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Durban : The Climate Deal That Wasn't

Politics / Climate Change Dec 12, 2011 - 09:54 AM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop


Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleAfter two weeks of confabulation (defined as a memory disorder characterized by verbal statements or actions unrelated to either the past, present, or likely future), the approximate 10 000 delegates and visitors, including the regulation issue but dwindling band of climate crazies with paint on their faces, football style, finally broke up with a supposed "face saving deal". To do this, the estimated 1200 official limousines, 140 private planes, and additional regular airline flights needed to rush the CCC (Climate Concerned Crowd) to their 17th be-in since the 1997 Kyoto meeting of course spewed very impressive quantities of the "deadly gas" called CO2.

But never mind, it was all in a very wonderful cause !

The Durban talks supposedly produced an agreement by more than 190 nations to "work toward a future treaty" that unlike the present one would be binding on all states. This "working toward" would start right away, so as to keep employment going in the CCC business, but at the earliest the New Thing in the global and heroic struggle against the menace of global warming would start around 2015. By then, all can be quietly forgotten, or as some members of the Japanese delegation at Durban are claimed to have tittered, offstage, "Kyoto ? What was that ?". Japan is one of the most hostile states to the idea of renewing the Kyoto Protocol and does not feel bound to its provisions anymore, like Canada, and like the USA which never even managed to do the climate crazy talk, let alone do the walk.

The final face-saving result came after a ritual, media-friendly 72 hours of wrangling, where TV cameras made a point of not showing the legions of already-asleep delegates and slumped climate crazies outside the conference hall. The basic real result was simple: delegates set about dismantling a 20-year-old system of supposed emission "limiting" and emission trading activities which have not limited emissions but have favoured financial crime, theft and fraud. A lot of it. The supposed goal of requiring advanced "postindustrial" nations to cut emissions while allowing developing countries — including the really industrializing economic powerhouses China, India, Brazil, Turkey and others  — to escape binding commitments was never easy to understand. As we know, the largest single emitter among the de-industrializing countries, the USA has never considered that it was "required" to limit emissions. Why should China and other industrializing countries, which fill the supermarket shelves in the "postindustrial" countries with industrial goods that avid consumers buy, limit their emissions ?

This "philosophical" question was always out there hovering in the wings at those sincere be-ins for overpaid bureaucrats and their scientific buddies.

 The deal on a future treaty "sometime after 2015" was and is of course hotly contested, and has spread out, like the middle-aged spread of the fat cat bureaucrats who feed off climate conferences. An increasingly mix-and-mingle of shiny new add-ons are now proposed, to suck more cash into the carbon game and keep emissions traders at their playstation consoles "saving the planet".

Given that the European ETS (emissions trading scheme) is a no-no for application anywhere else in the world at all, the only new shiny toy for Low Carbon Fat Cats with any residual credibility is the $100 billion clean energy fund for low income developing countries. To be sure, delegates agreed on the creation of this fund "to help poor countries adapt to climate change", or rather to sell surplus windmills and solar panels whose markets have collapsed in the last 12 months, as subsidies are kicked away, austerity oblige. But agreeing to this fund (called the Green Climate Fund) is a very long way from actually financing it: even so-called "seed funding" to crank up this new boondoggle is a sticking point, that will drag on and out for months and years ahead.

Further showing this was a last-ditch attempt to "stay relevant", the Durban meeting added some brave talk about preserving the tropical forests not yet used to make designer dashboards for high price cars, or simple pulp and paper, and "speeding" the development of clean-energy technology.

The face-saving stuff came after 5 days of all-day talk from the European Union, pushing for what it called a “road map” to a new, legally binding treaty on all states. This was in fact the EU's bow out, since the certain and total rejection of this by China and India allows the EU to play hurt and alone, and misunderstood - and therefore able to forget all about the pantomine show. The known effects of EU emissions reduction measures, transposed into the laws of all 27 member countries since June 2009 drew a harsh analysis from India’s environment minister, who said the results - slower economic growth, delocalisation of industry, higher unemployment - made it certain that mandatory cuts would slow emerging country growth and condemn millions to poverty. Minister Jayanthi Natarajan said: “Am I to write a blank check and sign away the livelihoods and sustainability of 1.2 billion Indians, without even knowing what the EU ‘road map’ contains?”, adding “Please do not hold us hostage.”

Face-saving continued a little longer, with the supposed or nominal expiration date of the current protocol. This will be formally applied by fewer countries from this month — Russia, Canada, Japan and of course the USA  -- but the possible expiration date is now set to somewhere in the period 2017-2020, and terms for any special or bilateral agreements or other talk-arounds will be negotiated behind closed doors at future sessions of the governing body, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The Durban talks proved at least one thing: the Kyoto protocol was always a boondoggle which could only generate negotiating fatigue, exhaustion and explosions of rage, and a muddle-through result that means nothing and is unsatisfying to all. In sum, the talks only saved face for the CCC, and did just exactly the minimum to keep the negotiating process alive. Concerning "limiting emissions and fighting global warming", the goose is cooked and the game is dead.

By Andrew McKillop


Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.

© 2011 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.

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