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BBC Are A Disgrace – Professor David Campbell

May 16, 2016

By Paul Homewood




Another day, and another slice of global warming propaganda from the BBC, as Professor David Campbell explains:


An episode of the BBC Radio 4 Costing the Earth programme broadcast on 11 May and repeated on 12 May enthusiastically described the extremely vigorous growth of the Chinese solar energy industry which has made it the largest such industry in the world. The programme concluded that this growth was an important part of developments that undermined what was pejoratively labelled the ‘China excuse’ for western countries not to adopt very demanding emissions reductions targets, the excuse being that the size of Chinese emissions made those targets pointless. Far from China’s emissions and projected emissions making such targets pointless, this growth was changing China’s energy mix in a way that would so reduce China’s emissions as to allow western reductions to succeed. In particular, ‘China’s coal consumption’, it was claimed, is ‘now declining’.

Unless placed in the context of China’s overall economic growth plans, and consequently its future energy generation and emissions, this claim is extremely misleading. It was incompatible with the BBC’s mission to inform to broadcast this claim without placing it in any such context, save the, by itself misleading, comparison with renewables and, principally, solar.

Although any balanced discussion should acknowledge that the relevant statistics are particularly contentious, it is justifiable to claim that China’s coal consumption has declined, not merely by (rounding up) 4% in 2015 but also by 3% in 2014. But these figures do not follow from a Chinese policy to reduce energy consumption but from the unplanned decline in the rate of growth of the Chinese economy over this time, from previously 10% to 7%. Nevertheless, the recent arguments about a ‘new normal’ after ‘peak coal’ which were behind the claim made by Costing the Earth have seized on these 3% and 4% figures because showing a decline in coal is essential in order to reject the China excuse.

A rational planning authority will not, of course, continue to install capacity if it will not be utilised, and there is some (difficult) recent evidence of a slowing down of the rate of installation, and (less difficult) evidence of a considerable growth of under-utilised capacity. However, there has been no departure from China’s policy of expansion of coal-fired generation capacity, and the rate of installation continues at the astronomical rates. China was responsible for 80% of the entire world’s increase in coal consumption this century and now consumes as much coal as the rest of the world combined. Coal-fired capacity has increased by 10% since 2013, and in 2015 approval was given for 155 new coal plants which themselves will have a capacity more than twice Germany’s entire capacity.

Though currently under-utilised, it is of course anticipated that this capacity will come on stream, part of the current Five Year Plan that proposes to pursue growth rates of 6.5% which, though a reduction on the previous 10% rate, is double or treble the best western rates. Such slowing down in consumption and installation is not evidence of peak coal but of the Chinese authorities trying to tailor growth in coal to the current slowdown in Chinese growth overall. This is not an absolute slowing down but a marginal slowing down in an overall absolute increase. To understand the position, one has to put these developments in the context of China’s energy mix, in which there is indeed planned to be a shift to renewables.

Chinese power generation is overwhelmingly dominated by fossil fuels, which accounts for 90% of capacity, coal itself accounting for 67%. Renewables account for the remainder, with this 10% being dominated by the 8% of hydro. Nuclear is 1%, solar and wind 1%. It is obvious from these facts that the great growth in solar is possible only because the growth starts from a very small base, though such is the absolute size of the Chinese economy that this tiny fraction of its capacity is very large by comparison to other countries’ solar industries. Even leaving aside the question of how much the Chinese renewables industry is directed towards export, it is equally obvious that even the current great growth in solar can have only a small marginal impact on the Chinese energy mix. It is justifiable to claim that China plans to raise the share of renewables in the energy mix to 20% by 2030, of which solar will provide a small fraction, and to cap coal at less than 62.5%. But it is preposterous to claim that this represents a movement from coal to solar that has any real significance for global emissions.

In brief, the planned shift in the energy mix cannot possibly represent peak coal because it is part of a plan to absolutely increase coal-fired generation. Yet again, the concept of carbon intensity is causing dreadful confusion. Even if this shift (and the installation of new fossil fuel plant) lowers carbon intensity, this will be brought about, not in reversal of, but in the course of continued growth in Chinese power generation and therefore of coal-fired generation. There is simply no possibility, other an unforeseen economic catastrophe or a technological miracle, that Chinese coal consumption will not grow by absolute amounts that are astronomical by western standards, and to a concomitant rise in emissions.

It is unfortunately necessary in light of the Costing the Earth’s claim to underline the general points which should be obvious. China has a population of 1.3 billion, ie a billion more than the population of the US and approaching a billion more than the EU. China’s great achievement in poverty relief since 1979 has so far largely been confined to its major coastal cities. In its hinterland, there are approaching a billion people living on US$5/day, half of these on US$2.50. This poverty by western standards is reflected in per capita energy consumption, despite the urban prosperity, being 50% of that of western Europe and 25% of the US. Further relief of the poverty of this enormous number of people will involve absolute economic growth, growth in absolute energy generation, growth in absolute coal-fired generation, and therefore growth in emissions that are, I apologise for using the word again but one searches for a similarly accurate one, astronomical by western standards.

China’s strategic target, restated in its statement to the UNFCCC Secretariat of its Independent Nationally Determined Contribution, is to create ‘a moderately prosperous society’. Under the current Five Year Plan, this is to involve doubling 2010 gdp and per capita income by 2020, which will be made possible by a concomitant increase in power generation, with 2010 energy consumption expected to double by 2030. Even accepting that the share of renewables in the energy mix will double and that of coal decrease by 5%, elementary arithmetic shows that coal-fired generation will itself almost absolutely double. Let us give overall power generation the value of 100, of which 90 is fossil fuels (67 coal) and 10 is renewables, and then add another 100, of which 20 is renewables and therefore 80 is fossil fuel (62.5 coal). The shift to renewables has but the smallest impact on an absolute growth of fossil fuels to 170 and coal to 129.5.

To say that the significance of these basic facts for the nature of the world energy economy and for global emissions is altered in any but the smallest way by the 3% and 4% figures relied on in the peak coal argument is utterly misleading. It is surely highly significant that Costing the Earth’s claim that coal is declining was made in a discussion of developments wholly internal to the Chinese energy mix. These developments were not related at all to the reduction in global emissions necessary to make climate change policy have a significant positive global effect, and this is for the good reason that there cannot possibly be any such effect. Accepting the most optimistic forecasts of a shift from coal to renewables, there will still be an immense absolute growth in Chinese emissions, and so in absolute global, emissions. For the BBC to broadcast a claim that the recent decline in Chinese coal consumption means that the China excuse no longer holds without any consideration of any of this vital context is a disgrace.

It remains only to add that nothing has been said here about the position of India, which in 2014 overtook the US as the world’s second largest coal consumer.


The BBC have a statutory duty to report “with due accuracy and impartiality”. Why are they allowed to flout this so regularly?

19 Comments leave one →
  1. It doesn't add up... permalink
    May 16, 2016 6:33 pm

    Chinese statistics are a can of worms. When I looked at what BP had done in updating their World Energy Statistics, I found all sorts of large scale changes, including to such things as implied thermal content per tonne. I think that to a large extent the statistics are what the Chinese want them to be.

    Big upward revisions in historical coal consumption allow them to look good when measuring future progress.

  2. May 16, 2016 6:37 pm

    Having listened to the programme earlier today, I totally agree as to how biased it was, with quotes and interviews from the usual suspects (Grantham Institute, Stern etc). I particularly noted the bit about air pollution in Beijing and how the programme seamlessly went on to only discuss carbon dioxide, as if this were the cause of the air pollution. The programme was a complete disgrace, nothing but pure propaganda – one of the worst I have heard on BBC.

  3. May 16, 2016 6:45 pm

    ‘in 2015 approval was given for 155 new coal plants which themselves will have a capacity more than twice Germany’s entire capacity’

    If that’s a decline in coal use what would an increase look like? The BBC have totally lost the plot on climate issues, just spouting nonsense.

    • May 16, 2016 7:12 pm

      I don’t believe that the BBC ever had the plot to lose.

      • Graeme No.3 permalink
        May 16, 2016 9:08 pm

        They are sticking rigidly to their plot.

  4. Nigel S permalink
    May 16, 2016 8:02 pm

    It was broadcast on 10th May at 15:30 and on 11th at 21:00. The ‘Future Proofing’ programme that preceeded the repeat (at 20:00 on 11th) was quite as bad. I thought I’d heard everything from BBC but they excelled themselves. It included the claim that 93% of electricity is lost by the time it reaches the users at the end of the line. I’ve emailed BBC to ask for justification of that claim.

    • Dave Ward permalink
      May 16, 2016 8:28 pm

      “It included the claim that 93% of electricity is lost by the time it reaches the users at the end of the line”

      It sounds like it should be the other way round – 7% of the original generated power is lost, therefore 93% is delivered to the users at the end of the line?

      But, hey – why worry about a small misteak like that…

      • May 18, 2016 6:51 am

        Yes that makes sense.
        Over on the other thread I pointed out the context that the guy had just being talking about customers right at the end of the it may have been a weird calculation, but it was the presentation style that was at fault. As it allowed the presenter to slip in any old crap with quoting any sources.

        The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that electricity transmission and distribution losses average about 6% of the electricity that is transmitted and distributed annually in the United States.

        So that is a 93%+ success rate at transmission, NOT a 93% loss

  5. Paul permalink
    May 16, 2016 9:13 pm

    So the point of this essay is that the china excuse still stands….there is no point in reducing emissions – and why would a skeptic want to reduce emissions? There is no problem?

  6. John F. Hultquist permalink
    May 16, 2016 9:40 pm

    Professor David Campbell writes like a lawyer. Only folks with great interest in the topic will read more than a few lines of this. Think of a step ladder and then of a hair ball regurgitated from a cat. The analogy for this essay is the hair ball.

    The first two lines of the step ladder essay could be:
    **China’s burning of coal is going up, not down.
    Anyone that says otherwise is wrong. Here’s why: … **

  7. David Richardson permalink
    May 16, 2016 9:59 pm

    The BBC propaganda machine has got so bad that I don’t believe anything they say now, even if I know it is the truth.

  8. May 16, 2016 10:06 pm

    It’s a bit like temperatures – it depends what your baseline is. Chinese coal consumption went up steadily in the late 20th C then took off massively in the early 21st C.

    China’s coal consumption to hit 4.3b tons in 2020 – report by China Daily

    ‘coal consumption will be limited to 62 percent of energy use by 2020.’

    Was that in any BBC headlines?

  9. markl permalink
    May 16, 2016 10:41 pm

    The whole AGW narrative is built on misinformation and the MSM is responsible for disseminating it. Part one of the UN/Socialist agenda was gaining control of the media and they succeeded. Look what happens to anyone who dares step outside the AGW meme and is there any doubt about the absolute control?

  10. May 16, 2016 11:35 pm

    The good professor may write like a lawyer but his maths appears to be sound and one can sympathise with the Chinese in wishing to improve the lot of their rural poor necessarily involving the provision of electricity, and it makes absolute sense to generate it in the cheapest possible way. CO2 is greening the planet. It’s all good.

    Yes, there is air pollution but it relates to particulates not CO2. I remember London in the nineteen eighties.

  11. John F. Hultquist permalink
    May 17, 2016 3:31 am

    Paul has posted a couple of things on city type pollution, including links and photos of both London and Pittsburgh, PA. I visited Pittsburgh in the 1950s & 60s but the cleaning of the air began before then. I’m also familiar with LA’s smog in the early 1960s.
    The main thing is that decently managed and wealthy places can, and do, clean up after making mistakes. The Chinese will eventually and, even now, are doing things better. Meanwhile, Venezuela and to a lesser extent Argentina (Neuquén province) struggle with basics long ago solved elsewhere.

  12. Stonyground permalink
    May 17, 2016 7:04 am

    “The BBC have a statutory duty to report “with due accuracy and impartiality”. Why are they allowed to flout this so regularly?”

    Because there is no one to hold them to account. The licence fee is a form of legalised extortion so there is no way of taking your custom elsewhere. It suits the politicians’ agenda to have this crap broadcast so they are not going to say anything. If you send in a complaint it is brushed off in the most arrogant way and the BBC will almost never admit to being wrong, why should they, they get your money whether you like it or not.

  13. May 17, 2016 7:47 am

    One wonders if they believe their output themselves?

    Do they even care?

    A few years back (Costing the Earth again iirc) after pronouncing that “the content a 4×4’s fuel tank will heat and power a UK house for a year” – apparently there was a deluge of complaints – the producer went on “Feedback” and proclaimed that such inaccuracies were a minor detail and that “high production standards” and informing the audience of the perils of fossil fuels trumped any requirement for actual accuracy. The needle on my smug detector hit the end stop.

    I think we’ve got beyond the point of holding their feet to the fire – time to simply disband it.

    • Nigel S permalink
      May 18, 2016 8:37 pm

      QI I think, I got an apology from John Lloyd. Perhaps both programmes did. My quick calculation had it out by a factor of 100. Still what do Arts grads. know about anything?

  14. ralfellis permalink
    May 17, 2016 8:19 pm

    Make a complaint. There is an online complaints procedure that is quite simple. The system goes like this:

    You complain, and they dismiss it. You appeal the dismissal, and they dismiss the appeal. You then get the offer of going to the BBC Trust, which you do. The BBC Trust will then dismiss the appeal.

    However, they have to write a justification, in which they will tie themselves in knots – which you then send to the newspapers. There are only small victories in this system. My last victory was to stop the BBC calling the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, “The Al Aqsa Mosque Compound”. (It is the site of the Temple of Solomon.)

    See what the BBC were doing here? They were complaining that Jews were trying to pray on The Al Aqsa Mosque Compound – the Jews had the impudence to want to pray on a Muslim holy site. In one linguistic stroke the BBC turned the most sacred Jewish site, the site of the Temple of Solomon, into a Muslim site, and cast them as the troublemakers. When it reality, the Muslims have refused to allow Jews to pray at they most sacred site for more than a thousand years. But the BBC will not mention that.

    I am Atheist, BTW, but the bias of the BBC in this region bugs me. Orla Gurin used to fall for every trick in the Palywood** book, and dress her eyes with black shadow to make it look as if she had been crying. But one day she said that the Israelies shoud stop moaning, because they had only been bombed four times that month. That was a straw on the camel, and I got her exiled to reporting in Pakistan (courtesy of an MP).


    ** Palywood is the well known fakery of ‘atrocities’, where the full video clip shows the ‘dead’ protester getting up and walking off. Memri TV has documented hundreds of these Palywood fakery films, and the BBC falls for them every time.


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