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Climate change

Here’s how not to save the planet

An open-pit coalmine in China. Wang Zheng/VCG/Getty Images

The UK has cut greenhouse gas emissions by a remarkable-sounding 40% since 1990, says Juliet Samuel in The Daily Telegraph. But in truth this is just “dodgy accounting”. Our emissions have fallen mainly because we have “stopped manufacturing so much stuff here”. Instead we let other countries do the manufacturing – and emitting – and import goods from them. Emissions from British clothes makers are down 90% over three decades, for example, but they’ve “nearly quadrupled” at the Chinese factories that now make all our clothes. Similarly, digging coal is all but verboten in Britain, even though we need it for steelmaking. So our steel manufacturers have to import coal – the carbon emissions of which are “up to seven times more than if we used our own”.

If Britain really wants to be a climate leader, it should introduce a carbon tariff. This idea – taxing imports based on the energy mix in their country of origin – has been floating around for a while. The European Commission wants one, Japan and Canada have discussed it, and President Biden has shown interest. The levy would mean the “green charges we impose on ourselves” apply to our trading partners as well. That would provide a huge incentive for other countries to lower their emissions. It’s a win-win. With our “carbon-shifting scam”, Britain has “become the poster child for how not to ‘save’ the planet”. Time to end this failed approach and try something that might actually work.