

The challenge is rapid transition of the economy in order to live within our environmental means, while preserving and enhancing our general wellbeing. In some important ways, we've been here before, and can learn lessons from history. Under different circumstances, Britain achieved astonishing things while preparing for, fighting and recovering from the second world war. In the six years between 1938 and 1944, the economy was re-engineered and there were dramatic cuts in resource use and household consumption. These coincided with rising life expectancy and falling infant mortality. We consumed less of almost everything, but ate more healthily and used our disposable income on what, today, we might call "low-carbon good times".

A National Savings Movement held marches, processions and displays in every city, town and village in the country. There were campaigns to Holiday at Home and endless festivities such as dances, concerts, boxing displays, swimming galas, and open-air theatre - all organised by local authorities with the express purpose of saving fuel by discouraging unnecessary travel. To lead by example, very public energy restrictions were introduced in government and local authority buildings, shops and railway stations. This was so successful that the results beat cuts previously planned in an over-complex rationing scheme. The public largely assented to measures to curb consumption because they understood that they were to ensure "the fairest possible distribution of the necessities and comforts of daily life".

Now, 2008, we face the fallout from the credit crisis, high oil and rising food prices, and the massive added challenge of having to avert climate change.

Does a war comparison sound dramatic? In April 2007, Margaret Beckett, then foreign secretary, gave a largely overlooked lecture called Climate Change: The Gathering Storm. "It was a time when Churchill, perceiving the dangers that lay ahead, struggled to mobilise the political will and industrial energy of the British Empire to meet those dangers. He did so often in the face of strong opposition," she said. "Climate change is the gathering storm of our generation. And the implications - should we fail to act - could be no less dire: and perhaps even more so."

In terms of what is possible in times of economic stress and isolation, Cuba provides an even more embarrassing example to show up our national tardiness. In a single year in 2006 Cuba rolled-out a nationwide scheme replacing inefficient incandescent lightbulbs with low-energy alternatives. Prior to that, at the end of the cold war, after losing access to cheap Soviet oil, it switched over to growing most of its food for domestic consumption on small scale, often urban plots, using mostly low-fossil-fuel organic techniques. Half the food consumed in the capital, Havana, was grown in the city's own gardens. Cuba echoed and surpassed what America achieved in its push for "Victory Gardening" during the second world war. Back then, led by Eleanor Roosevelt, between 30-40% of vegetables for domestic consumption were produced by the Victory Gardening movement.

So what can our own government do to turn things around today? Over the next 100 months, they could launch a Green New Deal, taking inspiration from President Roosevelt's famous 100-day programme implementing his New Deal in the face of the dust bowls and depression.
Last week, a group of finance, energy and environmental specialists produced just such a plan.

Addressed at the triple crunch of the credit crisis, high oil prices and global warming, the plan is to rein in reckless financial institutions and use a range of fiscal tools, new measures and reforms to the tax system, such as a windfall tax on oil companies. The resources raised can then be invested in a massive environmental transformation programme that could insulate the economy from recession, create countless new jobs and allow Britain to play its part in meeting the climate challenge.

Goodbye new airport runways, goodbye new coal-fired power stations. Next, as a precursor to enabling and building more sustainable systems for transport, energy, food and overhauling the nation's building stock, the government needs to brace itself to tackle the City. Currently, financial institutions are giving us the worst of all worlds. We have woken to find the foundations of our economy made up of unstable, exotic financial instruments. At the same time, and perversely, as awareness of climate change goes up, ever more money pours through the City into the oil companies. These companies list their fossil-fuel reserves as "proven" or "probable". A new category of "unburnable" should be introduced, to fundamentally change the balance of power in the City. Instead of using vast sums of public money to bail out banks because they are considered "too big to fail", they should be reduced in size until they are small enough to fail without hurting anyone. It is only a climate system capable of supporting human civilisation that is too big to fail.

Oil companies made profits when oil was $10 a barrel. With the price now wobbling around $130, there is a huge amount of unearned profit waiting for a windfall tax. Money raised - in this way and through other changes in taxation, new priorities for pension funds and innovatory types of bonds - would go towards a long-overdue massive decarbonisation of our energy system. Decentralisation, renewables, efficiency, conservation and demand management will all play a part.

Next comes a rolling programme to overhaul the nation's heat-leaking building stock. This will have the benefit of massively cutting emissions and at the same time tackling the sore of fuel poverty by creating better insulated and designed homes. A transition from "one person, one car" on the roads, to a variety of clean reliable forms of public transport should be visible by the middle of our 100 months. Similarly, weaning agriculture off fossil-fuel dependency will be a phased process.

The end result will be real international leadership, removing the excuses of other nations not to act. But it will also leave the people of Britain more secure in terms of the food and energy supplies, and with a more resilient economy capable of weathering whatever economic and environmental shocks the world has to throw at us. Each of these challenges will draw on things that we already know how to do, but have missed the political will for.

So, there, I have said "Fire", and pointed to the nearest emergency exit. Now it is time for the government to lead, and do its best to make sure that neither a bang, nor a whimper ends the show.

· Andrew Simms is policy director and head of the climate change programme at NEF (the new economics foundation). The material on climate models for this article was prepared by Dr Victoria Johnson, researcher at NEF on climate change. For regular suggestions for what individuals and groups can do to take action, and links to a wide range of organisations supporting the focus on the 100 months countdown, go to: The Green New Deal can be downloaded at

97 months left

But October marked an unprecedented opportunity for the US and UK to tackle climate change

October was a month that creaked and cracked. The insurance industry, already deeply implicated in the international financial crash, was battered by the fall-out from hurricanes Ike and Gustav. Their bill is estimated to be around $30bn (£18.2bn), far higher than predicted, according to Lloyd's of London. To show that God has a dark - you could call it "carbon black" - sense of humour, in the same month the oil giant BP's quarterly profits of £6.4bn cracked another record high, while Shell's rose to £6.6bn.

The sky creaked in another way too. Relentless coverage of global warming, a deluge of green corporate claims, legislative flurries and a redesign of government departments should suggest progress on climate change. But the figures tell another, worrying tale. Far from going down, the global growth rate of carbon dioxide emissions is spiking upwards.

Findings from the Global Carbon Project this month showed that the global average percentage rise since the year 2000 is now over three times higher than the previous decade, rising again significantly in the last year. These growth rates are now worse than the worse case scenario used by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to model potential global warming.
Levels of carbon in the energy mix for both rich and poor countries are also going up.

Government confusion here in Britain was captured by two stories. In one, Ed Miliband, new minister at the new Department for Energy and Climate Change, announced the government's commitment to cutting emissions by 80% by 2050. In the other, the Evening Standard reported that "ministers are planning to water down EU pollution curbs in order to allow Heathrow airport to expand". Attempts at satire prove redundant. And the heat on the government over Heathrow is rising.

It was a victory, but not a straightforward one when, after relentless pressure, the government announced that greenhouse gas emissions from aviation and shipping would finally be included in targets for the climate change bill. The quirk comes from the fact that not all emissions are the same. It is unclear whether the government has understood that the full global warming impact of emissions from aviation can be up to five times greater than their headline carbon figure. Because of the particular chemistry of emissions from planes, and where and how they enter the atmosphere, tonne-for-tonne of carbon, aviation emissions are far more damaging than those from road, rail or sea.

Elsewhere in the international system, however, there were glimmers of bolder visions. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announced a new green economics initiative. It adopted the moniker of a "green new deal", echoing the report of the same name published in July. At the UNEP launch the head of UNEP, Achim Steiner, lambasted what he called the "totally inadequate" response of public policy both to climate change and a range of other ecological crises. The environment secretary Hillary Benn, sitting to his right, just about managed to keep a straight face.

Last month saw another more literal cracking, of sea ice. According to research from the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at University College London, in some areas Arctic sea ice was up to one fifth thinner than usual for the time of year.

It's now 19 years since the Berlin wall came down, drawing the line under the old Eastern bloc. For all its brashness, triumphalism and smug self-satisfaction, finance-driven capitalism has managed to reign supreme for fewer than two decades before falling apart.

No one is more synonymous with the era of financial liberalisation than Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve. Under cross-examination by the US House oversight committee his words were heavy with the pathos of shattered illusion and hubris brought to earth, "I discovered a flaw," he said, "in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works."

But in the aftermath, in Britain and the US, there are intriguing possibilities. Following nationalisation of much of the finance sector, two governments formerly wedded to light touch, or even absent regulation, find themselves owning, in effect, great swathes of their countries' economies – banks, homes, buildings, infrastructure and much else besides. Gordon Brown said that now is a time of new and innovative thinking. He is now in a direct position to influence the investment policies and revolutionise the energy use and efficiency of much the economy.

It may be that governments still entangled in the habitual rhetoric of free markets, are embarrassed by their new, unaccustomed role. It could be that, having outsourced the exercising of power to the market place, they feel unpractised and not sure what to do. But the climate clock is still ticking – even speeding up. And, they now have an enormous opportunity to do what democratically elected governments are meant to do – take responsibility and protect their people from disaster.

• Andrew Simms is taking the global temperature each month as he counts down the 97 months before the world enters a new, far more perilous phase of global warming.