Monday, December 12, 2011

The delusions of Durban

After 16 days of mostly fruitless negotiations over whether kings or governments can order about the tides, the folks assembled at Durban celebrated their great "success" at hammering out an agreement to set "legal" limits on carbon emissions. It is easy to feel like Antonius Block (Ingmar Bergman's knight in the Seventh Seal) watching the frightened townspeople whipping themselves to ward off the Black Death because what happened in Durban and any reduction in carbon emissions will be as closely linked. I mean, look at those two congratulating each other early Sunday morning.  They actually believe what they did will have something to do with saving the planet.  But who can blame them—this is what the Leisure Classes are taught to believe.

What the vast majority of those who traveled to Durban can't seem to understand is that climate change is overwhelmingly a problem of science and engineering—NOT politics and negotiations.  No matter what gets decided at a UN gathering, people will not give up on fire to warm themselves and cook their food until they have a replacement they know works—all the time.  This isn't about good intentions—this is about hardware.  And the new hardware will not appear until the funds are made available to build and buy that new hardware.  Engineering and economics—the two subjects that will make or break any progress towards solving the problems of climate change were barely on the agenda at Durban.

But that realization was lost on those folks who don't quite understand the huge difference that exists between solving problems and yakking about them.

Durban climate deal struck after tense all-night session
Talks came close to collapse when India insisted on concessions for developing countries, forcing 3am 'huddle to save the planet'

John Vidal and Fiona Harvey in Durban, Sunday 11 December 2011

A new global climate deal has been struck after being brought back from the brink of disaster by three powerful women politicians in a 20-minute "huddle to save the planet". 
A major crisis had been provoked after 3am on Sunday morning when the EU clashed furiously with China and India over the legal form of a potential new treaty. The EU plan to bind all countries to cuts was close to collapse after India inserted the words "legal outcome" at the last minute into the negotiating text. 
EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard, backed by UK energy secretary Chris Huhne, said it would have made the EU plan legally meaningless and would have forced the EU to walk away, effectively collapsing the negotiations. 
With ministers exhausted after nearly six days and three nights of intense discussions, Hedegaard told the 194 countries in Durban: "We need clarity. We need to commit. The EU has shown patience for many years. We are almost ready to be alone in a second commitment period [to the Kyoto protocol]. 
"We don't ask too much of the world that after this second period all countries will be legally bound. Let's try and have a protocol by 2018." 
The Indian environment minister, Jayanthi Natarajan, responded fiercely that developing countries were being asked to sign up to the deal before they knew what was in the proposed treaty, and whether it would be fair to poor nations. 
"Am I to write a blank cheque and sign away the livelihoods and sustainability of 1.2 billion Indians, without even knowing what the EU roadmap contains? 
"I wonder if this is an agenda to shift the blame on to countries who are not responsible [for climate change]. I am told that India will be blamed. Please don't hold us hostage. We will give up the principle of equity." 
China's chief negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, lambasted the EU in a passionate speech, saying: "Who gives you the right to tell us what to do?" 
With tempers rising and the talks minutes from being abandoned, the chair, South African foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, ordered China, India, the US, Britain, France, Sweden, Gambia, Brazil and Poland to meet in a small group or "huddle". 
Surrounded by a crowd of nearly 100 delegates on the floor of the hall, they talked quietly among themselves to try to reach a new form of words acceptable to all. 
But it was Brazil's chief negotiator, lawyer Luis Figueres, who came up with the compromise, proposing to substitute "an agreed outcome with legal force" for "legal outcome". This, said an EU lawyer, was much stronger, effectively meaning "a legally binding agreement". 
"Yes, yes," cheered the crowd of onlookers around the politicians, and the talks were back on track. 
Two hours later the 16-day talks were effectively over, with a commitment by all countries to accept binding emission cuts by 2020. As part of the package of measures agreed, a new climate fund will be set up, carbon markets will be expanded and countries will be able to earn money by protecting forests. 
Chris Huhne hailed the conclusion of the talks as "a triumph of European co-operation". 
"We have taken a significant step forward. This will give business confidence and stop us locking in a whole generation of high-carbon technology," he said. 
But Martin Khor, director of the intergovernmental South Centre in Geneva, said poor countries would be obliged to cut emissions proportionally more than the rich. "It's like the starving will be made to give up half their small amount of food but the rich just a bit," he said. 
Green groups said the ambition shown by countries to reduce emissions was paltry. "Negotiators have sent a clear message to the world's hungry: let them eat carbon," said Celine Charveriat, director of campaigns and advocacy for Oxfam. more
It wasn't just the Brits at the Guardian who are confused.  Here is sort of the same rubbish from Al Jazeera.
UN climate conference approves landmark deal

New accord will put all countries under the same legal requirements to control greenhouse gases by 2020 at the latest.
11 Dec 2011 10:47

The president of the UN climate conference in South Africa has announced agreement on a programme mapping out a new course by all nations to fight climate change over the coming decades. 
Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who is also South Africa's foreign minister, said the 194-party conference had agreed to start negotiations on a new accord that would put all countries under the same legal regime to enforce their commitments to control greenhouse gases. 
"We came here with plan A, and we have concluded this meeting with plan A to save one planet for the future of our children and our grandchildren to come," Nkoana-Mashabane said. 
"We have made history," she said. 
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said the deal represents "an important advance in our work on climate change".

Delegates agreed to start work next year on the new treaty to be decided by 2015 and to come into force by 2020. 
The process for doing so, called the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, would "develop a new protocol, another legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force" that would be applicable under the UN climate convention. 
However, key components of Sunday's accord remain to be hammered out, and observers say the task will be arduous. Thorny issues include the still-undefined legal status of the accord and apportioning cuts on emissions among rich and poor countries. more
Of course, not everyone was suckered in by the Durban flim-flam.  Here is a small sample of the criticisms this morning in Germany courtesy of Deutsche Welle.
No steps toward CO2 reductions 
Despite praise from researchers and academics, representatives of the opposition in Germany heavily criticized the conference's outcome. 
"The results from Durban are disappointing, disillusioning and revealing," said Claudia Roth, co-chair of the Greens. 
The longest climate summit in history did not offer any stop to carbon dioxide emissions, Roth said, nor did it produce any concrete requirements. "There was no success on limiting global warming to below two degrees. That is undoubtedly a disaster for us all." 
Eva Bulling-Schröter, a Left party politician and chairwoman of the Environment Committee in the German parliament, said she found the results shameful. 
"The UN conference is being sold as a last-minute success, but it's really a defeat," she said, adding that the roadmap to implementation of a new deal in 2020 is not enough to stop global warming. "The peak of emissions has to be overcome by 2017 in order to reach the two-degree goal." 
Bulling-Schröter said the second, extended phase of the Kyoto Protocol is a weak temporary solution, and that without the United States, Canada, Japan, Russia and New Zealand the treaty would only cover a "laughable 15 percent" of worldwide emissions. It will be ordinary people, who carry the least amount of responsibility for climate change, who suffer the consequences of the summit's "grandiose failure," she added. 
Environmental organizations unhappy 
The environmental activist organization Greenpeace, which participated as an observer in Durban, called the results "a setback for climate protection." 
"It would have been better if the representatives had produced no results and continued negotiations into the new year, until a truly good result was achieved," said Greenpeace climate expert Martin Kaiser. 
Durban left open-ended how many large countries plan on reducing their carbon dioxide emissions in the coming years. The roadmap to creating a successor to Kyoto by 2015 also fails to convince Kaiser: "With this roadmap, big resistors like the United States, as well as large developing countries like China and India, will be able to avoid responsibility." more

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