Archive for December 18th, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

Copenhagen Summit: Make it, or Fuck it Up, but Stop Bitching

The UN Climate summit in Copenhagen isn’t over yet, and it’s too early to call it a failure. Then again, it’s probably also too late to turn it into a real success. That may have to wait until next year – and why not. Even no deal at all would still be better than a lousy one. Not only the poorest and the developing countries can walk out. So can the OECD countries, and in certain situations, our negotiators should. In the end, we in the so-called developed world, won’t be those to be first and worst affected if climate change should lead to a dramatic increase in natural disasters. Never join negotiations without the preparedness to walk out again. That much for the basics of negotiations. But before walking out, one has to do ones best to contribute to a success. And above all, we – negotiators or spectators – shouldn’t bitch around.

Next to the “poor countries”, there is a block of developing countries which have come a long way during the recent years or decades: Brazil, China, and India. South Africa joined their climate faction. During a preparatory meeting in Beijing on November 28, the four governments agreed on The Four Non-Negotiables.

Refusing even to discuss legally binding emission cuts or (unsupported?) international measurement isn’t a promising approach. But then, if international measurement and arbitration is wanted, who should carry it out? I haven’t heard OECD countries spelling out their suggestions yet – and I don’t believe that international arbitration will necessarily be accurate either. The UN Human Rights Council is no encouraging sample for such arbitration anyway.

Anyway, The Atlantic has words of praise for the American delegation:

At a press conference on Wednesday, I asked China’s chief climate negotiator Su Wei if it were possible for China and the United States to reach an accommodation on the verification issue. He responded with a long—a very long—answer. He started by accusing developed nations of trying to “evade their historic responsibilities with various excuses [and] the fundamental excuse is that [China and other emerging developing countries] have not taken steps to address climate change.” Su, however, contended that China’s energy efficiency efforts “have broken their lies.” He declared that China “always followed a principle of openness and transparency.” And then he asserted: “I don’t see the necessity of others to worry about the sincerity of China’s efforts to address climate change.” In other words, get lost.

In other words: bad China!

On the other hand, there is a force for good, of course. Also from The Atlantic:

Then came Hillary. On Thursday morning, moments after the African nations complained that the negotiations were going nowhere, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared in a crowded press briefing room at the summit and announced that the United States would contribute to a $100 billion international fund starting in 2020—as long as “all major nations” commit their emissions reductions to a binding agreement and submit those reductions to transparent verification. And by “all major nations,” she meant China.

Cool. The U.S. Defense Department’s base budget for 2009 alone was at US-$ 515.4 billion this year. And, mind you, Hillary Clinton‘s pledge didn’t stem from funding the U.S. would contribute on its own: America would only contribute to the amount.

In my books, the Obama administration has taken a constructive approach. I don’t expect it to play Papa Christmas in Copenhagen. But I’m not exactly in awe of the U.S. negotiating line yet either. And when looking at the constraints on the American federal government – not from the global community, but from home -, it doesn’t make America look better either. It only explains why even a pretty good-willed U.S. administration can’t do better than it is doing.

But that doesn’t really disturb or anger me. Lobbying – from either side – is tough business, and to make the right arguments win takes time. What pisses me off is some of the coverage here in Europe, in the United States, or by a number of Westerners around the globe who are singling China out as the usual suspect when something is going wrong. I’m not panda-hugger. That’s exactly why I find it disturbing when some mainstream media (and blogs)  from the West become as predictable in their findings and comments as the China Global Times or other CCP mouthpieces – only from the opposite direction.

Take this piece from the Christian Science Monitor (quoted by Stuart on his blog  Found in China here):

The world will hardly know if global warming is being curbed if the largest emitter of carbon – China – isn’t releasing accurate data about its pollution.
That’s why it was correct for the United States to insist Thursday at the climate-change talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, that Beijing must be transparent about any claims of success in reducing greenhouse gases.
Without outside verification of carbon cuts in big polluting nations such as China and India, the US Senate is unlikely to pass a tough bill that would force Americans to reduce their consumption of fossil fuels.
And any international pact that sets hard targets for emissions reduction will mean nothing if there are suspicions of cheating or if some countries don’t pull their own weight.
The problem in China is that the ruling Communist Party has a long history of issuing false or at least unreliable data about its economy – as do many one-party regimes driven by ideology and that are often rife with corruption. Lower-level officials often cook official reports – or “add water,” as the Chinese say – to meet quotas set by Beijing or to protect their turf.

Stupid me! It’s China’s dictatorship! And I thought it was lobbyism which kept the U.S. Senate from moving!

I have no clear-cut opinion as to how far we should wait for China or India to commit themselves before becoming more dedicated ourselves. And I don’t need to. After all, I’m only a spectator. I can form my opinion once the stuff is completed either way, and in substance, I can understand misgivings like the ones voiced by the Christian Science Monitor. But my opinion is clear on one matter: it’s too early to single China out as a saboteur. And it is too early to act like if our countries, the OECD members, were saints in this matter.

But that’s how a number of op-eds, comments, and posts, are coming across. If I were a Chinese national, I would find the case they are making about as attractive as a post-religious sunday school, which is to say, as uncool as athlete’s foot.  If we want to make a case, we should stop preaching. Dogmas are the opposites good points. Yes, China or India may add water to meet quotas set by Beijing or to protect their turf. China or India may also simply refuse to commit themselves to any goals if we insist on whatever kind of international control. And in that case we will have to think about the best strategies that would remain: continuing to negotiate closer to their terms, or walking out ourselves.

The latter doesn’t necessarily look like the worst choice to me – it would open the door for other choices: going it alone – developing technologies to do our share in carbon dioxide reduction and becoming global market leaders in that technology, for example. It will be badly needed very soon.

We may, in such a case, have to rethink not only our individual ways of life (that’s inevitable anyway), but also where we should buy from. It would make no sense to have our daily needs produced where they cause the most carbon dioxide. In many ways, the ball will simply be in our court, not in China’s or India’s.

Many of our countries can also use controlled immigration – OECD countries, as a rule, are greying societies. Many people around the globe will need a new home if the United Nations work for climate control fails, and it’s OK to be choosy in choosing the right migrants, if we should be in that position.

And if our governments then  succeed in convincing the world that China and India could have done much better than they have (or will have), so much the better. As far as that’s concerned, Mrs Clinton has shown great – and perfectly legitimate – skills in Copenhagen already.

For one, she wasn’t bitching.

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Related:

Climate Change Control: Who should Foot the Bill, December 15, 2009

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