A mad deal in Durban

Let’s revisit that cold war phrase: mutually assured destruction. Fifty years ago, MAD meant that in the event of conflict the USA and USSR could and would ensure the total annihilation of the other, thus ensuring what Wikipedia rather tamely describes as “a tense but stable global peace”. Having lived through those years, the tension was notable, and in some cases inspirational.

The madness on display in Durban is of another kind, and of a different character. The destruction on offer will be (we can only hope) slower, but it is likely to be just as total — and is certainly being mutually assured. The governments of the world, by kicking the can down the road aways, have just ensured that the task of reducing emissions will be harder than it need be, and that the ultimate damage will be greater than it might have been. [Guardian]

Durban represents progress of a kind, as Climate Action Tracker’s analysis acknowledges:

As the climate talks in Durban concluded tonight with a groundbreaking establishment of the Durban Platform to negotiate a new global agreement by 2015, scientists stated that the world continues on a pathway of over 3°C warming with likely extremely severe impacts, the Climate Action Tracker said today.

The agreement in Durban to establish a new body to negotiate a global agreement (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action) by 2015 represents a major step forward. The Climate Action Tracker scientists stated, however, that the agreement will not immediately affect the emissions outlook for 2020 and has postponed decisions on further emission reductions. They warned that catching up on this postponed action will be increasingly costly.

What is mind-boggling is that so many leaders, so many highly-skilled diplomats and negotiators, can accept the evidence being offered by our understanding of climate system, and yet so comprehensively fail to act.

History and human nature, combined with the dysfunctional nature of international relations have conspired to give us what looks like it might be the worst of all worlds: one where lip service is paid to taking action, but where the big players are excused responsibility, and any efforts made are weak and meaningless. Plus c’est la même chose.

And so as not to beg the obvious question: I am left agreeing with Joe Romm. It will take a series of undeniable climate disasters, sufficient to provide the equivalent of a wartime motivation for action, before our politicians feel empowered to take the necessary action — before the world will act appropriately. One can only hope that the damage is not costly in terms of human welfare and wellbeing, and that they happen before nature rips the reins from our hands and the Anthropocene comes to an end.

28 thoughts on “A mad deal in Durban”

  1. Is it the worst of all worlds?

    Won’t we at least be incrementally further forwards than we would have been when the majority of people do finally come to the realisation that we need to do something urgent to tackle the problems we face?

    I feel marginally better after Durban. I think the world is taking the issues marginally more seriously. I think there is marginally more agreement about how to make progress. I think there is marginally more acceptance of responsibility from those most responsible.

    This feels like a great success to me. Everything is relative.

    1. Durban gives the world (or at least its governments) another excuse to delay, and thus makes things worse. And yes, it is better than nothing: but which would you rather have – an aggressive cancer, a slow-growing cancer, or no cancer at all?

        1. Any delay simply exacerbates the problem. Now the world is committing itself to an unrealistic 9% reduction per annum after 2020 rather than the 3.7% reduction needed now.

  2. All the science now indicates that we have/are going over the cliff and a very rapid period of adjustment will be required.

    Durban and subsequent efforts, which we now clearly know will be inadequate to prevent some very bad things happening, will nevertheless be important in keeping the idea of co-ordinated international action to the forefront when the problems of climate change strike with full force.

    We are going to get cancer. Growths will have to be removed. But at least a functioning operating theatre is being slowly prepared.

  3. Made it to Joburg after two hours sleep; six hours to wait before my connection to Auckland.

    I’ve got such mixed reactions to the outcome. We could have gotten a much better and stronger agreement, should governments have listened to the science.

    There are so many loopholes in the Kyoto Protocol text now, so many more than before, thanks to New Zealand’s central role in re-writing a lot of it in the final hours.

    But then again we have a 2015 deadline for something “legal” – the legality of which has yet to be determined (an obstacle – or an opportunity). Also to fight for is the decision on whether Kyoto has a five or eight-year commitment period – if we keep that to 2017, that would be good. As well as getting govts to lodge quelros by May 2012..

    I think Richard Black’s piece sums it up nicely:

    “It’s the negotiations on the new instrument that will determine ultimately whether the biosphere wins or loses from Durban, not Durban itself.”

    1. Cindy

      Why is it better to have a shorter commitment period under Kyoto?

      What “loopholes” did NZ want? Forestry offsetting?

      Although the conference accepted the EU’s offer of a second commitment period for Kyoto, will countries outside Europe actually sign up to any obligations?

      Australia’s Climate Minister has stated that his country won’t be entering any second commitment, “at least until a new all-country agreement is finalised”.


      1. Yes, I’m also interested in those points. I know NZ was interested in negotiating for more flexibility in landuse (= offsetting) and recognising harvested wood products. I don’t see the loopholes. I think Cindy is just making it up to be controversial.

        Australis – Russia, Japan, and Canada have already said they’re not signing up for KP2. NZ and Australia are not sure. I think there are a couple of other Annex 1 parties outside the EU who will be joining them in KP2 – Switzerland maybe?

  4. Words mean nothing without action. We have no action from Durban, just an agreement to keep talking. Yap yap yap.

    The problem is Joe Romm’s analysis is that as human beings we are not sensitive to incremental change. A major AGW crisis will probably mean a step change. Step changes are likely to be irreversible. Game over.

    Come on New Zealand, we could lead the way.

  5. More people should start taking matters into their own hands.
    The above linked complete grid connected PV system for $7999+GST will produce around 2500 KWh of electricity annually in a typical Auckland situation. That is at $0.20 / KWh a return of better than 5% – better than leaving the dosh in the bank at current rates. The panels have a long warranty and will produce a dividend rising with the cost of power over decades to come.
    I am not affiliated with the above linked outfit and you can find similar offers elsewhere. The time is here where solar PV produces power at rates comparable to the power companies. Coupled with Solar hot water, a no-brainer win-win investment for a long time already we can individually make steps that our governments not dare to do.
    Let us lobby for Net meter balancing legislation (you pay the power company only for the net take of electricity monthly) and grid tied distributed PV will become overnight a rave that is hard to resist to most.
    At the moment you pay the power company $0.20 / Kwh taken and they pay you $0.07 per KWh you upload. Net meter balancing calculates the net balance in KWh monthly so that you get paid the same amount per KWh as you pay them. This is the sort of legislation we need NOW!

    1. Here’s the situation I’m in in South Australia with a Net Feed-in Tariff, Thomas, as described by my own utility –

      Feed-in tariffs (FITs) reimburse you for any power your solar electricity system feeds back into the grid. They’re designed to encourage more Australians to generate their own electricity.

      Thanks to State Government solar feed-in tariffs in Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia, you will be paid for the energy exported back into the grid from your solar electricity system if you’re on a net metered arrangement – that means you’re paid for the surplus electricity your system feeds back into the grid when it generates more power than your home uses at the time of generation. So it pays to go solar now.

      The current South Australian FIT rate for eligible net metered solar electricity installations is 16cents/kWh.

      Origin offers its electricity customers an additional 6cents/kWh, bringing the total FIT rate to 22cents/kWh.

      Now, bear in mind there’s a subsidy to install the panels as well.

      I’m on 100% wind for any electricity I actually buy in, which is a 5.5c premium on the existing tariff, which is around 18c (but I can’t find a bill, and can’t remember!)

      Even with a paltry 1KW array, in winter with my household of 5 adults I might shed out $150 for the quarter, in summer a few bucks ($12 last year IIRC) or they might even owe me a little if I can get the bloody young adults tom turn their screens off and their bloody gizmos off standby.

      Given most arrays are now at least 1.5 KW and are subsidised at installation – more than $3K on a 1.5 KW system here in Adelaide – you’re crazy not to do it!

      Seriously, it’s the the most sensible Middle-Class Welfare system going… 😉

      Some parts of the world – such as Germany, I believe – have an astoundingly generous Gross Feed-in Tariff where you’re paid well over the odds for every KW you produce, excess or otherwise. This has led to their unlikely – given the latitude – position of dominance in installed solar. Australia looked at this, but I don’t think treasury liked the models! Even so, Net FIT is waaaaay better than a kick in the teeth…

      1. Now I am seriously envious! Here in NZ you get the power company’s wholesale price for feed-in, about 7 cents, while paying their retail price for what you take, about 20 cents. You must install a double counter meter so that each direction is metered. If you were allowed just one meter and it was allowed to run backwards when you feed (they do!) then all would be pretty good. But its not so. NZ is so completely backwards in this regard.
        I think Gareth, we should demand from our Great Leader, Brother #1, Uncle John, a feed in tariff that allows net metering. What does he have to loose? This should be a no-brainer really and would be such a stimulus in an otherwise depressing time. So lets fight for that. Its a small step, achievable and sensible!

        1. Great idea Thomas. I’ll join you in the envy of bill, and my own — a friend in Cambridge (UK) loves to regale me with stories of his PV installation, though I gather that recent changes in the UK pricing regime may make his investment a little less gold-plated than it first appeared.

          1. I did some digging and it turns out that the best kept secret in all this is that Meridian, when asked, will provide you with a true dollar for dollar Net Billing arrangement for your PV home generation! I actually found a customer of theirs who has that deal and is gloating about it. He just put a second grid tie inverter system on his roof and now happily reaps in the reward for his $20,000 investment in form of a dividend at par with Kiwi Banks mid range term deposit rates while basking in the glory of having done something towards AGW!
            I called Meridian and the call centre lady confirmed the existence of the $1/$1 feed in rate however then was unable to find any written material or policy about that in her in-house net nor on the public net. I am waiting a formal response from their Distributed Generation manager.
            Otherwise the SEANZ (Sustainable Electricity Assoc NZ) website has a well written document about distributed generation here:
            However there SEANZ still states that power companies will only pay whole sale rates to feed in generators.
            It would seem that Meridian is significantly ahead of the game with their dollar for dollar deal, yet are so shy about telling anybody as to avoid putting even a hint of it on their website.
            Perhaps we can mug Meridian on 0800 496 496 to make them publicize this forward looking arrangement to be benefit of the rest of us.
            With the Meridian deal solar PV is becoming a no-questions-asked self propelling business model! If just our government would legislate this deal to be mandated for all!!!

            1. That sounds really (as in really) interesting. Keep us informed. Perhaps a guest post, when you have the info?

            2. Yep, will do. I have the customers electricity bill in front of me as he kindly emailed it to me and indeed it shows the credit for his delivered KWH at the same rate as his incoming counter! Indeed dollar for dollar. And the nice call center lady at Merdian readily confirmed it to be available to all. Call 0800 496 496.
              She just could not give me any public paper from Meridian spelling it out.
              I will prep a guest post once I have more Intel.
              Genesis send me their rates and they pay only between 5 and 6 cent per KWh generated which is wholesale rates.

  6. At least we still have an international infrastructure that could be put to good use in the event of something so bloody awful happening that the spirit of complacent imbecility is finally lifted across the globe! Two cheers! Well, one and a half, at least. It remains to be seen just how far over the cliff we’ll be at that point, of course.

    And how fast we’ll be falling.

    I’m reading Dyer’s ‘Climate Wars’ (first purchase on the new Kindle!) at the moment, and I’m gravely concerned that the impending international economic crisis is going to shift AGW to the perennial (literal!) backburner; by the time a series of disasters on a scale sufficent to rouse the masses occurs the international system of cooperation – which is the blink of an eye in human history, after all – may well already be breaking down in the face of tightened economic competition which may even edge towards the military – certainly the bellicose and chauvinistic.

    At which point – the breakup of the globe into a series of belligerent rival blocks and/or idiot nationalisms – I cannot see how the problem can ever be solved, really.

    Our era of relative peace, prosperity and international cooperation is not inevitable and eternal, and without it our capacity to act in the interests of humanity generally is virtually non-existent. This is why continually putting things off is not really very smart…

    1. Your assessment is depressingly spot on, as usual…

      In 1985 the very popular German author and science journalist Hoimar von Ditfurth wrote a book with the title: “So laßt uns denn ein Apfelbäumchen pflanzen – Es ist soweit” (Lets plant a little apple tree, its time [to go] ) where he already then threw the proverbial towel and told his readers basically what you summed up here so well.
      He recommended to plant an apple tree and to enjoy the rest of ride while there is some life left.
      He concludes that humans (generally) are capable to see linear trends but not comprehend exponential trends and that we as a species prove incapable of changing our behavior enough to ward off the coming cataclysms. It would appear that his reasoning was sadly sound….

      1. While I tend to agree with Lovelock that human beings as a whole are too stupid to deal with AGW I also note that some of us seem to get it.

        That leaves us basically two options, either stand by and watch, or do what we can. You do not have to be an optimist to take action but if you do accept the science of AGW and do nothing about it you are liable to get somewhat depressed.

        1. ‘somewhat depressed’

          As in ‘accounts of my death have been somewhat exaggerated’? 🙂

          ‘Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will’, as Gramsci said.

          1. Now I must add an up-beat note: Grid Parity solar is truly here. Cost of solar cell manufacture have dropped so rapidly that running PV solar power plants makes so good sense that non other than Warren Buffet bought a $Billion solar power plant!
            Now he bought the plant, not the cell makers! Cell makers are having a difficult time, not because solar is not profitable, no because the drive to low cost has left some manufacturers in the dust. But for the consumer or big time investor, the Sun has never been so bright indeed! 🙂

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