Thursday, March 18, 2010

COP 16 Copenhagen stalls

--climate happenings are at the data bank--

A season has gone by since the Copenhagen climate meeting. How do things look now?

COP-15 ended on a jarring note. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the meeting would be problematic. The way police treated climate activists, and the manner people were left freezing in the cold, unable to enter conference facilities, not even permitted to use restrooms there, spoke volumes of the mismanagement of the conference by the Danish government and the fuck-you attitude of city officials. Chinese diplomats were not invited to a key session of world leaders. Obama flew in with smooth words about a silly emissions cut (17% below 2005 levels by 2020, which is a 4% cut below 1990 levels), which isn’t even law yet and may never be in the Corporate States of America. The four percent gift proved Jim Hansen right when stating in the preface to Storms of my Grandchildren (2009) that “President Obama does not get it.”

On the day of the closing speeches, my wife and I rode the bullet train to take our little nephew from the grandparents in Kaoshiung to his parents in Taipei. Nephew's dad picks us up, and I ask my brother-in-law, well, how did COP-15 end? He tells me it went great. That it was a success. That everyone was happy. And then he smiled. I wanted to believe it. Maybe they turned it around? I suspected that my Rotary Club brother-in-law with his big car was ill-informed.

A clearer reaction came from my Bavarian family. Godmother had tears in her eyes when hearing final news from Copenhagen. Godfather stated his regret over the “unbelievable events at Copenhagen.”

After Copenhagen it was easy to yield to the temptation of glee. Let the gringos screw up the world, so one could think, and let us lean back and watch the spectacle unfold with crossed arms. Let farms be flooded. Or, for that matter, let forests turn red. Soon the car people will be climate refuges. Hopefully they'll get stopped at the Canadian border. The villainy gringos teach / the world will execute. Let the lesson go down hard.

But then again, we should better the instruction. Plus, there is still time. Climate mitigation presupposes civil evolution. Instead of lamenting American Disenlightenment, let's compare COP-3 in Kyoto 1997 to COP-15 in Copenhagen 2009. Things are better now.

Here's why.

First, the US is not a threat anymore. The US watered down Kyoto, refused to sign on in Bonn, and sabotaged Bali. This is now all in the past. One cannot say yet that Americans see the light, but at Copenhagen a bulb flickered on. Instead of fighting the future, they're in doubt. To the world this is an asset.

Second, US Republicans are a lone exception. This isolates them. Disenlightenment creates reality disconnect, which creates political weakness. The Bushist abuses left many Republicans with blood on their hands. That they failed to denazify their party in the past year will tempt historians to judge them as criminals. They're fighting a rearguard action on losing ground. They deserve charges, not debate.

Third, China is getting up to speed. It is greening its technology, leap-frogging to a bullet train network, and producing top-notch solar and wind technology. South Korea next door, meanwhile, gears up its nuclear industry for export. That Beijing vetoed Sichuan Tengzhong's intended purchase of Hummer from GM, and did so for environmental reasons, signals the paradigm shift.

Fourth, Europe has assumed leadership, having pledged to cut GHG emissions by at least 20% below 1990 levels in the next decade. At Copenhagen, Germany became the tip of the green sword, with a pledge of a 40% cut below 1990 levels until 2020. At Kyoto, the EU had pledged to cut emissions until 2012 by 8%, Germany by 21%, aims that will be reached. As part of the decoupling from the fossil economy, German energy productivity has also increased dramatically, by nearly half in seven years.

Fifth, Copenhagen's chaos was also due to a changed planetary configuration of powers. Before decisions can be made, grievances must be aired, and issues settled, especially of who owes whom what. Kyoto was an elite accord of the First World. It became dated with the decline of the US, the rise of the East, and the emergence of the Global South. New questions have to be sorted out for the next protocol. The US destabilized world climate, so when, how, and to what extent should Americans pay up? China tries to industrialize in a warming world, so in what form does China need to take one for the team? The US creates a fifth of world GHG emission per year with a tiny fraction (4.3%) of humankind, which is unfair, but China creates a fifth of emissions with a fifth of humankind, which seems perfectly fair by comparison; what can or should China do? The Chinese haven't helped at Copenhagen. But their help couldn't be expected either, for why should they pay for American free riders? Now the playing field has leveled. This should make COP-16 in Mexico City 2010 easier.

Sixth, COP-15, called a fiasco in The Economist, was not a failure, as has become clear in retrospect. To date (March 21), the Copenhagen Accord has been signed by more than 100 countries, which are responsible for 80% of world emissions together. Crucial in this accord are not only the voluntaray pledges of signatory countries (a quick run-down of outcomes is at Wikipedia), but also the cognitive consensus. And for civil evolution, this matters most.

Thus, seventh, and last, Copenhagen gave us the near-global recognition of 2 C as the maximum temperature rise we can afford without inviting catastrophe. This recognition is right on top; it's Article 1 of the Copenhagen Accord. No matter what corporate media tell car people in the US and the UK (the "Climategate" bluff!), when it gets down to transnational brass tacks, Science wins.

Perhaps my brother, with his smile of success, was right after all.

Still, I wish he quit Rotary and sold his rich man's car.


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