Things we could only have dreamed of – and all that sand

Flying into Doha yesterday for the next round of international climate negotiations, landing in what seems to be a pile of white sand in the middle of nowhere, with high rise buildings sticking out of it. Is this where we’re going to stop climate change?

In a word, no.  Not by a long shot.  These talks, the 18th conference of parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, signed in 1992, will not stop climate change.

For me, the last few weeks have seen a number of  “things we could only have dreamed of” moments.  Back in 1991 when we were negotiating the UNFCCC, the meetings were peppered with almost daily International Chamber of Commerce press conferences where the likes of climate cranks Fred Singer, Patrick Michaels and Richard Lindzen questioned the science.  Big business and global institutions either ignored the issue – or were working to stop any agreement.

Fast forward to the last few weeks.  First came a report from Price Waterhouse Coopers, warning of warming beyond anything we can control, and expressing concern over inaction on dangerous climate change, calling for governments and business leaders to stop holding back low carbon development and to start thinking about how to adapt to the climate impacts that we’re already committed to.

Next up was a World Bank report on what a 4degC warming world will look like.  Because this is where we’re heading. Gareth has already written about it.   But I had to pinch myself. This was the World Bank. Yes, the bank stills invests in fossil fuel projects, but it’s going to look increasingly stupid if it’s commissioning this sort of work.

Then the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook, with these words buried in its text:  “No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2 °C goal.”

That’s the IEA doing what Bill McKibben calls the “carbon math”.  It says:

“Almost four-fifths of the CO2 emissions allowable by 2035 are already locked-in by existing power plants, factories, buildings, etc. If action to reduce CO2 emissions is not taken before 2017, all the allowable CO2 emissions would be locked-in by energy infrastructure existing at that time.”

This is a massive turnaround for the IEA who, ten years ago, would no more write a report like this than fly to the moon. We used to dread the IEA reports:  they were the fossil fuel industry’s biggest cheerleader and completely ignored the climate reality.

The IEA of 2012 questions how realistic the 2degC warming limit is, given these figures. It also pointed to the 30% rise in fossil fuel subsidies from 2101 – 2011 (a massive US $520 billion) with only $88 billion going to renewable energy.

Lastly came the UNEP Emissions Gap 2012 update which answers the questions on 2degC, saying it IS still possible to do so, but the longer we leave taking hard action, the more costly it will be.

The UNEP report looks at what more we have to do to bring emissions down to a 2degC warming trajectory,  identifying and quantifying the gigatonnes of C02 (equivalent) that we still need to reduce.   And that gap, says UNEP, is getting bigger, not smaller. By a factor of around 30% since last year.  Things aren’t looking too good.  Like the fossil fuel subsidies, we’re going in the wrong direction.

All of this, you’d think, would make Governments wake up.

You’d think.  This is where the “things we could never have dreamed of” begin to turn into “worst nightmares” as we realise the Governments don’t seem to take any notice of these quite daunting warnings.   Perhaps it’s fitting that there’s so much sand here – there’s a lot of heads about to go into it for the next two weeks.

What are we likely to actually get in Doha?

In all likelihood, not very much, for a number of reasons.  Firstly, the meeting’s President, Qatari deputy prime minister Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah, has extensive links with the fossil fuel industry: he’s a former OPEC president and was seen partying at a London oil conference earlier this month.

Many  appear to be basing hope on one soundbite in Obama’s election victory speech and his response to a climate question in his first press conference.  Maybe I’m being too cynical about it – and I hope to be proven wrong.

US Climate Envoy Todd Stern has said that the 2degC conversation is making it difficult for the negotiations. Read: the US doesn’t like to have its paltry pledge of 4% cuts at 1990 levels by 2020 put under the spotlight.

Will Stern stop talking down 2degC in light of his President’s apparent gearing up on the issue? Or will there be a signal that things are changing?

Kyoto’s second commitment period will also be a key focus here:  this is the meeting that agrees who’s in, who’s out and how the rules need to be changed and updated from the first commitment period and, indeed, how long that commitment period is.

New Zealand’s exit from Kyoto will not be welcomed by, among others, our Pacific Island neighbours, who stand to fare the worst in the 4degC warming world we’re heading to.  NZ’s backdown is a blow to those who have been waiting 20 years for the industrialised world to take action.

One problem is that there are few New Zealand media who understand the dynamics of these talks, allowing Tim Groser to spin pretty much anything he wants. Take this RNZ story, where Groser says that he wants to push for a global deal.  Sounds great:  he’s up for a Big Game.

Thing is, negotiations for that deal are happening anyway: it’s what was agreed last year in Durban.  If Groser really wanted a global deal, he’d be urging NZ to stay in Kyoto. Because the stronger signal that industrialised countries give to the developing world that they are prepared to put their money where their mouth is, the more it will force the likes of China and India to agree to a global deal.  Pulling out will only prolong a stalemate, and Groser knows that. Shame he’s not being held to account.

New Zealand doesn’t want to be forced to increase our emissions cuts.  Yet we want to let our industry continue with business as usual, and deal with our ridiculously weak ETS by trading the emissions they got for free from the Government in the first place. Heaven help us if we actually had to CUT emissions.  So we’re going to see the Government continuing to try to bend Kyoto rules to suit our needs, so that we can have our cake – and eat it too.

The other key issue is the Green Climate Fund – but right now there appears to be not enough money to pay for the staff to oversee the rules and framework that governments have been working so hard on.  Problem is that it’s much easier to talk about the rules than it is to commit the much-needed funds for the poorest countries to adapt to the already inevitable climate change and switch to clean energy.

So let’s see what happens in the next two weeks.  Will it be a result we could only have dreamed of? Or will those heads be firmly stuck in the sand?

34 thoughts on “Things we could only have dreamed of – and all that sand”

  1. It’s not only the IEA and the World Bank, let’s not forget The Economist, the US Military, and, say, Munich Re.

    When you have such powerful establishment interests clearly stating, contrary to both their own interests in the narrow sense and, as you say, their precedented behaviour, ‘we have a problem’, not only do we have that problem, we also have a situation where nominal ‘conservatives’ – at least, those who claim any link to rationality – should be at the forefront of tackling that problem.

    Instead of which what we we see is a yapping, mindless reactionary rabble fomented by the likes of Delingpole, Watts, Montford, Monckton and the degenerate Heartland Institute.

    These idiots and their acolytes have already fouled the nest for billions now and yet unborn. But that’s not enough for them.

    The Anti-Renewable Crusade – and I use the word advisedly – is an indicator of minds that have sunk into a permanent narcissistic mire of duplicitous toxicity. Do the world a favour, idiots – and, if you’re reading this and you’re one of them that’s specifically you! –

    Shut. The. F*ck. Up.

    1. The Idiots won’t shut up. Armed with the Internet any old crap is instantly vented to the masses. And any old crank will collect enough of a fellowship of like minded (oxymoron here…) followers and hobby scientists giving them the sense of importance and grandeur that the actual scientific community denied them for good reason…
      Back in the old days when you needed to convince a veritable book publisher of your credentials and your reputation was checked….
      Oh well, progress can be double edged sword all right…

  2. Just a bunch of personal observations
    – Pretty wishful thinking to suppose NZs actions influence developing country positions. I’m sceptical.
    – Emission obligations for NZ to 2020 would have zero environmental impact when such a large majority of the world would not have similar commitments. But there would be significant economic cost assuming the wall of wood harvesting starts to bite towards the of the decade.
    – Language being used about Kyoto 2 is interesting. NZ hasn’t made an “exit” or a “backdown”; those words should refer to Canada’s decision to not comply with the Kyoto first commitment period. Our Cabinet presumably decided it wasn’t in the national interest to sign up to a second commitment period. That isn’t an “exit”.
    – I personally have little hope in progressing towards agreement at these talks, mainly because of the hosts and the minuscule steps made in recent talks. Of more interest to me is the actions of the EU on international aviation and the EUETS. There, climate change negotiations are boiled down to a single issue, and still progress is opposed on the flimiest grounds even by Australia, who support a second commitment period. Weird.

    1. You are missing the point completely, as are our supposed leaders in the government.

      NZ having an effective ETS and/or being part of Kyoto is not about NZ leading the world, or persuading others, or solving the problem by ourselves.

      It’s about not being disadvantaged when the real and legally binding treaties come into force when governments around the world finally realise that this is a very big problem. Admittedly that may be 10 or 20 years away, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t start planning for it now.

      The extent of our legal obligations will be determined by how much effort we put in now. If we shred the ETS, back out of Kyoto, and generally act like we don’t believe there is a problem at all, we are setting ourselves up for significant penalties down the track.

      And simply redefining the meaning of words like “exit” doesn’t help anything.

      1. I was going to say something along those lines as well CTG. But then from his previous comments I consider that Password is not really concerned about the the problem of cutting emissions rather his aim is to be an apologist for the NAct govt.

        1. Actually it’s about dealing with emissions now to avoid 4°C about 2050, but they are carefully unaware of that so won’t do anything useful. I wish otherwise on all points.


          1. Noel; as I said, NZ’s efforts to reduce emissions will have no effect on global ghg concentrations. Are you aware of that? If you are, what do you think is a fair effort for NZ to contribute towards global ghg mitigation?

            1. I am for humanity first, identify with humanity before any of its groupings (Winstone Peters shut your eyes!). We are humanity and we have a problem. No one is exempted from addressing it, thinking “too small to make a difference? Why bother?” Quite simply we must do all we can, whatever the groups we associate with.

              Some years back I wrote a small poem for an American woman suffering from a sense of futility. It is curiously apt:


              Oh insignificant individual
              If you have goodwill toward your fellows
              You are a most influential person.
              Do not trouble about important people
              Who are the product of the status quo.
              But seek to understand the parts all play
              And tend with loving care your own garden
              Your contribution of thought and goodwill
              Mingling with the scents of other gardens
              Perfumes the air we all breathe.

              © Noel Fuller, September 14, 2001

              Were you to read Niki Harré’s book “Psychology for a Better World” you would come across a section on minority influence, Anyone who takes a stand, and sticks with it, may change the whole. Of course some people take stands on very limited and selfish grounds and merely make fools of themselves, others of larger vision have changed their worlds.

              Now to NZ’s withdrawal from commitment in Kyoto Two: In the terms of the Clarke governments NZ faced bravely forward and did just a little. In the terms of the Key governments NZ has faced forward but walked backwards undoing every move previously made and otherwise making no more than gestures. NZ emissions have gone up a heap so at the end of the commitment period the population pays, but the big emitters are exempt.

              Suppose NZ had worked at it as intended? Could it be that there would have been no deficit? I accept Kyoto has not translated into effective action, nor any other conference or undertaking of a political character, nor has any ETS scheme worked. Just look at the curve for CO2 rise to see that. So where is the will?

              If there is any hope in our present situation, the will thus far has rested with all those who, regardless of the weaknesses of government and the forces arrayed against them, have worked to address the issues of climate change, in a great variety of ways. How long before nations as such become response – able? When will we address collectively, and for real, the world problem? Where do we put our will and action? What parts do we play? What parts do all play? I rejoice in real action whoever is doing it, however small or large it may be. Perhaps there is something you are doing?


            2. password1: You are falling for the same lame appologetic nonsense that our leaders have. Its the “My kid can pee in the pool if it wants to….” fallacy. Sure one kid won’t spoil the pool but the precedent it sets will. Most parents accept that readily.

              For NZ a completely different and actually very positive oportunity beckons, which our current Non-Leaders simly don’t get:
              We are a country that is blessed with the chance to become fossil fuel independent at least in the electricity sector due to our endowment with a fantasic wind, geothermal, hydro power and solar ressource base. We also could lead the world in the implementation of feasible transport electrification in the main centres.
              Small countries like ours have the benefit to allow for nation wide initiatives at a manageable scale. We could be the little country that could, that sets precendents and examples and is able to benefit from exporting our expertise to others and stand rewarded when the proverbial hits the fan once nations demand action in ways quite differnet than today. We could be a galvanising point for the move towards a sustainable tomorrow.

              But under Mr. Key and his National chronies all we are becoming is juts another insignificant wart on the back of the selfish greedy and feersome consumer society, trying to cling onto whats lef of the emperors worn and falling clothes. In short, we are turning our eye from forward looking oportunity to a sly backwards glance, hoping that we can spindoctor our way through a few more years of same old same old while certain pockets get lined with the proceeds of the graft committed against the life of all our future generations.
              What a shame it is and I duly hope that we can put an end to the current drift of our nation at the earliest bend in the road and vote with no-confidence against those who are steeling our childrens future…

            3. Thomas, like others in this thread, you fail to see the nuances in my thoughts. I did not say NZ should not reduce its emissions. I believe NZ should have a domestic cap that increases in stringency over the next 40 years, although this cap should be permeable through trading in environmentally acceptable units. However it is a simple fact that NZ’s efforts, big or small, will have no impact on global ghg concentrations, the global climate, or “our children’s future”. You, and others, seize on my writing this and conclude I do not support domestic emissions mitigation, which isn’t correct. Except Macro, who is just an ignorant child.

            4. Pasword1 “Except Macro, who is just an ignorant child”;
              that was a vacuous ad hominem post of no value to the discussion. Also highly inaccurate.

              I have refrained from joining in the “discussion” as you call it for the simple fact that I long ago gave up the fascination of arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

              The climate and the rapidly heating Earth care nothing for the nuances you are so deeply concerned about. Almost every institution of note in the world today (WB no less, IEA, Re Munich, Royal Society, etc, has a statement worrying about our chances of survival – yet politicians and their minions continue to stand in the doorway and block up the hall!

              To quote Dylan whose lyrics are as pertinent today as they were in the ’60’s:

              ‘Your old road is
              Rapidly agin’
              Please get out of the new one
              If you can’t lend your hand
              For the times they are a-changin’.

      2. CTG – I’m not missing that point at all. I fully understand the economic benefits from immediate action. Plenty of learned people have studied and concluded this. Future treaties, technological innovation etc.
        I do not support Cabinet’s directions on the ETS and international commitments. But I find Cindy’s blog posts to be annoyingly superficial and dreamy, and my initial comment above attempted to rebut a little of her nonsense.

        1. No, you really are missing the point, as you repeated the same false premise in your reply to Noel.

          The point is not how much NZ’s efforts will reduce global emissions, but rather whether NZ is seen to be contributing to a global effort. If we do not contribute a fair amount now, we will have to contribute more later. What part of this pretty simple concept escapes you?

          1. You’re changing the topic. Your first post was about economic costs from delayed action and locked in emitting assets/ investment decisions. That is obviously true. Your second post makes some assumptions about NZ’s visibility and importance in negotiations that I don’t agree with. Or maybe you’re arguing that if NZ reduces emissions now, then this will make some magnificent contribution towards avoiding 4 degress. Get real.

        2. now now, no need to get abusive.
          In my experience, a little bit of leadership goes a long way in these negotiations. An NZ Govt walking away from Kyoto says a lot more than it does staying in. I presume you’ve been in these negotiations for a long time and have experience in how these sort of moves affect the whole talks, password1?

  3. password1
    Maybe I can help with a less formal analysis.
    We are all on this bus called earth and all nations are on boards. But of course they are, there is no other choice.
    For a long time we were trundling along enjoying the scenery except for the odd pot hole, Vikings, Romans, Chinese, Germans, Andy S in a camper van, that sort of inconsequential stuff.
    Then for some (at the time) unknown reason the bus started speeding up and wobbling along its track.
    `No cause for alarm` says the Kiwi sitting down the back in the cheap seats (had to go work in an Oz coal mine for six months for enough dosh for the ticket), `someone more technologically advanced persons will be in control so we`re ok ahee mate`
    Up front the overweight American who`s turn it was to drive had suffered an internal hemorrhage so severe that his head became lodged in his annal passage and his foot jammed hard on the accelerator. Unable to see, hear or react in any way to the distressed cries of the of the passengers the American drove recklessly on toward the hockey stick like bend in the road.
    Some passengers cried out in anguish, mortified by the moment. Others stuck their heads between their knees and kissed their arses goodby.
    Then there were others who didn`t really give a toss saying `Some other bugger can sort that out, I`m off to the Pub`.
    Down the back the Kiwi watched as the scenery flashed past ever faster, floods, fires, tornadoes, massive ice bergs, decimated drought ravaged landscapes, etc, etc. You know, boring old stuff we see on tele each day in between virgin hunters blowing themselves to oblivion and stuff.
    But then in a brain fart moment the Kiwi says ` Bugger this, it could hurt real bad. I`m gonna do something`.
    The cry goes up `Bring back Buck`. But alas Buck was nothing more than a stuffed relic.
    `OK then how about (Sir) Dr. Ritchie McCaw`. Brilliant. Dr. Ritchie sprints from the back, tackles the American full on but alas despite making a severe dent in the Americans arse fails to dislodge him from the drivers seat.
    Other passegers, seeing Dr Ritchies brave example sprint forward to help. An Oz flanker (yes fl not w), a Welch forward and a lost Japanese whaler helped harpoon the American, drag him clear of the drivers seat just in time for a Chinese rice farmer to take control and save the day.
    Yeah right.
    All jokes aside we need to step up regardless of how small our emissions on a world scale are. We are all passengers on the bus and if it crash’s we will suffer equally.

    1. RW: Are you unable or unwilling to engage on discussion on the intracacies of international and domestic policies? Commentators here seem all to happy to discuss abstract issues like wind energy efficiency and ice densities, but no one wants to engage on hard policy like the life of CBDR (common but differentiated responsibilities), whether or not a low unit price is a good or bad thing, how a carbon tax would apply to agricultural emissions and forestry sequestration, the societal and economic benefits of industrial allocation etc etc. When I try, I’m labelled a NAct apologist and a troll, which I’m not.
      I’m just interested in different things than skeptic bashing.

        1. Who knew? On a glorious Wellington morning with barely a puff of wind at lower levels I went up Wright’s Hill – from the first car park one could see the blades gently turning against the backdrop of the hilltops of the “marginal lands” – quite significant breezes at the higher levels. A lovely sight!

  4. speaking of only making a small difference, check out Jim Salinger’s latest Op Ed in the Herald.

    “Even though New Zealand is a small emitter on the world stage, every small, legally binding emissions reduction target counts in reducing greenhouse gas levels. That’s why I pay taxes.”

    1. Yes a thoroughly excellent article, and totally to the point on just how much of an embarrassment this current administration’s stance on climate change is.

  5. The obvious point is that if the world’s population were divided among about 1500 nations with the population of NZ, or 320 or so with Australia’s, we could all spend the rest of our lives pointing at everyone else, waiting for them to go first, and insisting that our little bit hardly makes any difference anyway…

    We’re both comfortable, stable and prosperous first-world nations that see themselves as progressive (and, hell, sometimes we are!) – precisely the reason to pull our collective fingers out!

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