Climate Talks or Wealth Redistribution Talks?

Posted on Sat 11/20/2010 by


By Nicolas Loris

Typically the largest wealth distribution program that occurs in Cancun, Mexico, is college students spending their parents’ money. That could change at the upcoming United Nations climate summit if developing countries clamoring for money to cope with global warming get their wish. With each passing year, it’s clear that international climate change talks are less about climate and more about wealth redistribution.

The latest case in point comes from United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) official Ottmar Edenhofer. In a recent interview with Germany’s NZZ Online, Edenhofer lays out just what the climate talks are all about:

NZZ: The new thing about your proposal for a Global Deal is the stress on the importance of development policy for climate policy. Until now, many think of aid when they hear development policies.

Edenhofer: That will change immediately if global emission rights are distributed. If this happens, on a per capita basis, then Africa will be the big winner, and huge amounts of money will flow there. This will have enormous implications for development policy. And it will raise the question if these countries can deal responsibly with so much money at all.

NZZ: That does not sound anymore like the climate policy that we know.

Edenhofer: Basically it’s a big mistake to discuss climate policy separately from the major themes of globalization. The climate summit in Cancun at the end of the month is not a climate conference, but one of the largest economic conferences since the Second World War. Why? Because we have 11,000 gigatons of carbon in the coal reserves in the soil under our feet—and we must emit only 400 gigatons in the atmosphere if we want to keep the 2-degree target. 11 000 to 400—there is no getting around the fact that most of the fossil reserves must remain in the soil.

NZZ: De facto, this means an expropriation of the countries with natural resources. This leads to a very different development from that which has been triggered by development policy.

Edenhofer: First of all, developed countries have basically expropriated the atmosphere of the world community. But one must say clearly that we redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy. Obviously, the owners of coal and oil will not be enthusiastic about this. One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. This has almost nothing to do with environmental policy anymore, with problems such as deforestation or the ozone hole.

This shouldn’t be all too surprising. The Copenhagen conference last year quickly devolved from a discussion on how to cost-effectively curtail greenhouse gas emissions—the primary culprit behind global warming, according to the U.N.—into a browbeating session designed to get developed countries to accept massive economic costs arising from carbon dioxide cuts and to provide billions of dollars in wealth transfers (up to $100 billion annually was discussed in Copenhagen last year) to help developing nations cope with the projected consequences of a changing climate. Meanwhile, developing countries (even the large developing country emitters like India and China) were being exempted from emissions restrictions even though that would undermine any possibility of meeting emissions targets.

Last year in Copenhagen, Janos Pasztor, the director of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Climate Change Support Team, admitted: “This is not a climate-change negotiation. … It’s about something much more fundamental. It’s about economic strength.” The nations at the negotiation, he added, “just have to slug it out.”

It goes to show how ill-suited the United Nations is at handling a climate treaty. The competing interests of U.N. member states make it extremely difficult to for the negotiations not to get sidetracked.

In the end, there is a reason why these conferences are often held in exotic locales. But instead of college kids spending their parents’ money on spring break, it’s international diplomats spending our taxpayer dollars on conferences focused on how to they can spend even more down the road.

Nicolas Loris is a Research Assistant at The Heritage Foundation’s Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies. Loris studies energy, environment and regulation issues such as the economic impacts of climate change legislation, a free market approach to nuclear energy and the effects of environmental policy on energy prices and the economy.

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