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Lord Turner’s Misleading Views On The Paris Agreement

April 29, 2016

By Paul Homewood  




GWPF carry the story of Adair Turner’s grossly misleading statements about the Paris Treaty on yesterday’s Today programme.

David Campbell, Professor of Contract Law, of Lancaster University Law School, writes:


Everything Lord Turner said about the Paris Agreement and China’s and India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions was wrong.


On yesterday morning’s BBC Today Programme, Lord Adair Turner, the chairman of the UK’s Energy Transitions Commission (and formerly Chair of the Committee on Climate Change) gave his very positive views on climate change policy in light of the Paris Agreement (PA) which has been opened for signature on 22 April. These views went essentially unchallenged by an interviewer with a limited grasp of the issues, and as those views were fundamentally wrong, listeners will likely have been badly misled.

Lord Turner told listeners that the Paris Agreement and the statements of policy intention by the Parties to the Paris Conference – the ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – were excellent but more needed to be done. But the Paris Agreement not merely fails to ground the policy of mitigation of global warming, it ensures that the policy will fail. And the INDCs of China and India, which Lord Turner especially mentioned, are statements of an intention massively to increase emissions. Three principal points should be made.

First, Lord Turner will have led listeners to believe that an agreement to set a limit to warming of 2°C or less has been reached. The main burden of what he said is that more needs to be done to meet this target than has so far been said in INDCs. But Art 2 of the Paris Agreement in fact provides only that it ‘aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change … including by the holding the increase to well below 2°C’. This is an expression, not of setting a concrete limit, but merely of an aspiration to set such a limit. It is true that Art 2 is expressed in a deplorably equivocatory and convoluted language which fails to convey this vital point, indeed it obscures it. But nevertheless that is what Art 2 means.

What weight can be put on this aspiration? Neither 2°C nor any other specific target has ever been agreed at the UN climate change negotiations. To the best of my knowledge, the 2°Ctarget was itself devised by the EU Commission and first put forward at a meeting of the Council of the European Union in 1996 in order to push forward UN negotiations which even then were giving ‘concern’ because they were ‘not advancing as needed to achieve [their] intended objective’. Diplomacy in which the UK and the EU, in collaboration of the UN Climate Change Secretariat, have played a large part has since led to the 2C target being mentioned in various ways in subsequent UN negotiations. But it has never been actually agreed and it is not agreed now.  An expression of mere aspiration is all that has been reached after more than a quarter century of negotiations. To speak of the Paris Agreement so positively without mentioning this history of failure at all is bound to mislead.

But this is by no means the worst feature of the Paris Agreement. That’s because, secondly, it gives yet more force to what has undermined the mitigation policy since the agreement of the Framework Convention in 1992. An agreement was reached at the Convention (and the subsequent 1997 Kyoto Protocol), but, far from being an agreement to reduce global emissions, it was an agreement to allow their unbounded increase. Under the ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ strategy without which the Convention would never have been agreed by the newly industrialising countries such as China and India, those countries, classified amongst the developing countries, are given explicit permission to give economic growth priority over emissions reduction. And as the emissions of China (itself in pursuit of its growth plans) have been, are and will be more than enough to make the 2°C target a sort of joke (with India following behind), this has implicitly meant that the mitigation policy was impossible from the outset. No emissions caps have ever been, are, or can be set on the developing countries, for the good reasons that this is what the Framework Convention, the Kyoto Protocol and now the Paris Agreement provide.

In the Paris Agreement, this disastrous position is actually strengthened by being made explicit. In discussions of climate change policy, a crucial distinction has been drawn between ‘absolute’ (i.e. actual emissions reductions) and other forms of reductions (principally in carbon intensity), which do not normally lead to absolute reductions but are, indeed, perfectly consistent with a significant growth in absolute emissions. Art 4(4) of the Paris Agreement confines ‘absolute emissions reduction targets’ to the developed countries and distinguishes them from the ‘mitigation efforts’ the developing countries might undertake, which will not involve absolute reductions. This provides an explicitly legal permission for developing countries not to make any CO2 reductions and will be the legal basis of continued immense increase in China’s and India’s CO2 emissions.

Thirdly, when it comes what China is prepared to commit to doing internationally, there is no need to quote from its INDC as its wording is very similar indeed to what has appeared in the Paris Agreement. It would appear that the Paris Conference largely adopted the Chinese wording in the Paris Agreement. China’s INDC is a categorical statement that anything it may choose to do will be subject to Art 4(7) of the Framework Convention, and that absolute emissions reductions are a matter exclusively for the developed countries in the way that appeared in Art 4(4) of the Paris Agreement. China will not be making any such reductions.

There is a statement of intention to ‘achieve peaking’ of emissions by 2030 or earlier, but it is very difficult to understand this. It cannot mean achieving a peak level of absolute emissions in 2030 as this would prevent further economic growth. It must be interpreted in terms of what China generally claims it intends to do, which is to lower carbon intensity. Lord Turner represented China’s position very positively, but it is very misleading.

Reduction in carbon intensity and reduction in absolute emissions must be strongly distinguished. Carbon intensity is a measure of the amount of CO2e which must be emitted to obtain a certain increase in GDP. Broadly speaking, absolute emissions and economic growth are strongly correlated, but, with increasing sophistication of technology, the rate at which growth requires emissions, that is to say, carbon intensity, falls. China’s economic growth will involve a reduction of carbon intensity as new power plants are installed and old plants are retired. But reduction in carbon intensity may be perfectly consistent with unbounded absolute growth in CO2 emissions, depending on how much economic growth there is. China’s growth targets, stated as its ‘strategic goals’ in the INDC, are such that Chinese reductions in carbon intensity will be made, not despite but because of a growth in absolute emissions. China will not retire existing generating capacity and replace it only with an equivalent or smaller capacity generated by lower intensity plant. It will retire older capacity in the course of an immense expansion of overall capacity. China’s extremely ambitious and apparently positive intensity targets actually represent a statement that the increase in its emissions will be vast.

Everything Lord Turner said about the Paris Agreement and China’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions was wrong. That a person of his influence says things that will mislead the listening public is regrettable. That the BBC airs such statements without any challenges is a disgrace.


Many readers will be aware of Turner’s past record on the merry-go round of quango jobs. These include former chairmanships of the Financial Services Authority and Committee on Climate Change, as well as the Pensions Commission and Low Pay Commission. It is little surprise to find him still being a mouthpiece for government policy.

Intriguingly, he is now Chairman of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, which according to Wikipedia is a George Soros funded economic think tank.  

  1. April 29, 2016 10:16 am

    even more relevant is the complete absence of empirical evidence that surface temperature is responsive to changes in fossil fuel emissions

    in other words there is no reason to believe that lowering emissions will attenuate climate change

  2. Coeur de Lion permalink
    April 29, 2016 10:22 am

    The London Times has a letter from Lords Krebs (Ctee on Climate Change) and Rees (Astronomer Royal) attacking the thrust of Matt Ridley’s previous article about denial of free speech in ‘climate change’ It says “Our point is that misleading stories on the science of climate change undermine the credibility of The Times. We expressed concern that the views of the GWFP appear to be unduly influential. That it was a GWPF adviser who criticised us adds to our concern….”
    I MEAN, YOU COULDN’T MAKE IT UP!! If that’s not an attempt to use power to shut off debate (erm, censorship) what is!! I have sent a response. We’ll see.

  3. April 29, 2016 10:23 am

    The infamous “2 deg K” rise in global temperature is similar to the “97% agreement” in being devised to mislead the semi-scientific population: it has not fooled the majority fortunately.

    Given that the earth has been warming at somewhere about 1 deg K/century naturally for over 150 years the target is meaningless unless we build massive mirrors or excite a volcano to produce cooling: (a large eruption is actually over-due anyway which could reverse the present trend very quickly).

    EU policies have been formulated based on this madness. The USA will not follow, once Obama has gone anyway, nor will China, India, Russia etc.

  4. dearieme permalink
    April 29, 2016 10:51 am

    Turner is, and always has been, a silly ass. He’s rather like Will Hutton, now Master of an Oxford college; if these bozos take one side of an argument, you are wise to take the other.

  5. April 29, 2016 10:51 am

    He is a technically and scientifically ignorant prat, but wielding real influence!,_Baron_Turner_of_Ecchinswell

    Now how to capture the attention of the equally ignorant messrs Cameron, Osborne and the fragrant ex-banker and history graduate Rudd?

    Fulminating against Turner etc etc is frustratingly pointless! A winning strategy is needed!

  6. Robin Guenier permalink
    April 29, 2016 11:08 am

    It seems to be the settled view of those on the dangerous warming side of the climate debate that, under the terms of the Paris Agreement, they have scored a substantial – if still inadequate – victory. But, as Professor Campbell has shown, that’s a total misreading of what was agreed. The true victors were in particular the Chinese and Indians. By exploiting Obama’s determination to secure his “legacy” and the EU’s wish to avoid another overt debacle such as Copenhagen, they have secured everything they want – and especially their freedom from any obligation, legal or moral, to cut their emissions. And, as consummate negotiators, they seem to have achieved all this without the West even noticing.

    I’ve been trying to point this out this in the comments sections of various warmist websites for several months. But nobody seems interested. Here are two recent examples:

    OK, I know lawyers are boring. But sometimes it’s necessary to listen to them.

  7. April 29, 2016 12:22 pm

    In another article David Campbell puts Paris in a larger context and draws an important conclusion:

    “By insisting once again that they don’t have a responsibility to reduce emissions, China and India have ensured that the Paris conference will not reach the hoped-for agreement. Global emissions reductions have been impossible for more than a quarter-century and will continue to be impossible, for the very good reason that this is what was agreed in the original convention. Numerous near irrelevant agreements and declarations of intent will no doubt be made in Paris, obscuring the failure to reach any agreement on global reductions. International policy has so far been based on the premise that mitigation is the wisest course, but it is time for those committed to environmental intervention to abandon the idea of mitigation in favour of adaptation to climate change’s effects.”

    It seems those committed to environmental intervention and those who believe Global Warming has been exaggerated can agree on one thing:

    Stop wasting time and energy on treaties to mitigate CO2 emissions, and put the resources into adapting to effects of future climate and weather.

  8. Robin Guenier permalink
    April 29, 2016 1:33 pm

    Further to my comment above, Climate Home has just published another article demonstrating how the West’s negotiators seem not to understand the true nature of what was agreed in Paris – this time the culprit is Laurence Tubiana, climate change ambassador for France and a candidate to lead the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change :

    In a comment (in moderation and unlikely to be published for several days) I refer to David Campbell’s article here and repeat my observation that the victors in Paris were, in particular, the Chinese and Indians who have secured everything they want – and especially their freedom from any obligation, legal or moral, to cut their emissions. And, as consummate negotiators, they seem to have achieved all this without the West, including it seems Professor Tubiana, even noticing.

    • April 30, 2016 2:45 pm

      Posted this on ClimateChangeNews. Bet it doesn’t get past the censor .

      “This is wishful thinking – there was no deal. There are no requirements to deliver binding CO2 cuts. China, India et al will rightly continue to lift themselves from poverty and by so doing increase emissions. All power to their collective elbows I say. They are laughing at you”

  9. diogenese2 permalink
    April 29, 2016 2:22 pm

    Robin; As regards China –

    “And, as consummate negotiators, they seem to have achieved all this without the West, including it seems Professor Tubiana, even noticing.”

    I think that they noticed very well but, following the example of Nelson at Copenhagen 1801,
    took the necessary action to advance their agenda. Prof. Tubianas’ whole essay is a clear exposition of the fantasy world into which they are fast sinking. I especially liked –

    “China release its XIIIth five-year plan; the economic, energy and environmental goals included in it will enable China to go beyond the 40 to 45% carbon emission reduction target in 2020 compared to 2005, and hopefully to peak its emissions before 2030.”
    Emissions in 2020 will be 50% below 2005 , but still rising to peak in 2030!
    Of course this is conflating Total Emissions with Emission per unit GDP, which is all China has offered. If she doesn’t realise this she is a fool and if she does, a knave.

    I fear all these protagonists are projecting a false prospectus to obscure the unpalatability of the actual.

    • Robin Guenier permalink
      April 29, 2016 5:03 pm

      diogenese2: your Nelson analogy is certainly plausible. I don’t know which I prefer: the fool who didn’t notice a total failure or the knave who pretends it was a success. Either is bad news for the West.

      But, as we sink into the mire, it’s possible to be mildly amused. For example, the Royal Society recently asserted, “Following the recent Paris Climate Summit, countries from around the world have backed climate science and committed to reducing emissions“. ( In contrast, Vivienne Westwood understands that COP-21 was a disaster for the green cause: It’s coming to something when an eccentric dress designer understands what happened at Paris better than the grand and prestigious Royal Society.

  10. markl permalink
    April 29, 2016 3:46 pm

    The AGW narrative is rife with misinformation aimed to convince the people that the entire world is supporting them when in fact well over half its’ population does not. Our POTUS blatantly lies that China is on board and refuses to acknowledge their actual position. The MSM continually supports the AGW meme regardless of the accuracy and fails to print anything contrary. The people are becoming aware of the propaganda effort being directed at them and the consequences of adopting a “carbon free” energy policy. They are still unsure about the scientific validity of AGW but slowly, as predictions fail to materialize, truth will win out.

  11. Graeme No.3 permalink
    April 29, 2016 4:09 pm

    The believers in AGW are getting desperate, and have resorted to their basic tactic of trying to confuse people about what is happening. It is 44 years since assorted activists started the CO2 conjecture, and over 30 years since it replaced the Page 3 girls as the most discussed feature in British newspapers. People are starting to realise;
    The sky hasn’t fallen.
    The wolf hasn’t arrived.
    The supposed remedies are expensive follies, they are being inconvenienced with rules and regulations and their taxes are being wasted for the benefit of a small cliche.

    The desperation is summed up by the Chinese proverb (loosely translated) as
    Man can ride a tiger, but his troubles begin when he tries to dismount.

    • markl permalink
      April 29, 2016 6:04 pm

      Graeme No.3 commented : “…Man can ride a tiger, but his troubles begin when he tries to dismount…..”

      Great analogy & saying! I’m using it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  12. Paul permalink
    April 29, 2016 8:22 pm

    Trying to get up to speed here and confused. Turner is apparently misleading -but skeptics don’t accept the assumptions of Paris anyway!!!
    Could yous indicate an article that sums up the skeptic position and why CO2 emissions are not a driver of warming….which isn’t happening that much anyway???

    • April 29, 2016 9:52 pm

      Turner is misleading because there is no commitment at all from China, India or the rest of the developing world to actually cut emissions.

      Some like China have given a “promise” to cut “carbon intensity as a proportion of GDP”, which is utterly meaningless as this is something that would naturally happen as their economy matures, ie moves away from heavy, energy intensive industry, into service and consumer based stuff.

      In any event, their “promises” are not binding, and they can ( and no doubt will) renege when it suits them.

      Much more detail here.

      Even the Paris Treaty itself acknowledges that emissions will continue increasing, maybe by 20% by 2030.

      As Campbell explains, the “commitment” to hold global warming to 2C or less is just a feel good aspiration. The best way to describe Paris is that it has kicked the can down the road for another 20 yrs. Everyone has agreed that in theory it would be a good idea to do something about global warming, but we’ll leave it for the next generation to sort!

      Paris was never more than a political agreement – all the developing countries are really interested in is the hundreds of billions in climate aid they think they will get. As for the science, it is up to others to prove that CO2 is driving warming, which as you say is not happening that much, rather than the other way round.

      • Paul permalink
        April 29, 2016 10:03 pm

        Thanks for that.
        You wrote: ‘Everyone has agreed that in theory it would be a good idea to do something about global warming, but we’ll leave it for the next generation to sort!’

        But, in fact, as you would agree, it’s really only ‘alarmists’ that think it’s a good idea to do something about global warming – because in reality there is far less warming than the IPCC suggest with their botched science?
        There is something fishy going on here…and are the ‘developed’ govt’s so stupid as to give all this cash away. It does seem strange.

      • markl permalink
        April 30, 2016 4:17 am

        Paul commented: “…There is something fishy going on here…and are the ‘developed’ govt’s so stupid as to give all this cash away. It does seem strange….”

        Just now figuring that out? The point of the AGW arrow is the UN/IPCC and they have openly stated that AGW is not about climate but about wealth redistribution by resetting the world economy away from Capitalism to Socialism. The EU is their toe hold to accomplish this. They are either smart enough to convince the developing nations to pay for their efforts or the developing nations are dumb enough to contribute to their own demise.

      • Paul permalink
        April 30, 2016 9:18 am

        ok, thanks for that 🙂 To be honest I haven’t spent a lot of time on this until now….Didn’t realize Cameron, Obama and the rest were just that dumb

      • markl permalink
        April 30, 2016 4:02 pm

        Paul commented: “….Didn’t realize Cameron, Obama and the rest were just that dumb..”

        They aren’t. They were placed by the Socialist cabal. Ever wonder how a relatively unknown senator who’s claim to fame was being a community organizer became POTUS?

      • April 30, 2016 9:42 am

        Yes that’s right, what I meant was “All the politicians at Paris” have agreed

  13. 2hmp permalink
    April 30, 2016 1:18 pm

    Adair Turner has been unsuccessful (a polite description) in almost everything in whih he has involved, from being chairman of the CBI to his most recent job. But this is par for the course for BBC programme editors to bring out people who have failed in their carers buy who share the views of the BBC.

  14. manicbeancounter permalink
    May 2, 2016 3:29 pm

    AT said with reference to the INDCs (National submissions)

    if you add them up, they would still leave us on a path which would take us to a warming of something like 2.7 to 3.4°C, not well below 2°C

    This is quite untrue, even if the non-policy emissions scenarios result in the predicted warming of 4.5°C. The INDCs submissions covered only the period to 2030. If all the proposals are enacted emissions will still be higher in 2030. Without additional polices, emissions will after a period approximately return to the non-policy trend. It is only by have additional (and more onerous) policies are enacted post 2030 that the 2.7 to 3.4°C will be achieved. All claims of this type use modelled scenarios post 2030. It is the climateers failing to distinguish between their models where the whole world obeys their every pronouncement like the followers of Kim Jong-un and the real world of nearly 200 countries, most of whose Governments have no intention of damaging their economies by enacting emissions-reducing policies.
    This is confirmed from UNFCCC summaries of the INDCs produced prior to the Paris COP21 meeting.


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