COP17 in Durban

Today, the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) starts in Durban, South Africa. Unlike the summit of 2009 in Copenhagen, expectations are low. The political attention is firmly fixed on the economy. The negotiators will thus make the same demands that were rejected by their counterparts at previous conferences.

Climategate 2.0 broke last week, too late to influence official positions. Besides, the new batch of emails show more of the same. The main new element is the role of the BBC.

Some 20,000 people are expected to travel to Durban. These events are expensive, definitely when compared to the expected result. Some Irish civil servants are rumored to travel in style. This is not at the expense of the Irish taxpayer. Travel to climate negotiations is covered by the development aid budget. As the aid budget is fixed, Irish travel to Durban comes at the expense of people in Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Uganda, Vietnam, and Zambia.

The low expectations for Durban are a blessing in disguise. I have argued that the current international climate regime is complete. The UNFCCC has standardized monitoring of emissions. The Kyoto Protocol / Marrakesh Accords has created international trading mechanisms for emission reduction credits. (Kyoto’s targets end in 2012 but the Protocol itself has no sunset clause.) The COPs have increasingly morphed into fora for pledge and review of domestic policies and targets. That is all that is needed, and all that is feasible (bar a transfer of sovereignty to the UN).

The negotiators in Durban should therefore focus on refining the existing mechanisms. That is quite boring stuff, so that hopefully the majority of the 20,000 in Durban will decide not to return to COP18 in Qatar or South Korea. UPDATE: It will be Qatar.

UPDATE: After pretending to be greener than Labour for a while, the Tories now argue that jobs are important too. This would put London on a collision course with Brussels. The UK will want to rid itself of the Large Combustion Plant Directive too.

UPDATE: Less than 72 hours after I predicted nothing much would happen in Durban, the EU changed its tune. Poland is not particularly keen on EU climate policy. They have the presidency. Talking tough, they at once please the greens and reduce the chance of success.

33 thoughts on “COP17 in Durban”

  1. I’m sure you’re steeled to weather the expected attack on this pragmatic and sensible approach – which is being pursued in any event in a global and variegated manner. The BRICS (Russia should probably be dropped as it is just a kleptocracy) and the CIVETS are making huge progress in terms of modernising thier economies and rationalising their energy use. Many smaller middle-income countries are making similar progress. But there are many populous developing countries, particularly those which are resource rich, where universal subsidies are seriously distorting energy use. The problems are fundamentally ones of governance in terms of switching from universal subsidies to transfers targetted on the poor and in developing policies to permit adaptation to climate change. Aid or transfers from developed economies will simply be pilfered by the different varieties of kleptocrats who run many of these countries.

    And businesses everywhere are beginning to see the bottom-line benefits of energy efficiency and of minimising environmental impacts – either in terms of operating efficiency or of commercially exploitable technological innovations.

    But the deeply concerned policy-makers, subsidy-grabbing capitalists and evangelistic deep Greens in the developed economies will be aghast – and none more it seems than those in Ireland. They have some competition, however, from the neighbours.

    This is from the web-site of the UK’s Dept. for Energy and Climate Change: “DECC has challenging aims to deliver – to power the country and protect the planet.” I kid you not.

    There is something deeply offensive and obscene about the collaboration between the deep Greens arguing for massive state control and intervention and the greedy capitalists who will profit hugely from this political meddling. Consumers and economies will suffer and the impact on global emissions will be disproportionately small in relation to the resources expended – and wasted. The behaviour of the capitalists is perfectly understandable, but the behvaiour of the Green evangelists deserves a further look.

    In an EU context the map of Europe is almost covered by the blue of the centre-right. Left of centre governments rule in only four countries – Denmark, Slovenia, Austria and Cyprus. Denmark has recently and marginally switched, but up-coming elections in the other three may extend the blue coverage. Left-of-centre factions are encountering long-run trend declines of their share of the popular vote – mainly due to their vociferous protection of cossetted insiders. Some of thier base has shifted in to the Green camp. The result is an attempt to frighten the public about climate change to secure some political traction, to form alignments with the Greens and to promote massive and costly state intervention that will protect their favoured constituencies. It also attracts some conservatives whose instincts would be right-of-centre.

    It will be interesting to see how this will play in next year’s Presidential election in France. Germany will be no less interesting. Chancellor Merkel’s abrupt about-turn on nuclear power provides an opportunity for a CDU-Green alignment that might spike the guns of the SDP’s strategy of renewing the Schroeder/Fischer alliance.

    But, generally, the economic lunacy of this Green obsession is becoming more obvious and one can only hope that enough voters will begin to see through it.

  2. Neat little boost for the local economy in Durban. Weather is usually glorious this time of year ….

  3. Oh the joys of being a pseudonymic sniper. In the light of such jesuitical scrutiny I probably should have made it clear that I didn’t mean ‘all businesses’. But I am surprised I ddn’t attract more abuse. Maybe the waves of light from the Enlightenment are finally beginning to penetrate parts of Ireland that were steadfastly determined to remain in darkness.

  4. @ Paul Hunt

    Some backup for that assertion would be useful. What are the companies in the FTSE 100 doing, for example? What can be measured from their actions ?

  5. @Paul Hunt

    Are you not as deep a shade of blue as the majority of the deeply deluded EU?

    And I hear you voted for Fine Gael? Are not the Blues greater protectors of the vested interests than the left of centres – assuming, that is, that we could agree on where the ‘centre’ is in these days of debt, delusion, and lunacy.

  6. Perfect examples of the two standard reponses to any argument or case advanced that critiques the ‘received wisdom’. One, find a reason to ignore, dismiss it or refuse to engage with it. Two, home on in some assertion or contention that is not a crucial element of the case being advanced, demand detailed evidence supporting it and use this to avoid engaging with the principal contentions in the case being advanced – or raise such doubt about this contention so as to demolish the entire case without engaging with it.

    Those who manage the public consultation processes employed in the policy and regulatory spheres, both in Ireland and throughout the EU, employ these tactics to dismiss, ignore or reject any critique of the ‘official line’ being advanced. It is interesting that these tactics have currency beyond official circles. Or, perhaps, the ‘pseudonymic’ have acquired their skills in official circles?

  7. @DO’D,

    Whoever suggested to you that I donned a blueshirt in the secrecy of the polling booth is misinformed. I was unable to exercise my franchise.

    The failure of those on the so-called ‘progressive-left’ to confront honestly the reasons for the long-term secular decline in their share of the popular vote in most EU member-states – at a time when the wind should be at their backs – is destroying the potential to craft solutions to the current crisis that would secure genuine and widespread democratic legitimacy. Adopting Green-favoured policies or aligning with Greens is the road to nowhere.

    As Richard points out the international arrangements are probably as good as we’ll get for some time. Seeking to impose hugely expensive energy and climate change policies on the developed economies – for minimal reductions in global emissions and for the benefit of subsidy-grabbers and cossetted insiders – is a recipe for disaster. And what is even worse is that right-of-centre parties are being pulled in this direction to prevent the defection of median voters to the Green or left-of-centre factions.

  8. @ Paul Hunt

    I don’t have it to hand but in Down to the Wire David Orr writes that over the last 30 years every metric of planetary health has measured a decline. You can take number of sharks or Indonesian forest cover or ice levels around the North Pole or water in the Colorado river or millions of tonnes of CO2 produced or whatever you want. Pick any one of these and join with your assertion that the corporate sector has changed and tell us what measurement has improved and over what time frame.

  9. @all

    “Emission fight, Europe in corner”, headlines Il Sole 24 Ore on the opening day of the Durban Climate Change Conference (COP17). The goal of the meeting is to sign off on a deal to limit global average temperature rise to less 2°C. But emerging economies such as Brazil and India have joined rich nations in not wishing to start talks on such a deal before 2015, angering small island states and other countries immediately threatened by climate change. According to the Italian business daily, the UN summit “does not seem to have a chance of producing a binding international treaty. Those who have rowed against it, like the US, will be pleased. But for Europe, this is a triple somersault.”:

    http://www.presseurop.eu/en/content/news-brief-cover/1224031-europe-set-triple-somersault-durban

    @Paul Hunt

    Just a wee ‘point of order’ Paul on those regular little odd side-swipes of yours at those a touch to the left of centre. I completely agree with you that the idea of a ‘progressive left’ is a great notion! European social democracy is in a poor state – and remember that the main builder of the Irish Public Service pay/pension structures was the PD/FF version of the dastardly twins – so a little blue of you to lean on the Lab wing of the present Lab/FG dastardly twins ….

    Greens thoughout Europe are a fairly hetergeneous bunch – some good ideas and some wacky ideas … local version were very naive in going to bed with FF ….

  10. “Two, home on in some assertion or contention that is not a crucial element of the case being advanced, demand detailed evidence supporting it and use this to avoid engaging with the principal contentions in the case being advanced – or raise such doubt about this contention so as to demolish the entire case without engaging with it.”

    When someone writes

    I’m sure you’re steeled to weather the expected attack on this pragmatic and sensible approach

    in response to raimeis such as

    I have argued that the current international climate regime is complete.

    and follows up with

    “And businesses everywhere are beginning to see the bottom-line benefits of energy efficiency and of minimising environmental impacts”

    What is the case under discussion ? Everything is grand.

  11. @seafóid

    “over the last 30 years every metric of planetary health has measured a decline.”

    We know that total biomass has increased, so that statement is clearly wrong.

  12. “There were rumours of unfathomable things and because we couldn’t fathom them we failed to believe them until we had no choice and it was too late.”

    http://www.businesspost.ie/#!article/89127228-1884-ed29-0de2-137f26923731

    There wasn’t a person in Ireland in 2005, 2006 or 2007, not a person, who did not believe Ireland would just rage on for decades. There was a report done by, I think it was NCB Stockbrokers, I think it was in 2005 or 2006 and it was called 20:20. It predicted this economic miracle going on and it would be 2020 before this extraordinary growth, which I think was averaging six per cent a year, would ever waver, because everybody believed it.

    And now we are supposed to believe Richard Tol , the same ignorant BS, another disaster down the road . But no chance of a bailout

    The funny thing is that even people like Richard Tol have kids. And it’s about what sort of world will be left behind long after the Koch Bros have passed on.

  13. @DO’D.

    I think you’ve seen enough to recognise that I’m an ‘equal opportunities’ swiper. The social democratic settlement after the war – and to which the right of centre had to adapt – provided the basis for sustained increases in prosperity and well-being, but it contained within it the seeds of its eventual eclipse. (Ireland, for all sorts of reasons, came very late to the party.)

    There is no going back, but it can be – and must be – re-fashioned in the light of what we’ve learned since. However, the centre-left seems to be locked in an ideological time warp. Rather than confronting this they seem to see ‘saving the planet’ as a means of supplementing their declining core support so as to secure power. In doing so they are playing into the hands of the subsidy-grabbers, rent-seekers, regulator-capturers and consumer-gougers. And there is no shortage of these on the left either.

    And there is little point talking about sensible politics in Ireland until we have two competing power blocs disputing the role of the state and markets. Perhaps after the next election?

  14. Thanks for that vague menacing statement shrouded in a conspiracy like fog, best delivered in a Dr Strangelove type accent

  15. “The Guardian has long given up even trying to pretend it’s objective on climate change.”

    Send them in some credible data if you can find any. You must have some in an old coat.

  16. @ Richard,

    The gist of your VOX article and post seems to be that it’s time to depoliticise the climate change debate. So it would be more realistic , and probably more effective, to rely on the procedural framework already in situ internationally to moderate and manage emissions’ increases, targets etc. rather than seeking to superimpose a new globally binding treaty on what’s already there, even if that was politically possible?

    You may well be right. However, it’s a bit like trying to unscramble an omelette. Climate change and politics are inextricably combined – the article in the Irish Times by Mary Robinson and a previous article on the Durban conference by the paper’s environment editor, Frank McDonald, are pertinent examples of how far the argument has moved beyond scientific evidence, technocratic expertise or the various analyses offered by the IPCC of climate change implications. The more familiar representation of what should happen in Durban, at least in the Irish Times, which appears to be the only major outlet that can be bothered covering it, remains on issues of global North-South politics, the primacy of moral standpoints on climate change and so on, with which the science is deemed to fit.

    What you call for may come to pass because the Durban conference, and the climate debate generally, had been overshadowed by the more immediate threat of global economic meltdown and popular fears of a depression that will make the 1930s look like the teddy bears’ picnic. Climate change may slip off the political and media agenda for a while; but the politics will be resurrected in due course, though the debate may take a different form, and with a slightly different cast of actors, to what we’ve experienced up to now. I’m not convinced, though, that it’s desirable the whole issue should revert to technical experts since the implications of climate policy potentially affect people’s lives and wellbeing in all sorts of ways; so a political component remains essential.

  17. @Veronica
    Robinson’s piece in the Times today was most peculiar. She is rightly worried about the current famine. It is unclear how much of that can be attributed to climate change, as climate models disagree wildly about rain in the Horn of Africa. In any case, greenhouse gas emission reduction will affect future climate, not present climate, and hence future famines, not present famines. CO2 fertilization has a more immediate impact, and reduces water stress. More importantly, biofuel mandates, particularly in the USA, have driven up the price of food. This has impaired access to food in many places.

  18. Richard,

    I didn’t think the article was ‘peculiar’, just factually wrong in some important respects such as attribution ofthe drought in the Horn of Africa to climate change and linking the famine that has resulted solely to that factor. I’m quite sure our former President is well aware that this is an overly simplistic analysis. But then the article is about propaganda and a call to action that tugs at our emotions, not a balanced presentation based on facts. Unfortunately, it appears that Mrs Robinson is about to become to climate change what Adi Roche has long been to anti-nuclear campaigning – a lightning rod for emotionally-based responses. I say ‘unfortunately’, because too many articles in that vein risks damaging her credibility.

  19. @ seafóid

    Send them in some credible data if you can find any. You must have some in an old coat.

    LOL.

    @ veronica

    I say ‘unfortunately’, because too many articles in that vein risks damaging her credibility.

    You’d love to shut up people talking about climate change, wouldn’t you? The faux-concern is all too obvious.

  20. @Richard, Veronica

    I thought the Robinson/Tom Arnold article in today’s IT (http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2011/1130/1224308332162.html) was a rather well articulated piece on the complex links between climate change, food security and agricultural policy. I didn’t find it peculiar and I didn’t spot any factual inaccuracies in it.

    The writers use the current famine in the Horn of Africa to highlight “the terrible *vulnerability* of the people living there to weather and climate shocks” [my emphasis]. In this they are correct. They do not claim that the famine was caused by climate change.

    On biofuels, they quote a report on Global Hunger which recommends the revision of biofuel policies “so as to balance the potential benefits of biofuels with the potential negative impact on food and feed markets”. They seem to share Richard’s concern about biofuel policies driving up food prices.

    A further recommendation of that report is ” to adapt to and mitigate extreme weather change”. Whether they really meant “weather change” or “climate change” here might be questionable. However, the underlying point about the vulnerability of people living in poor countries to climatic extremes remains valid. The authors use this point to present a powerful moral and ethical motivation for acting now to reduce future effects of climate change on vulnerable groups through mitigation and/or adaptation.

    I would agree with Veronica that there is a risk in these emotive type responses to climate change, as they will surely put some people off. They do have their place though in humanizing a debate that tends to be highly technical.

    @Peter

    I think you are too sensitive 🙂

  21. Christopher Caldwell wrote a very “objective” piece on climate in the FT on Saturday. Absolute tosh.

    However the debate below the article is well worth reading

    Eg
    Mark Pearce

    Interesting article.
    Now apply the same analysis of denial websites and advocates.
    You will find a heap of vanity and abuse.
    And, more importantly, pseudo science claims that are easily rebutted as nonsense. Or that would be readily rebutted, except many denial websites will delete any pro-climate change rebuttals of their content. No free speech for them.

    So, you highlight the private conversations of a few climate scientists who justifiably express frustration with the rubbish served up by the denial industry.
    But you do not apply the same scrutiny and calling to account of the denial camp, who conduct zero peer reviewed science and instead spout falsehoods and use deliberately misleading and out of context interpretations with impunity. Go and attack the bigger evil, demonstrate some balance and research capability in your journalism, instead of producing this biased kindergarten rhetoric.

    As for the anti-climate change comments below, they are full of prepostorously ignorant comments.
    … “the Sun drives our climate” – well yes, in part; but the sun is slowly cooling, and the planet is warming – a little inconveniently contradicting the shallow but seemingly attractive falsity that it is the sun alone that shapes our climate? Yes. And CO2 warming impacts explain how the planet is warming while the sun is cooling. Climate science takes solar variability and many other factors affecting climate into account, but shows that CO2 impacts are overiding other effects to create the warming effect that is measurable and significant.

    There are solutions to this well within our grasp. Foolish articles that create public uncertainty make it more difficult for politicians to commence the positive action required. That is your intent. You are wrong, immoral and ignorant to misrepresent the facts in such a jaundiced and biased way.

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/b8bfa07e-1692-11e1-be1d-00144feabdc0.html#ixzz1fEFr9oiB

  22. @Tom
    Read the subtext. They talk about famine, they talk about climate change. They do not make an explicit connection, but trust the reader to do so.

    On biofuels, they write
    “The report’s three main recommendations are: to revise biofuel policies so as to balance the potential benefits of biofuels with the potential negative impact on food and feed markets; to regulate financial activities in food markets which have become highly volatile; and to adapt to and mitigate extreme weather change.

    An opportunity exists to make progress on the LAST of these recommendations at the Durban Conference” (emphasis added)

  23. @Richard

    “Read the subtext. They talk about famine, they talk about climate change. They do not make an explicit connection, but trust the reader to do so.”

    Agreed! I think this was precisely their aim. I don’t see this as misleading. You say yourself “greenhouse gas emission reduction will affect future climate, not present climate, and hence future famines, not present famines” … so the human costs of famines represents a good reason to worry about future climate change.

  24. Read the subtext. They talk about [x], they talk about [y]. They do not make an explicit connection, but trust the reader to do so.

    Irony is dead.

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