Monday, December 21, 2009

Blame Obama for Disaster in Copenhagen

"Copenhagen, for me, is a very clear deadline that I think we need to meet,
and I am afraid that if we don't then the process will begin to slip,
and like in the trade negotiations, one deadline after the other will not be met,
and we sort of become the little orchestra on the Titanic."

That, according to The Guardian's environment writer, George Monbiot, is how Yvo de Boer, head of the United Nation's Framework Convention on Climate Change, a year ago described the need for a breakthrough agreement at the Copenhagen climate change summit. That agreement, of course, didn't happen. Nothing close to an agreement of any substance was achieved.

As they stepped away from the wreckage of Copenhagen, world leaders tried to put a brave face on this disaster. Some such as Canada's EnviroFraud Jim Prentice were positively gushing at the abject failure which was, after all, exactly what the Harper government wanted. Again, from The Guardian:

Human beings can live in a wider range of conditions than almost any other species. But the climate of the past few thousand years has been amazingly kind to us. It has enabled us to spread into almost all regions of the world and to grow into the favourable ecological circumstances it has created. We enjoy the optimum conditions for supporting seven billion people.

A shift in global temperature reduces the range of places which can sustain human life. During the last ice age, humans were confined to low latitudes. The difference in the average global temperature between now and then was 4C. Global warming will have the opposite effect, driving people into higher latitudes, principally as water supplies diminish.

...As people are displaced from their homes by drought and rising sea levels, and as food production declines, the planet will be unable to support the current population. The collapse in human numbers is unlikely to be either smooth or painless: while the average global temperature will rise gradually, the events associated with it will come in fits and starts – in the form of sudden droughts and storm surges.

Monbiot claims that, despite the attempts to blame China for the Copenhagen fiasco, the real culprit was Barack Obama who sabotaged any meaningful deal out of fear of having to fight America's "bought and paid for " Congress:

...Just as George Bush did in the approach to the Iraq war, Obama went behind the backs of the UN and most of its member states and assembled a coalition of the willing to strike a deal that outraged the rest of the world. This was then presented to poorer nations without negotiation: either they signed it or they lost the adaptation funds required to help them survive the first few decades of climate breakdown.

...Why would he do this? You have only to see the relief in Democratic circles to get your answer. Pushing a strong climate programme through the Senate, many of whose members are wholly-owned subsidiaries of the energy industry, would have been the political battle of his life. Yet again, the absence of effective campaign finance reform in the US makes global progress almost impossible.


Scruffy Dan said...

I am not so sure that Obama's deal is a bad thing. Fewer countries at the table means fewer obstructions, and as long as major emitters are represented this could represent a real chance to move forward.

It's either that or change the focus of carbon caps, to carbon price at the UN.

But the current approach is simple unworkable.

I'll have a post up (hopefully this morning) to this effect.

The Mound of Sound said...

Dan, if only you're right. I don't have your faith. All along I've bemoaned America's "bought and paid for" Congress as the most daunting of several hurdles that all must be cleared to reach an effective emissions treaty.

Monbiot's description of the US House and Senate as "wholly owned subsidiaries of the energy industry" is not hyperbole. When Republican House leader Boehner can be brazen enough to openly wander the floor of the House distributing Big Coal lobby cheques to Representatives minutes before a vote on Big Coal, the significance of that is inescapable. He wasn't even censured for it. Later, when pushed, he said it was "bad optics."

Dan, as soon as you can tell me how any US President is going to overcome that Congressm, I'll shed a full layer of my pessimism. Until then, I can't.

I strongly believe the only way out of this involves a "global commons" approach - a per capita emissions regime. Three or four years back Gwynne Dyer did an excellent comment describing how alternate approaches would be gamed and fail until we reached bedrock - carbon rationing. That's really a harsher term for the "carbon budgeting" advocated by the Germans.

How can we have an emissions regime that "locks in" the Industrialized World's historic monopoly on the atmospheric carbon tip modified only to make room for the emerging industrial economies? We're giving "our" club exclusivity over the atmosphere and the Third World the privilege of enduring the worst consequences of what "we" put up their in our God-given pursuit of growth. We'll send them a few billion dollars for umbrellas and Evian - call it "White Man's Burden" if you like.