Scotland shouldn’t pay climate reparations

Lucky old Scottish homeowners. Not only are they being told that they could be forbidden from selling their homes if they fail to achieve a ‘C’ rating on an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC); they now have the pleasure of knowing that £24 million worth of their taxes will be going to pay climate reparations.

The Scottish government has just made such a handout to charities working on climate issues in the developing world. While First Minister Humza Yousaf didn’t quite use the term ‘reparations’ he did say ‘the countries which are the worst affected by the climate crisis are often those which have done little or nothing to cause it. The injustice at the heart of the global climate crisis is why Scotland became the first country to establish a Climate Justice Fund more than a decade ago and why we have led the way in being the first global north country to commit funding to address loss and damage.’

Many may wonder how people will feel, while braving driving rain on the western isles, about compensating others around the world who enjoy sunny and warm climates, but let’s pass over that. Scotland’s taxpayers already do, of course, contribute large amounts of aid to developing countries. Britain donated £26 million in emergency aid during last year’s floods in Pakistan, for example, as well as £200 million in development aid in 2020. What makes Yousaf’s latest gesture different is that he has linked it to liability. Scotland, as one of the first industrialised countries, he appears to be asserting, owes compensation for climate change caused by all that coal-burning by Robert Owen.

The First Minister’s grovelling is certainly in the spirit of the times, but there are two things wrong with the idea that Scotland – or the rest of the United Kingdom – owes climate reparations to developing countries. Firstly, Britain is rapidly slipping down the chart of countries ranked by cumulative historic carbon emissions. At 78.5 billion tonnes it is already well behind China (249 billion tonnes) – and yet China is one of the developing countries which has suggested it is owed reparations. Surely, China should be paying its own reparations before banging on the doors of lesser emitters like Britain?

Secondly, the evidence that carbon emissions are responsible for causing extreme weather events would never stand up in court. Take the frequently made claim that climate change had made last year’s Pakistan floods ‘up to 50 per cent worse’. This was based on a study by the group World Weather Attribution, which seeks to calculate the role of climate change in extreme weather events by comparing what has actually happened with what climate models predict would have happened in a world that was 1.2 Celsius cooler. But the study itself did not have the certainties used in the headlines. It concluded, in the case of rainfall totals for the worst five days of the monsoon period, that ‘some of these models suggest climate change could have increased the rainfall intensity up to 50 per cent’. Dig a little deeper, and you see that the models were all over the place – and some even predicted that rainfall totals would have been greater in a cooler world. While one model suggested climate change had increased rainfall intensity by 56 per cent, another suggested that it had reduced it by 21 per cent. In other words, no one can really link Pakistan floods to carbon emissions – in Scotland or anywhere else.

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Never mind, now that Yousaf seems to have claimed responsibility on behalf of Scotland for causing extreme weather events elsewhere in the world, you can be sure that developing countries will be back for more. You might not be able to afford the heat pump Yousaf wants you to install – but you jolly well are going to be paying for the climatic havoc the First Minister thinks was wrought by your great grandma’s coal fire.

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