Cancun: The True Nature Of Climate Issues Revealed

Posted on Mon 12/13/2010 by


By William R. Hawkins

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change ended its 16th year of negotiations without a treaty on Dec. 11. The UNFCCC had been meeting for two weeks at the resort city of Cancun, Mexico after a year of other meetings held at luxury venues around the world. The Cancun Agreement reached will not “save the planet”, but, as UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said, “Cancun has done its job. The beacon of hope has been reignited and faith in the multilateral climate change process to deliver results has been restored….Nations have shown they can work together under a common roof, to reach consensus on a common cause.” Fortunately, this is just spin. The real beacon of hope is that as the UNFCCC process continues to unravel, the threat to human progress posed by the global warming Luddites will fade away.

The Cancun Agreement does continue to assert many foolish notions upon which dangerous policies could be erected that would harm life in the United States. The UNFCCC claims that it was a great achievement that for the first time both developed and developing country emission reduction pledges were placed together in the same text. But the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” was upheld, with developed and developing country obligations placed in separate sections designed to give developing countries an economic advantage going forward.

Developed countries like the U.S., Japan and the Europeans are blamed for climate change. The text reads, “Acknowledging that the largest share of historical global emissions of greenhouse gases originated in developed countries and that, owing to this historical responsibility, developed country Parties must take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.” This would mean in practice that the developed countries would have to limit, or even roll back, their growth to meet the target of reducing greenhouse gasses by 25 percent to 40 percent of 1990 levels by 2020. The text “Decides that developed countries should develop low-carbon development strategies or plans.” The good news is that this “decision” is not binding; nations “should” act, but they are not required to act. This puts them on the same footing as the developing countries which have refused to have any restrictions placed upon them.

The Cancun Agreement, “Reaffirming that social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing country Parties, and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs,” lets China, India, Brazil, South Africa and host Mexico, along with nearly everyone else, off the hook. The key term used in UN documents is “nationally appropriate”, meaning each government can do as it thinks best to advance its own land and people. Which is exactly how it should be, and why organizations like the UN are irrelevant and unnecessary.

China’s Cancun delegation was led by officials from the National Development and Reform Commission, the agency that runs Beijing’s five year plans and industrial policies to promote economic growth. A recent commentary in the ruling Chinese Communist Party newspaper Global Times put the case nicely,

Due to the increasing demand and the constraints of its energy supply structure, China’s greenhouse gas emissions probably will not peak until 2035. Over the next 30 years or so, China will be under enormous pressure to reduce carbon emissions. Its national conditions have made it fundamentally impossible for China to take action in accordance with the low-carbon standards of the Western  countries. China can only try its best to take independent action from its own national situation.

It is China’s national interests to protect its right to develop. It is unnecessary to talk about low carbon if there is no development or if its development is slowed down.

The right China asserts is every nation’s right. New Delhi’s Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh declared ‘India’s interests had been fully protected and enhanced’ in the Cancun Agreement He said India’s right to develop had been safeguarded by the deletion of the clause which wanted global GHG emissions reduced by half by 2050.  The text now sets no mandated target. Ramesh even defended his country’s continued use of coal, which is a very abundant resource. India has the third largest known coal reserves in the world.

The “official” Cancun Agreement is built on the “unofficial” Copenhagen Accord of last year. That agreement had been hammered out at the last minute by the United States, with the personal intervention of President Barack Obama, and the BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India, China) bloc. All agreed there would be no imposed restrictions on economic growth as there are under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012. The BASIC countries have no mandates under Kyoto and the U.S. refused to ratify it. The UNFCCC has been trying to draft a new treaty to replace Kyoto, but the Cancun Agreement pushes that effort into at least another year of high living by diplomats at the never ending UN banquet. No one with a realistic turn of mind can believe a comprehensive treaty is possible given the deep clash of competing national interests.

Japan played a major role in further undermining Kyoto as the model. Tokyo declared that it would not commit to a second period of Kyoto after 2012 unless all other major economies were required to make emission cuts. Japan was then joined in this stance by Russia and Canada. Since no major economy outside of a self-destructing Europe will accept restrictions on their activities, Kyoto is doomed. Its target of a 5 percent GHG cut from 1990 levels by 2012 is much smaller than what the Greens want for the future, but most signatories (even in Europe) have not met it. And they won’t, given the high unemployment and financial turmoil that has swept through the Western world. The Great Recession is a mere taste of the kind of economic calamity that would follow any triumph by the Green ideology.

The underdeveloped countries did get what they really wanted out of Cancun: a Green Climate Fund that will transfer money from “rich” countries to “poor” ones (amounting to $100 billion a year by 2020); research centers to transfer clean-energy technology; and a system to pay them for keeping rain forests intact. At least the Western states kept control of the Green Climate Fund  at the World Bank with an oversight committee of both developed and developing countries, rather than just turn the money over to the UN.
That this redistribution scheme was the main “accomplishment” of another year of talks says all that needs to be known about the UNFCCC process. It has never been about “saving the planet” as most people do not think the planet is in peril. Even John Vidal, who covered Cancun for the liberal British Guardian newspaper, had to admit the talks, “are actually about enormous geopolitical significance and the way that countries and regional blocs develop over the next 20, 30 years. So these are talks really about money, about capitalism, about the future of countries’ economics over the next 20, 30 years. That’s why so much is at stake. That’s why they can’t get agreement.”

A tribute to the successful non-outcome of Cancun comesfrom Greenpeace International, “More could have been accomplished in Cancun if not for the negative influence of the United States, Russia and Japan. The latter two were unhelpful by their statements against the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, while the US came to Mexico with meager commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and, despite being the world’s highest emitter in history, watered down several important areas of agreement and put a successful outcome in doubt.” More praise came from Bolivian President Evo Morales who believes, “either capitalism dies or Mother Earth dies.” He blamed the “failure” of Cancun on “the diplomacy of the empire”, meaning the United States.

Faced with the reality of world politics, President Obama had no choice but to continue the policies of President George W. Bush by again saying “no” to the Kyoto model.  And in so doing, Washington insured that Cancun would merely be another UN farce rather than the disaster for civilization that the Greens wanted it to be. Contributing Editor William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues. He is a former economics professor and Republican Congressional staff member.

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