Campaigners Fear Obama Will Settle for Climate Deal with China
Photo courtesy AMagill.
As another set of climate talks wrap up with little outward sign of progress, are the chances of a new global deal to combat the threat of global warming slipping out of reach? Even battle-hardened green campaigners saw few reasons for optimism this week in Bonn. One group was considering whether to simply reissue the same press release about the state of negotiations they sent out last year, partly as a protest at the impasse, but partly because the picture has simply not changed since.
The deadlock extends further back than last year. Since the messy compromise that was the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, climate change has always been more about the politics than the science. And while the message from the scientists has hardened over the last decade, the politics has remained largely the same.
In one corner sit the rich countries: made wealthy by development fuelled by the burning of coal, oil and gas. And in the other corner sit the poorer nations, many of them eager to follow the same track. Kyoto crudely divided the fight against climate change along similar lines, with only the rich nations handed binding targets to reduce their greenhouse gas pollution. That was fair, the reasoning went, because rich countries were largely responsible for the problem, and had the resources to develop cleaner technology. Poorer nations would be allowed to carry on as they wished, with a tacit understanding that the burden would be shared more widely in future.
Fast-forward a decade, and the neat division of Kyoto has blurred. Large developing nations such as China and India sit at or near the top of the emission charts. Meanwhile global warming threatens a plague on both Kyoto’s houses – rich and poor alike. The cuts in carbon that scientists say are needed to avert catastrophic damage cannot be achieved by the developed world alone.
To make a meaningful difference, a new treaty must address the soaring emissions from the developing world, as well as make room for the US, which rejected the Kyoto process because it resented the economic advantage it would hand to China.
This is where the science and politics of climate change clash head-on. And, so far, the politics is winning. For all the talk of economic opportunities of the green economy, bringing down greenhouse gas emissions on the scale required is likely to prove very expensive, especially in the near-term. And for all the talk of international cooperation, nations are determined to protect their own self-interest. And so the macabre climate dance continues: the developed world still wants to take on some kind of targets, while the poorer nations point out that richer countries have failed to honour past pledges, both on emission cuts and to hand over money to help them.
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