COP15: Much CO2 about nothing?
7 December 2009
The Copenhagen summit, which is opening with great ambitions, might well come up with no deal at all – or worse: a short-lived deal that never gets ratified or implemented. Climate sceptics, for their part, challenge the very premise of the conference. Here’s today’s press in review on the COP15.
“Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial,” begins an appeal launched by the global press at The Guardian’s initiative. “We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.” And it concludes thus: “The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history's judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice.” But the odds are slim that the 192 countries represented can reach a global agreement on curbing CO2 emissions. In fact, warns the world’s leading climate scientist James Hansen in The Guardian, any deal likely to emerge would be so flawed we’d be better off starting again from scratch: "If it is going to be the Kyoto-type thing then [people] will spend years trying to determine exactly what that means." The head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies likens global warming to Nazism and slavery: "On those kind of issues you cannot compromise."
There are two possible scenarios, outlines Polityka. The worst-case scenario, explored by American author Bruce Bueno de Mesquita in The Predictioneer’s Game, is based on game theory: he posits that the world’s purely self-seeking countries will be less and less inclined to making a deal. The other scenario, mapped out in a report for the World Bank by Elinor Ostrom, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, banks on grass-roots initiatives and cooperation between the world’s cities and regions to produce a high standard of living, environmental protection and low CO2 emissions.
Call in the global climate police
Whatever the scenario, any deal would be hard to enforce. As Swedish columnist Martin Ådahl points out in Fokus, the Kyoto Protocol, which is more binding than the draft under discussion in Copenhagen, "is not being applied by the signatories". Canada, for instance, “which pledged a 6% cut in emissions by 2012, has actually increased them by 28%.” “What sanctions should be meted out to countries that fall short of their reduction targets?” asks Libération. "We need to set up a global climate police” to monitor compliance with commitments. The whole problem, the French daily observes, boils down to designating or creating the best-suited "superstructure" for the job: "Private-sector companies? UN organisations? The Anglo-Americans are plumping for the World Bank to handle it. Others are for the Global Environment Facility.”
"An ICF, or International Carbon Fund, could be set up,” replies Martin Ådahl in Fokus. Such an institution, based on a Bretton Woods economic system, would be tasked with “checking emissions, monitoring regional markets and putting in place a penalty system modelled on the World Trade Organization’s free market rules”. And at all events, the Swedish journalist contends, “we’d need to bench the diplomats and bring on the economists. Diplomats spend their time poring over commas and adjectives, without a diagram or curve in sight. Let’s let the politicians draw the boundaries and the economists do the work.”
Climate sceptics get stuck in
Over and above all these doubts about what the COP15 can change, there is a mounting tide of scepticism about the very premise of global warming. In the NRC Handelsblad, Dutch writer Leon de Winter vituperates at length against “the Messianic notion that humanity needs to be protected against itself”: "Since 1998, the temperature on the planet has stopped rising,” claims de Winter, citing what most scientists deem dubious data. "Before undertaking to drastically curb the free movement of people and goods, we ought to know the real story [...], but that real story seems to pose a threat to people and organisations [...] who are better off hushing up Climategate,” he accuses, alluding to the recent hullabaloo over e-mails showing that a team of scientists deliberately discarded data conflicting with the theory of global warming.
Instead of obsessing with CO2, Leon de Winter recommends focusing on “other greenhouse gases [...], the regulatory effect of clouds [...], sunspots, ocean currents and variations in the planet’s axial tilt. In other words: a whole slew of extremely complex factors that are virtually impossible to encapsulate in a computer model.” Danish statistician and fellow climate sceptic Bjørn Lomborg seconds the motion, panning the idea of cutting CO2 emissions by imposing a carbon tax as “putting the cart before the horse”. In Hospodářské Noviny he argues that we would be better off investing in research into alternative energy and says the real issues Copenhagen should address are: “a) finding ways to relay solar energy from the regions with the most intense solar radiation and the strongest winds to the most populous regions and b) inventing a storage system so the world will have energy even when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing."