Don’t look back in anger

cindy.jpgWith the Bonn meeting over and a huge amount of negotiating still to do, Hot Topic’s woman at the table, Cindy Baxter, gives her impression of the state of play — and she’s not a happy bunny…

I’m getting angry now.

I’ve just spent nearly two weeks in Bonn watching the train wreck of the climate negotiations as delegations stuck in their corners, most especially the officials from the industrialised world.

At one point, in a developing country move led by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), there was some great draft text for the Kyoto Protocol parties — calling for developed countries to cut emissions by an aggregate of at least 45% by 2020 which might (might) keep the carbon loading in the atmosphere below 350 ppm. Might I say because even that’s not for sure at all. The text was supported by almost every member of the 130-strong developing country “G77” + China, with the notable exception of a few OPEC countries. It simply “noted” that this was what had to be done – and that figures like this need to be on the table.

But in the end even this note went west, with the NZ delegation joining the fight against it, and the result was agreement to discuss the developed country aggregate target next time, in June. Erm, that’s what they were supposed to do this time. So much for our concern in this part of the world for our pacific neighbours.

The only real numbers in the entire meeting were the calculations on the current aggregate 2020 target, based on submissions or announcements made by the developed world to date. Greenpeace crunched the figures and it wasn’t pretty. 4% to 14% by 2020 at 1990 levels. That’s it. Pathetic. New Zealand, of course, didn’t have any targets at all to contribute to the table, but you can rest assured it would fall in the lower half.

New Zealand kept bleating about its problems — I had a conversation with one NZ delegate who was terribly pleased with himself about the adoption of a 450 ppm carbon loading limit. What, I asked, would NZ do to keep us to this? Certainly removing any reference to a strong aggregate target would be counterproductive to that. He went into a rant about how the whole world has to act together. The old “you first” charade. Never mind that the western world is historical responsibility for causing this problem in the first place.

What has to happen to move it forward? Clearly massive ice shelf break ups in the Antarctic won’t do it. We need real leadership and it ain’t gonna come from our lot, any time soon. These officials, who’ll all be back in Bonn in 6 weeks time, need very clear direction from their bosses, from the world’s leaders.

Obama wants an end to our dependence on fossil fuels. That sort of statement is a good start — although the weirdness of the US system means that he can’t introduce his own legislation and has to rely on a difficult congress to make it happen. As Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned scientists told journalists one day at a press conference “let’s call the US target a moving target. And it’s moving in the right direction.”

Leaders have to step up and direct these officials to move — and move faster. We can’t glue the Wilkins ice shelf back on. We can’t make it rain in Australia, or anywhere else for that matter. But we can change the politics. These guys need to feel the heat. Otherwise we all will.


11 thoughts on “Don’t look back in anger”

  1. Thanks for the report Cindy. No surprise that NZ is hanging back, though it’s still disappointing. I found Jonathan Pershing’s caution very disappointing after Todd Stern’s opening statement. Pershing sounds reasonable: “It is clear that the less we do in the near-term, the more we have to do in the long-term. But if we set a target that is un-meetable technically, or we can’t pass it politically, then we’re in the same position we are in now… where the world looks to us and we are out of the regime.” But… I found myself wondering where he got the “un-meetable technically” from. America met enormous technical challenges in double quick time in 1942. The technical requirements associated with renewable energy are certainly not beyond them. That leaves us his remaining caution about what is politically possible. Do negotiators decide this in advance? Isn’t there a case for setting a challenging target before legislators and loading them with the responsibility for turning it down – if in fact that is what they do – rather than making it easy for them by hedging in the first place? Who instructs the negotiators on their stance? Is the Administration backing off? Are Stern and Pershing singing from different song sheets?

  2. The problem is not in any way “un-meetable technically”. The technologies we have now work just fine and are sufficient, and those under development and able to see deployment with investment (as would surely happen) mean we’re there without much difficulty.

    What is missing is a willingness on the part of the New Zealand Government to do even so much as legislate energy efficiency standards for lightbulbs.

    Who was this delegate? Seriously, I’m interested to know what kind of people the Govt./MFAT sent over there, and why they think like this.

  3. Bryan

    The biggest problem the US has is the political situation – and the Senate. While Pershing may say “technically” I think he means politically. Most of the US NGO’s and others have been hammering home to the rest of us the message that they can’t make deep cuts any time soon. Pershing’s arguing that the US will make deeper cuts later; that they can’t do it right now but will catch up.

    Firstly, Greenpeace, with a German think tank and the European Renewable Energy Council, did a study on the US as part of its global Energy Revolution series showing that the US could get to at least 23% by 2020 which would fit within an overall aggregate of 40% by 2020 for the industrialised world. Worth a read.

    Climate Analytics did a different report showing us just what a delay to deep cuts by 2020 would do to global efforts to keep below two degrees C.

    * if we’re back to 1990 levels by 2020 we have a 1 in 6 chance of keeping global warming below two degrees; if current emissions continue to 40% above 1990, then we have a 1 in 4 chance.

    * Delaying, such as Pershing says the US can do, puts similar pressure on the 2 degree C target. It results in an increased risk which isn’t compensated for later.

    sorry I can’t name the NZ delegate here but it seems they all have the same attitude. The delegation was pretty bad under Labour; now they don’t have to hide it so much. But I’ll try to keep an eye on them over the course of the year and report back more on their strategy.

    They seem to be hiding out with the rest of the “umbrella group” – Canada, Japan and Australia (with the USA) in either tabling incredibly weak targets or none at all. All seem to want to move the 1990 baseline to “current levels” to make themselves look like they’re making deeper cuts.

  4. Thanks Cindy. I look forward to reading the reports you cite. Just a query – when you say chances of keeping below 2 degrees did you mean chances of exceeding 2 degrees. That seemed to be what the news report of the climate analytics report was saying.

  5. Cindy and George – you’re being quite rude to the NZ delegation. They doing their jobs, which is what Ministers direct them to do. You’re also oversimplifying the complex national, region, global, scientific, economic, social and environmental demands of the meetings in only concerning yourselves with a national mid term target. Personally, I think the officials who go to those meetings work incredibly hard for very little personal gain or recognition. Certain members of the NZ delegation are internatonally noted for the skills and dedication they offer to every meeting. We should be proud to have them working so hard and well for NZ, not criticise them for failing to meet your narrow and shallow criteria.

  6. bryan
    you’re right. Chances of exceeding 2 degrees warming.

    sure the NZ delegation is doing a job – and very well too – but they could be supporting the case for inaction with a little less gusto.

  7. Not wanting dangerous climate change is narrow and shallow? Thanks for telling me.

    I respect public servants for the work they put in, and know they work hard. But they’re working too hard at the wrong things, and if they had any sense they’d know it. There is a spectrum within which they can work, and they appear to be firmly wedged at the wrong end.

    The world does need to act. But if we play narrow self interest and engage in a prisoner’s dilemma, then we’re fucked (NZ included). NZ can and should overshoot international agreements and work ahead of them rather than waiting til the mid 2020s to stop increasing emissions (as is our current projected trajectory as I understand it) let alone start a decrease. Waiting for the next agreement is just going to delay NZ even further.

  8. “the weirdness of the US system”

    Yes Constitutional Republic’s are very weird, having to have bills introduced in the house! And passed by a majority? Everyone knows Obama is better than all those pesky Congressman and Senators! Hell, why not just elect Obama dictator for for 8 years and give him free reign, all hail the new savior!

  9. To have a chip on one’s shoulder means that you have a sort of self-righteous feeling of oppression or inferiority which they never miss an opportunity to flaunt, in this case you’re a bit sensitive about something, but yet to quite put my finger on it… 🙂

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