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Monday 28 September 2015

Some media accepting some blame

Is hell freezing over? Are pigs taking to the sky? Perhaps not, but I do seem to detect a whiff of mea- culpa from the media. There is at least partial acceptance that media has been a cause of our political instability.

First it was Niki Sava asking the question "is the system broken?", and offering a stern denial (see The Australian, Sep 19, 2015, Yes, we’re not a banana republic, and no, the system ain’t broke).

Then came Paul Kelly, with his forthright, but gentlemanly rebuttal of Sava (see The Australian, Sep 23 2015, Negative politics the biggest enemy of reform). Yes, our political system is broken. Yes, this is having a negative impact on our society. By our media's focus on the negatives our politicians are busy fighting fires and as a consequence have deferred reform for virtually a decade. Yes, the media are at least partially at fault, by their unedifying emphasis on the trivial while ignoring the significant.

Today, we have Troy Bramston on the same topic and building on Kelly's arguments (see The Australian, Sep 28,2015, Revolving-door PMs not healthy for the nation).

"Clearly, we have a problem. As Paul Kelly wrote last week, we have had a revolving-door prime ministership, countless ministers and no substantial economic reforms since 2004. As a result, our living standards are declining. Poor performing leaders are always going to be vulnerable but this level of instability is affecting our economy and society." 
Troy Bramston, Revolving-door PMs not healthy for the nation

While Troy steers a kindly middle of the road, in the main, he has put forward a couple of suggestions which could alleviate the problem. He notes that there are too many polls, that parliamentary terms should be increased and that the Liberal party could take a leaf from the ALP and change the rules relating to party spills. These are constructive contributions that could provide greater stability. Although I don't know how you could prevent a pollster from producing a poll.

But as the others before him, the focus on the media is superficial. There is no attempt at identifying the media culture that is the root cause of the negative reporting. The culture that treats the trivial on equal terms as the substantial, the culture that seeks out foibles and slip ups. The culture that looks for gotcha moments, with aggressive interviewing tactics. The culture that worships moments of anguish by interview victims.

I have written about this before (see Interviewing:boxing or surgery?Mischievous media magnifies mayhemRaising the standard of public broadcasting ) I guess it is one of my 'bug-bears'.
I believe our media culture has a vital role in our society. It has a direct impact on our political and economic system, as evidenced by the political instability now acknowledged by Kelly and Bramston.

However its influence goes beyond that. Our media enters our homes, and becomes part of our daily life. Whether they intend it or not, our media set an example for all our behaviour. How we interact with our colleagues, our friends, or the man in the street. By their interactions on the radio and our TV screens we learn that it is okay to shout down those with whom we disagree. It is ok to laugh at others' discomfort. It is okay to ridicule and make fun of foibles.

But it isn't. And I am sure that the Leigh Sales's, Emma Albericis and the various Jones's of our media, indeed all our commentators, do not believe that their behaviour should be taken into our daily lives. I am sure they believe they are doing their professional duty as journalists. Even if they interrupt or talk over the interviewee, or ask questions with aggression and malice, or indeed focus on the trivial, such as winks or flags, they believe these behaviours are justified in the quest for truth. Their role as noble guardians of our society somehow justifies such transgressions of respectful discourse. Alas these are but empty rationalisations. There are many examples where journalists, despite their common role as 'noble guardians', manage to maintain higher standards than many in our media (see Raising the standard of public broadcasting).

I suggest, however, our journalists, particularly our radio and TV presenters, should think more about their audience. They should visualise their audience as impressionable youngsters or indeed their own children. Is this the way they would want their children to behave, or indeed is this the way they would want their children to see them behave? I suggest this perspective may encourage them to tone down and fulfil their role with greater professionalism.

Friday 25 September 2015

Media are part of the problem

Are the media reporting or taking an active role in our political system?

This very question was raised by Tony Abbott in his concession speech; -

".... a febrile media culture has developed that rewards treachery.
“And if there’s one piece of advice I can give to the media, it’s this – refuse to print self-serving claims, that the person making them won’t put his or her name to. Refuse to connive or dishonour, by acting as the assassin’s knife".

Tony Abbott's point was about the role of anonymous sources and 'white-anting', and I have covered that in my previous post (House of cards).

More generally stated, it is an accusation that the media by its constant focus on 'negatives', often trivial non-sensical contrived issues, creates, amplifies and perpetuates instability in our political system. Politicians are distracted to fight nuisance issues while their reform agenda is put on the back-burner. As a consequence our country's problems are not addressed, opportunities are not taken.

Is the 'system broken' when we have had 5 PM's in 5 years? Most external observers would think so. Not so our journalists. Niki Sava, and I m sure she is not alone, argues that our system is not broken and is working as it should (see The Australian, Sep 19, 2015, Yes, we’re not a banana republic, and no, the system ain’t broke). She argues it is our Prime Ministers who have not been up to the game. Many have nodded agreement, but this is simply self-serving media rationalisation.

Paul Kelly took the most unusual step of contradicting Sava, admittedly in a most gentlemanly style. (see The Australian, Sep 23 2015, Negative politics the biggest enemy of reform). How often do you see the Editor-in-Chief of a paper write an article addressing the same issues but offering a totally opposite view to one of their own journalists? I have not seen it before and surely it is rare. It is a brave and insightful article. Kelly has, I believe, described the issue well. By their very active magnification of even minor political 'issues' to the point that it causes paralysis, the media are complicit in the rising instability of our political system. We no longer get reform because any attempt at addressing it gets shot down in a torrent of criticism.

Media as king makers

However, I believe the problem goes deeper, as illustrated by the down-fall of three recent Prime Ministers in their first term.

There is a simple vicious circle, in which the media has a central role, that works to undermine sitting PMs.

It works like this; -
  • The media pick up any nuance of what is regarded as a 'political' error by the PM. 
  • All such errors are widely reported, scrutinized from every possible angle, usually to the exclusion of all else. This magnifies the issue and takes air-time from everything else. Often the trivial overtakes the substantial. Consider flags, cigars, winks, to name just a few.
  • Wide publication influences public opinion. In the first instance it need not be a great influence, even a small one will have an impact.
  • The influence is reflected in the polls with a downward movement in the popularity of the leader and his party. Published lower poll numbers further influence the electorate and the popularity of the PM and his/her party.
  • This becomes a vicious circle, with each decrease in poll numbers encouraging the media to look for more faults which then causes further falls in the polls.
  • Bad polls lead to questions of leadership and eventually a spill.

Does it look familiar?  Is is any wonder that three recent PMs have been brought down by their own parties?

Without doubt our political media are a key ingredient and must accept their failure in perpetuating this vicious cycle.

It is not difficult to address. Indeed it is very simple. But I will leave that commentary to another day.

Thursday 24 September 2015

More media musings

It is but a short time since the poll driven removal of Tony Abbott as our PM. Much has happened; a new cabinet has been sworn in, the new ministers have gracefully fronted the media and had warm loving interviews with a compliant media.  New polls have proclaimed the success of the change with a bounce of some 5% in two party preferred for the LNP and a corresponding drop for the ALP. Malcolm Turnbull is now the preferred  PM by some 20 points. All signs of a successful coup.

Not quite. Whereas winners are grinners, the losers are unhappy. So far discontent has been largely under the covers and the media, in honeymoon garb, is reluctant to fan any flames. Even the breathless few comments by Tony Abbott clarifying some comments about Morrison did not lead to much. The entrails of this coup have not been scrutinised, yet. But it will come. And once the media-pack needs some fodder, the discontented will be sought out for their views.

Besotted media coverage

For the present, the media has welcomed the ascendancy of Malcolm Turnbull to the PM role with open arms, forgetting the many reasons they found fault in his last incarnation as LNP leader.  The interviews have been sycophantic. Listen, for example to the unusually slow talking Michael Brissenden in his almost apologetic interview on AM , or view Leigh Sales's kindly, soft interview on ABC 730 report allowing Malcolm to talk without her trademark interruptions.

This is nauseating deference. I have always advised against aggressive, interview tactics (see Interviewing:boxing or surgery?)  but for heaven's sake this looks more like a love fest.

Indeed the media is very pleased. Virtually every commentator has been at it. Praising the new ministry, the Turnbull style, and turning their critical eye, at last, onto the ALP. It is as if Turnbull is their man. No doubt some of this is the euphoria of success; the media's success in getting rid of Tony Abbott, their success in securing the leader they wanted.

Media as influencer

Of course much of this is not new. It happened when Rudd was elected, it happened when Gillard was elected, and indeed when Rudd was elected again.

Abbot however had never received the soft treatment of the others. From the moment he surprisingly defeated Turnbull for the LNP the leadership, the media has been up in arms.

Even after defeating the hopeless Rudd/Gillard/Rudd governernments, Abbott received but a short honeymoon.

Without doubt, like all before him, he made some grievous political mistakes. The commentators often note he had no 'political' capital, but more accurately he had no 'media' capital.

In the end all leaders must accept their fate, no matter how the end is wrought. But we should be very concerned if our media hijack the show. If they become players in the political drama. If their influence causes the very changes they want to 'report'.

Monday 21 September 2015

Migration not a solution to world poverty

Recently I was sent a relatively old video, updated in 2010, "Immigration, World Poverty and Gumballs" by Roy Beck. It illustrates in a simple and compelling way, the futility of trying to address world poverty by immigration.

It provides a perspective of the size of the poverty problem and how even the most generous migration schemes cannot hope to address the issue.Moreover and this point needs to be emphasized the very generosity of the west in accepting migrants actually makes the problem worse, because the migrants accepted are always the very migrants who could work assiduously to make their home countries better.

While the figures are no doubt out of date, the message is equally relevant today. Indeed, with waves of migrants spreading over Europe they are more relevant than ever.

Should Europe accept these migrants?  Without qualification it is incumbent on all countries to re-settle refugees from war and persecution (see my earlier post on the migration crisis). There is however no obligation to accept so called 'economic' migrants, those who leave their home countries in search of greener pastures.

So often the heart works against the mind. We feel a collective guilt for our prosperity and do not want to deny a chance to at least the few on our doorsteps. Yet we know that we can only offer this to a few, that it encourages ever greater numbers of dissatisfied souls to leave their lands and indeed that it robs their home countries of the most energetic and capable.

The 'gumball' message is clear, it is counter-productive for western developed countries to accept the migrants best equipped to transform their own countries into the type of societies they seek. 

Friday 18 September 2015

Seeking a fair GHG reduction target - Part 3: Misleading measures - misleading world ranking

Given the need for global cooperation, the self interest of countries, and the voluntary nature of commitments, it is not surprising that comparing and ranking countries has taken a prominent role in negotiations for reduction targets.

Countries performing well according to these rankings can afford to justify lower reduction targets, while those identified as high 'polluters' are embarrassed into greater commitments.

So we should be very concerned if the common measures used for such rankings are misleading. As detailed in my last post, all the common measures used for ranking countries are indeed misleading. They of course do not all mislead in the same way and are used selectively by those wishing to push one angle or another.

In this post we compare the rankings of the top 10 global emitters using a number of different measures. We will start with the two most common measures used for ranking countries' emissions, E, the total emissions of GHG pa , and  E/c, emissions per capita per annun. In addition we will look at how these rankings change when we compensate for the shortcomings of these measures, in particular ; -

  • the change in a country's emission rate when we account for imports/exports, 
  • the net emission rate taking into account total absorption by forestry. This is as opposed to gross emissions with just compensation for land-use change
  • the cumulative emissions of a country over time as opposed to its annual emission rate.

Data data everywhere yet ...

Climate change has been a hot topic for many years now so it is not surprising that extensive data bases have been created covering a wide range of measures. One would have thought that any question could be answered readily. Unfortunately, however, this is not so. While all the data relating to the common measures is readily available, the data on consumption emissions, on absorption rates and cumulative emissions is sparse.

In the following tables I have used 2009 as the baseline, as it was a date for which I could find the most relevant data. Even here I was restricted in that for the cumulative emissions I could only find data on gross production emissions of CO2 emissions, as opposed to CO2-e, and only dating back to 1850.  Nevertheless it helps to complete the picture indicating which countries have contributed most to the changes in GHG in our atmosphere.

Hopefully as greater emphasis is placed on the shortcomings of the common measures these gaps in the data will be addressed.

My sources for all the data presented are listed in the references section below.


Again just a few notes on terminology. I am using suffixes to differentiate between the different measures of GHG emissions. 

These are; - 

  • p - production. Those emissions produced within a country
  • c - consumption. Those emissions 'consumed' by the country. These have been adjusted for imports and exports
  • g - gross emissions including adjustments for land use only
  • n - nett emissions. Emissions less absorption in th eocuntry. This accounts for all existing forest resources which serve to absorb GHG. A negative nett emission implies that the country absorbs more GHG than it emits.

Applying these we have four different measures of Emissions.

  1. Egp - gross production emissions of GHG. This is the most commonly used measure of Emissions
  2. Egc - gross consumption emissions. These are the gross emissions but adjusted for the GHG used in imports less those which are used for exported products.
  3. Enp - nett production emissions. Emissions produced in th ecountry less absorption by all forestry resources
  4. Enc - nett consumption emissions. Emissions consumed by the country less absorption by all forestry resources.
Each of these measures is on a per annum basis for a specific year. In all the following tables the year is 2009.

For cumulative measures, I use a prefix of 's'. For example , 'sEgp' is the cumulative gross production emissions of CO2 of a country, and in this case the period is from 1850-2009.

Measures of total emissions

The following four graphs show the ranking of the top 10 global emitters using the four measures measures of total emissions; - Egp, Egc, Enc and sEgp(CO2only).

In comparing these four graphs, it is clear that the largest emitters by all measures are China and the US. However their relative contribution varies significantly. For example, while China is the greater emitter today in all per annum measures, on a cumulative basis the USA is significantly ahead.

Similarly the relative contribution of the major emitters varies significantly depending on the measure used. Again for example, while Brazil and Russia are 4th and 5th in gross consumption emissions ( Egp) they drop out of the top 10 when net emissions (Enp) are considered. Similarly once cumulative emissions are taken into account newly developing countries drop back in the field and the European countries move up.

The range of variables and the way countries perform differently on each, gives plenty of scope for vested interests to push a range of arguments.

Measures of per capita emissions

Now, lets look at per capita measures.

The table below shows the top 20 countries as measured by Egp pa and their ranking on four per capita measures;- Egp/c, Egc/c, Enp/c, sEgp/c. (Note that sEgp/c is obtained by dividing sEgp by the population in 2009. It may have been more accurate to use the average population over the measurement period (1850 -2009), however I don't have those figures.)

Country sEgp/C rank Egp/C rank Egc/C rank Enp/C rank
United States 1 3 3 3
United Kingdom 2 11 8 5
Germany 3 8 6 4
Canada 4 2 2 20
Russian Federation 5 6 7 18
Australia 6 1 1 19
France 7 16 11 11
Japan 8 13 13 7
Italy 9 15 12 9
South Africa 10 10 15 8
Saudi Arabia 11 4 4 1
Korea, Rep. (South) 12 7 9 2
Iran 13 9 14 6
Mexico 14 18 17 15
Malaysia 15 5 5 12
China 16 17 18 10
Brazil 17 12 10 17
Indonesia 18 14 16 16
India 19 20 20 13
Nigeria 20 19 19 14

The table is sorted on sEgp/c, with US as the highest cumulative emitter at the top, followed by UK and Germany.  China with a large population and rather recent industrialisation is near the bottom, as it has not contributed greatly over the period, despite its high current emission rate.

BY glancing at the four columns it becomes obvious that these measures give widely different results as to the rankings of the top 20 countries.

This is further illustrated by the graph below. The graph shows the ranking on each of the four measures, of the top 10 cumulative emitters.

The graph again highlights the great variability in rankning depending on the measure used.

While Australia ranks as number 1 on Egp/c and Egc/p it ranks 19 and 6 on Enp/c and sEgp/c.

What is the point of this?

Measuring and Ranking countries as to their contribution to CC is important as we approach the next CC conference in Paris. A key first step in trying to reach a consensus on reduction targets is an appraisal of which countries are responsible. This then leads to proportionate commitments.

The most common measures used to gauge a country's contribution to CC have been Egp and Egp/c. It has been shown (see earlier post) that these measures do not directly reflect a country's contribution to CC, moreover if we adjust for some of their shortcomings the ranking of countries changes considerably.

This presents a quandary. With so many different measures, resulting in widely different rankings what can/should we use? Moreover is there a measure that can serve as the basis for setting commitment targets and will be acceptable to all countries?

I will try to address this in my next post in this series


  1. Egp, Egp/c, sEgp(CO2) were taken from the CDIAC Database available on-line at Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre
  2. Consumption emissions were taken from a table at back of aritcle by Boitier B, April l 2012, Lab. Erasme, cole Centrale Paris, "CO2 emissions production-based accounting vs consumption: Insights from WIOD databases" 
  3. Absorption figures were calculated using data from an earlier post which cites references see http://www.grappyssoapbox.com/2014/12/is-australia-one-of-worst-net-emitters.html
  4. Steven J. Davis and Ken Cadeira, PNAS, Sustainability Science Portal, March 23, 2010, vol.107,no 12, 5687-5692,"Consumption-based accounting of CO2 emissions" 

Copyright(C)2015 Grappy's Soap Box, all rights reserved

Tuesday 15 September 2015

House of cards

Our political system is unstable

It is but a day after the coup which saw the fourth change of PM in but just over two years, and the third time a PM was replaced within their first term. These are unprecedented events, more akin to a television drama than real life. But alas that is politics today.

Many are coming to terms with the events of the past 24 hours, some readily accept the change others more reluctantly do so. Time will tell how this drama ends.

Like many outside observers I find these blatant 'full frontal' challenges a rather brutal and brutalizing process. It hearkens back to the animal kingdom where the leader of the pride has to maintain leadership by mane to mane combat against all challengers, in a fight sometimes to the end. My preference would be for a more gentlemanly behind-the-scenes arrangement where leaders would be changed from time to time by handshakes-and-nods when the numbers favoured a new nominee. Alas today that seems so naive and idealistic.

Is any of this the media's fault?

While I don't want to go into the specifics of this recent coup I am concerned about the process which uses the media as a tool of the dissatisfied.

As the recently deposed Tony Abbott noted in his concession speech ;

".... a febrile media culture has developed that rewards treachery.
“And if there’s one piece of advice I can give to the media, it’s this – refuse to print self-serving claims, that the person making them won’t put his or her name to. Refuse to connive or dishonour, by acting as the assassin’s knife".
It seems that the recent instability within our political system has come hand in glove with several trends in our modern media, including; -
  • the oft cited 24 hour news cycle requiring ever increasing content
  • the frequency of polling
  • the increasing number of commentators and media sources
  • a social media background that has an ever greater appetite for commentary
For all these reasons any political decision or indecision receives the most detailed scutiny.
Opinions abound and too often the trivial takes precedence over stories of greater import. I guess everyone will have examples but consider the kerfuffle about a 'wink', or  the number of flags on a podium.

As a consequence our media amplifies and extends these sometimes serious, sometimes trivial, issues way beyond what would have been the case but a decade ago. (See my earlier comments on media  Mass media moving masses , Mischievous media magnifies mayhem)

So by its nature the media will amplify dissatisfaction.

But wait there is more...

Add to the ready-to-report, ready-to-amplify media, the treacherous, underhanded, conniving politician, eager to undermine their current leader, whether for venegeance for a past wrong, to gain a more senior role, or some rationalised 'noble' reason. We now have a secret cabal whereby Mr Treachery becomes the anonymous source for leaks to a compliant journalist, or two. The information is thrust into the public arena anonymously to wreak havoc with public opinion and to undermine the leader. This process is not new, we have seen it all too often. Indeed it is now a tactic well proven.

Moreover since it has worked in the past no doubt it will be used in the future.
Reluctantly I accept the reality of human nature; naked ambition, the bitterness of wrongs past, and the ability of otherwise good people to rationalise dishonest behaviour.

My question is about the media. Is the media ethical when publishing anonymous sources?

Is the media's use of anonymous sources ethical?

The very juxtaposition of the two words 'media' and 'ethics' seems to generate a smirk, but I continue.

Media ethics is indeed at the very foundation of media studies and rightly so. Of course anonymous sources are an integral part of the profession.

My, admittedly limited, readings indicate the appropriate use of anonymous sources is not clearly defined. Indeed the Society of Professional Journalists advises care in their use and tellingly advises;

"2. Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
The information-gathering business is a give-and-take practice with a lot of public officials. Some are willing to provide information only when it benefits them. When someone asks to provide information off the record, be sure the reason is not to boost her own position by undermining someone else’s, to even the score with a rival, to attack an opponent or to push a personal agenda. Media outlet practices vary, but journalists should not overlook the danger of legal problems and credibility damage from publishing anonymously sourced information that is not confirmed by public records or credible sources. Before journalists allow themselves to be used by an anonymous source they should be sure to question whether the news value warrants whatever the source hopes to accomplish." (my emphasis) http://www.spj.org/ethics-papers-anonymity.asp

It seems SJP is advising not to use anonymous sources if any one of the following apply; -
  1. the motivation behind the anonymous information is for some 'political advantage'
  2. there is a possibility that the information is untrue
  3. the news value does not warrant whaterver the source want to achieve

Looking at the recent white-anting of Tony Abbot, the leaks seem to have broken all of these criteria. Lets look at each in turn.

The motivation behind the anonymous information is for some 'political advantage'

Clearly, the leaks from the cabinet room have been for a political advantage, ie bringing instability into the government in order to initiate a coup. 

Consider these; - 

These headlines speak for themselves.

Most significantly the leak about the planned reshuffle of senior ministers triggered the events of yesterday.

Herald Sun Sep 11,2015 - Cabinet leak is very messy

There is a possibility that the information is untrue

There have been several recent stories which relied on anonymous sources that have proved to be untrue. The one that comes to mind is the story that Mr Abbott had refused to meet with the same sex partner of Australia's ambassador to France. 

SMH May 5,2015 - Ambassador to France offers resignation after bizarre Abbott airport incident

And then proven to be false; -
The Australian May 6,2015 - Abbott had dinner with ambassador in Paris after snub

The news value does not warrant whatever the source want to achieve

Most of the above stories carry no news value other than to show that there is internal division in the cabinet. This is of course news, but it is in fact the very objective the source is trying to achieve. In other words by printing the story the journalist is providing no more information than what the source wants to achieve.
It is clear that, by the criteria outlined by the SJP a professional journalist would not have published these stories. Indeed a professional journalist should never use anonymous sources in these political 'white-anting' situations.

Oh, for a more ethical media

It seems a lonely cry into the ether, but I implore our professional media to look at their role as reporters of truth, without fear or favour. Do not become become the 'assassin's knife', do not accept anonymous leaked stories from treacherous MPs. By doing so you would not be failing your journalistic profession , on the contrary you would be practicing what the Society of Professional Journalists suggest is ethical best practice. 

Migration crisis

The scenes of the beleaguered migrants, asylum seekers, or refugees, in camps, in un-seaworthy vessels, and in the sea, drowned bodies, anguished and pained faces, children, mothers, grandmothers assail us. Who cannot be moved to demand action.
It is without doubt a reminder that this world can be a terrible place, if by chance you were born in the wrong time or the wrong place.There is nothing fair about this. Why can some humans live a civil life, without want for food or security, while others are deprived of these human rights. It is not a just world.

Taking stock in a troubled world

Our world is in a sorry state.Wars ravage too many countries, Somalia,Yemen, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Sudan,Ukraine, and others. The great strides in communication technologies have opened up a window to life in all parts of the globe. For the destitute peoples of Africa and Asia, the relative affluence of the developed world is a magnet. Large numbers of people either escaping persecution, and war, or just trying to improve their lives, are all too willing to leave their countries and seek 'asylum' elsewhere. The numbers are staggering, estimates give some 20 million currently living in refugee camps as at end of 2014, but most probably double that in various states of transit across the globe.

Most refugees simply escape war or persecution and join others in camps in the country adjacent to the conflict. They then seek to migrate to the more generous developed world. In response to the escalating need some developed countries have increased their refugee intake from but a few thousand to a few thousand more. Even Germany's dramatic increase to an unprecedented 800,000 this year is but a drop in the ocean when facing a total over 40m.

There is of course widespread media coverage with dramatic scenes of human misery. So we have full time coverage. Emotions in the electorate are running high, and politicians cannot avoid taking some action. But what can they and what should they do? Our government's widely welcomed commitment to resettle an additional 12,000 refugees from the camps is a token. In comparison to other developed countries it is perhaps generous, but it remains nothing but a token when looking at the size of the problem.

Lets face some facts

The current wave of migration is unusual in its extent and size. It has been compared to the wave of relocation following WWII. Yet all efforts to date have been insignificant. Until this wave of refugees broke the shores of Europe over the past 12 months, the West has ignored the problem.

Now, no longer. With tens of thousands of 'migrants' flowing into Italy, Greece, Hungary they are a very visible, ever-present and growing problem.

For Europe solutions are particularly challenging. The European Union was built on a respect for every individual and has long espoused universal human rights. However the large numbers present a problem for even the largest economies. There is of course the very real costs required to house, feed and integrate the new migrants. For the smaller economies who are struggling with their own welfare systems this is no minor issue. But the greater challenge for the largely Christian Europe is cultural, how to accept large numbers of Muslim migrants into your society without changing it.

In all these respects, this mass migration presents a complex dilemma to the developed world.

I do not claim a 'solution', but I think most of our commentators and much of the media seem to avoid some unwelcome facts. Perhaps this is due to political correctness. Perhaps it is hard to look dispassionately at human suffering. Perhaps it is a fear that any harsh judgment will result in criticism directed at the 'messenger'. Indeed this may well result from my voicing some of these issues. Nevertheless, I believe real solutions can only arise if we are honest about the size and nature of the problem. So let me venture some observations.

Borders should be closed 
  • Not all 'asylum seekers' are refugees and they should not be treated in the same way.
  • The world has too many people who if given the chance have the means to travel to countries which have open borders and which will offer a better life.  
  • Germany opening its doors to some 800,000 has caused a virtual run at the borders. This is unsustainable and damaging to every country in the Eurozone. 
  • Large and sudden increases in the number of migrants causes economic and social burdens on the receiving countries. Failure to manage the rate of increase and the integration can lead to social unrest, which manifests itself in increased poverty and crime rates and lowers living standards for everyone. 
  • Responsible governments will limit their intake of migrants to ensure their own social structures remain intact. Even countries adjacent to conflict zones have enforced camps to limit the impact on their own populations. This is not racism and it is not unreasonable.
Refugees in camps should be given priority for resettlement
  • There are millions of poor souls who don't have the means to pay people smugglers or who would not risk the lives of their families. 
  • Those who are leaving the camps are trying to 'jump the queue'.
  • Those who claim to be refugees and have already left a country where they were safe should be returned to a refugee camp, closest to their point of departure, before being processed. (I have specifically not mentioned the UN convention for refugees, which requires refugees to seek asylum from the first signatory country. It is a sufficient condition that a genuine refugee apply for resettlement from the first country where it has refuge. It goes without saying that those in camps in Turkey and Jordan are safe from the Syrian war.)
  • Priority for resettlement should be given to those who have stayed in a camp the longest.
Refugees should not be allowed to chose the country into which they are to be resettled
  • Refugees are escaping persecution or war. They are by definition looking for refuge and should automatically be satisfied by whichever country offers this.
  • A UN body, most probably the UNHCR should manage the resettlement process. 
    • All countries offering places for refugee resettlement should register these with the UNHCR
    • Each refugee family should be offered a resettlement country randomly selected.
    • A family should have the option to reject the country of resettlement but if they did so they would go to the bottom of the queue for the next selection, and may indeed stay in their camp for years.
  • Countries accepting refugees for resettlement also retain their rights to select which refugees they will accept
  • A vital consequence of this process is that economic refugees would NOT register as refugees
Funding for refugees has to be provided by the world
  • All countries as part of their obligations to the UN should offer to fund the resettlement of refugees. 
  • Quite separately all countries should also offer to resettle refugees.
  • UNHCR should allocate a fixed US$ amount per person being resettled into a country. This should equate to at least the first 12 months cost of housing and feeding the refugee. This amount should be paid to the resettling country as an incentive for even poorer countries to accept refugees.
  • There should in addition be a levy on all countries to ensure the refugee camps are maintained to preserve the well being and dignity of those who are forced to stay in camps till they are resettled.
Stop the wars
  • Refugees are a symptom of failed states, and indeed a failed world system
  • The world needs to be far more proactive in ensuring leaders do not threaten their own people.
  • In many of the troubled areas of the world small groups of armed thugs hold their populations hostage to their whims. In most of these cases the UN and the West could very simply remove the tyrants from power and they should do so.
  • I accept that with wars, especially where larger nations are involved, it is far more difficult and we are yet to develop a UN-like body that is effective in these situations.

Clear the camps

One of our millennium goals should be to clear the camps. Too many camps around the world have become the way of life for too many and for too long. 

Thursday 10 September 2015

Seeking a fair GHG reduction target - Part 2:Current CC Measures are misleading

This is the second post in this series Seeking a fair Greenhouse Gas (GHG) reduction target. The first post ( Seeking a Fair GHG reduction target-Part 1:The problem)
outlined the main reasons why a consensus on GHG reduction targets is so elusive and also posed the challenge posed in this essay: How to set GHG reduction targets that will receive universal agreement. Quite an ambitious target indeed.

In this post I want to review the way GHG Reduction targets are currently specified, the common measures used when ranking countries' contribution to global CC, and to highlight any shortcomings in using these measures. Consensus on reduction targets can only be achieved if the measures we use to set a country's target are aligned with that country's contribution to CC.

GHG measures for setting reduction targets and ranking countries

Typically a GHG reduction target is stated as; -

By Target-Date (country) will reduce CO2-e emissions by (target ) % below the emission level at Baseline Date.

Two additional terms Emissions Per Capita and Emissions per $GDP are frequently used to rank countries as to their CC impact, so will be included in the following.

To understand reduction statements and country rankings based on these terms, we need to look under the covers.  I will avoid being too technical by providing only a brief summary here, however for a more in depth understanding of the many factors influencing these please read the references cited below.

  • CO2-e refers to Carbon Dioxide equivalents, generally stated as millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum. 
  • GHG covers a range of gases which contribute to global warming,  including ; Carbon Dioxide, Methane, Nitrous Oxide, etc. (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_gas#Greenhouse_gases ). 
  • The relative contribution of each of these gases to global warming is different, based on a number of factors including its thermal radiation absorption rate, its longevity in the atmosphere and its interaction with other gases.  
  • Carbon Dioxide-equivalents is a measure of the overall impact of a given combination the various Greenhouse gases. The volume of each gas is converted to the mass of Carbon Dioxide which would have an equivalent impact on global warming, and these are summed to give an overall impact. There are several complexities behind the scenes which I will let interested readers follow up through the references.
  • Invariably references to a country's GHG 'emissions' refers to the CO2-e produced within a country. They should be qualified as production emissions, but this rarely happens. The problem with production emissions is that it does not account for the emissions in imported and exported products. The GHG emissions resulting from manufacturing a product which is subsequently exported should be assigned to the country which imported the product, since the exporting country would not have produced it were it not for their customer. Similarly the emissions generated in a product which is imported has to be added back to the country which imports the product. This adjusted figure is the consumption emissions of a country, ie the emissions due to product consumed within the country. Most references to 'Emissions' refer to production emissions and ignore the effect of imports and exports, and are therefore misleading. They overstate the emissions of producing countries (eg China) and understate the emissions of consuming countries (eg most of Europe).    (Note that sometimes the Emissions of a country are measured by the amount of energy 'consumed' or generated in the country. These are still production emissions as it refers to the emissions required to produce the energy used in the country.) 
  • Emissions targets are based on gross emissions of GHGs and ignore all absorption except for changes in land use. Greenhouse Gases in the atmosphere are the result of processes which increase emissions, both natural and anthropogenic, and absorption (decrease of emissions) by various carbon sinks, also natural and anthropogenic. While reduction targets use the total emissions of a country in any year they only account for the changes in absorption due to changes in land use, deforestation agriculture etc. The absorption by a country's existing forests is totally ignored, it is only the change in absorption that is taken into the calculation of emissions. Totally ignored are the vast forests of the continents that have always been the lungs of the world, including the significant contribution by physically large countries hich have retained much of their forests ie countries like Canada, Brazil, Russia, Australia. By looking at only changes in land use they totally ignore the role of some countries as net absorbers of GHG, cleaning up the emissions of the industrialized, deforested countries of Europe. Emission statistics which ignore total absorption are misleading. They overstate the emissions of countries with large forested areas (Canada, Russia, Australia) and greatly distort the ranking of countries as to their contribution to global warming. 
Target Date, Baseline Date
  • The Target and Baseline dates stated in reduction target statements vary.The Target/Baseline dates for the Kyoto protocol were 1990/2012 respectively. In more recent target statements by various countries Target (2025, 2026-2028, 2030) and Baseline (2000, 0205) vary. 
  • Setting a specific Target date is mandatory for any realistic target. 
  • However the Baseline Date establishes the baseline CO2-e to which the reduction target will be compared. So it is significant. As it is somewhat arbitrary a country can (admittedly modestly ) game the system by picking a baseline date where it had unusually high emissions.
  • More significantly any selected date misses the point. A country is responsible not for its contribution from just some arbitrary point in time, but its total net contribution to CC. This is its total Net Emissions (Gross Emissions less Absorption) since industrialization. European countries which industrialized and deforested a long time ago are treated kindly by a system which picks any recent date thereby ignoring their most significant emissions in the past. Developing countries are only now going through industrialization converting forests into agriculture and building factories, all contributing to their emissions. So emission targets cannot be fair unless they take into account each country's total contribution to global warming.
Emissions per person (E/p)
  • Emissions per person (E/p) are often used to compare & rank countries as to their relative contributions to CC. The idea is that by dividing a country's emissions by its population we have a fair way of comparing the CC contribution of countries of different size. 
  • However invariably the calculations use Gross Production Emissions which are misleading for the reasons cited above, so the resulting E/p will also be misleading.
  • The problem with Production vs Consumption emissions can be illustrated by looking at an example.
  • Consider two countries A and B, which start with; - 
    • identical population of 10 million
    • identical Production Emissions rates of 150mt/yr , made up from 50mt/yr generated in the manufacture of exported product and 100mt/yr locally consumed by its 10 million population at a Consumption Emission per person of 10t/p/yr.
    • The E/p for each country is 15 t/p/yr
  • After 100 years, for whatever reason half the population has migrated to B, however all the other variables are left unchanged, ie consumption E/p and Export emissions remain he same. However the E/p for A has increased 15 to 20t/yr and for B it has decreased from 15 to 13.3t/yr. (See Table below ) 
Country Measures Unit 1900 2000
Starting Equal Population of A to B
A Population million 10 5

Emissions in exports mt/yr 50 50

Consumption Emissions/p t/yr 10 10

Production Emissions mt/yr 150 100

E/p t/yr 15.00 20.00

B Population million 10 15

Emissions in exports mt/yr 50 50

Consumption Emissions/p t/yr 10 10

Production Emissions mt/yr 150 200

E/p t/yr 15.00 13.33

  • Although the actual emissions due to personal consumption remain the same the E/p figures are different. Clearly any comparison or ranking of countries using Emissions per person is misleading.
  • While this illustration focused on the problem with Consumption vs Production emissions, E/p is simlarly misleading due to Emissions definitions ignoring Absorption rates. 
Emisions per $GDP(E/$)
  • E/$ emissions per unit of GDP are often used to compare the carbon intensity or efficiency of countries ie how much CO2-e is emitted per $ of GDP. The idea is that by dividing the emission rate by the GDP, we can gauge how much, or ideally how little CO2e a country emits for each $ they generate.
  • Given that these measures also rely on fallacious definitions of Emissions they suffer the same problems as covered above. 
  • In this case the E/$ is understated for countries which tend to import goods and overstated for those which export goods.


Summarizing we can see that the measures used in Reduction Target statements do not reflect a country's contribution to climate change. The measures are misleading in several ways;

  • By using Production Emissions they overstate the contribution to global warming of producing countries while understating the contributions of consuming countries.
  • By using Gross emissions instead of Net emissions they overstate the contribution to countries which have extensive forested areas and understate the contribution of smaller industrialized which have deforested.
  • By setting a Baseline date they understate the very significant contribution to global warming of countries which industrialized countries well before the artificial baseline date and penalize developing countries which are now or only recently going through industrialization.
Reduction targets established in this way will always be a source of argument as they do not reflect each country's contribution to the problem.

So how do these misleading measures generate misleading rankings?

I will try to address this in my next post.


1. Wikipedia - Greenhouse Gases
2. Climate Change Authority, Feb 2014, "Reducing Australia's Greenhousegas Emissions - Target and progress review"
3. United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change website, "Glossary of Climate Change Acronyms

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