Blowing hot air won't halt global warming
Tuesday 01 December 2009 Jim Jepps
You may be aware that the fate of every subsequent generation of human life is being decided in Copenhagen over the next couple of weeks. (Pretty much all life on earth as we know it, actually, nest paw?--W)The fate of the world is too precious to be left to these clowns, but since it is probably too late now to actually do enough to forestall disaster, what can another meeting hurt?
As a news story, many media outlets have decided this isn't quite exciting enough to hold your attention so they've tried to spice it all up a bit.
We're told in worried tones that the BNP's climate change denier-in-chief Nick Griffin will be attending. We're not told that he will neither be allowed to speak, vote or influence discussions in any way whatsoever - best not spoil a good scare story.
We are asked to speculate on whether President Barack Obama has a spring in his step and a twinkle in his eye when speaking about the international climate summit.
Does the destiny of the world hang on whether (Obama) has a headache on the crucial day?
This focus on political celebrities rather than concrete proposals has more to do with Hello (think People--W) magazine than news. Conjecture about whether there will be a binding agreement rarely goes beyond the personalities of the great and the good.
Just how binding are binding agreements anyway? Sadly, if we look at the recent past it seems that the best we can hope for is a piece of paper that gets reassuring headlines and then is forgotten.
In 1997 various governments got together and set out the Kyoto Protocol which, simply speaking, was an agreement to cut their levels of emissions by the year 2012.
Even leaving aside the fact that the world's leading polluter (That would be US--W) had chosen not be part of the agreement, the actual results of Kyoto are pretty flimsy. Precious few of the nations who put their name to the protocol are even close to meeting their targets and those who don't won't face any consequences.
At least the consequences they face will be the ones we all end up living with.
In Bonn in 2001 at a similar summit, Western nations agreed to pay $410 million (£247.7m) a year towards a global fund for "climate change adaption" in the developing world.
Even this paltry sum, which fell far short of the chair's recommendation of $1 billion a year, was nevertheless seen as a step forwards.
When the BBC's World Service investigated the two UN accounts that had been set up to hold and distribute this money they found something extremely disturbing.
By 2009 there should have been a minimum of $2.9 bn (£1.75bn) deposited into these accounts, but in fact less than a tenth of that amount had been paid up.
When investigating why just $260m (£157m) - less than a year's commitment - had been paid, it turned out that no-one had read the small print.
In fact the governments concerned had simply written this money off against aid that they were going to pay for anyway - aid that came with strings attached as part of those nations' foreign-policy agendas.
The calculated ambiguity of the agreement allowed rich governments to pay lip service to combating climate change and helping the developing world while in fact continuing with big business as usual.
This means we have a situation where even small commitments are not subject to any tracking or scrutiny and certainly no democratic control.
In 2007 at the G8, the major industrialised nations agreed to halve their CO2 emissions by 2050, a long-term goal requiring current governments to do absolutely nothing in the pretence that others will meet their commitments for them.
Of course, the G8 were the ones who said they were going to make poverty history. I wonder how that's going? The millennium development goals were simply thrown out the window the moment the economic situation changed. These commitments mean next to nothing and yet we're asked to hang our hopes on them because there is precious little else to cling on to.
Expecting major polluters to sort out the climate is like putting hooligans in charge of your neighbourhood watch. You're worse off than if you had nothing at all because you're handing over responsibility to those with no interest in changing the current system.
The basic injustice, that those who have contributed least to climate change - the poor - will be those most vulnerable to its effects and forced to go begging to those nations who have created this situation, is something that we tolerate because we feel there is no alternative.
There will be a number of delegations from indigenous peoples from across the world at Copenhagen.
They are coming to show the richest that they exist, and that our behaviour intimately affects their habitats and livelihoods. If their voices are heard it will be without sincerity. You need a pile of money to stand on in order to get their attention.
To a great extent, these conferences are distraction exercises where leaders come to smile at problems they have no intention of doing anything about.
Indeed, if they really wanted to address climate change they'd have to tackle a runaway economic system that they have no control over.
With the best will in the world we're unlikely to see any serious challenge to industry from our world leaders. The same system that has economically crippled nations in Africa and Latin America is not going to suddenly be their salvation.
A treaty set out by the richest nations on Earth is unlikely to address the complex problems they are creating.
A pot of money for poorer nations so that they can cope with the destabilisation of the environment would have to deal with poverty, lack of infrastructure, conflict, floods and droughts, health, education and energy needs.
That isn't going to happen within our current economic framework.
More than this, the majority of action to curb carbon emissions has to happen where they are produced long before the direst effects of climate change are felt. There's no use giving money to the international poor and telling them to clear up our mess.
Nor is there any point in thinking we can just wait until we're feeling the direct effects of climate change before addressing the problem.
We've seen for ourselves recently in Cumbria (Think "New Orleans, Autumn, 2005", for a a likely metaphor--W) how even a developed nation can be brought to a standstill by flooding. If we multiply this event by 10 and place it in a poor nation, what treaty is going to deal with that?
The facts are that the overwhelming number of commitments made at these summits are never kept and those that are, are simply too little too late.
The action we need has to be global, it needs to challenge our economic system and it needs to come from below.
If we're ever to develop that ethical foreign policy we once talked about, we simply cannot leave it up to summits of world leaders to wave around meaningless pieces of paper.