Editorials

Bad climate

7 December 2012
Presseurop

When it comes to the environment, the latest paradox is that Qatar, world champion in carbon footprint per capita, should be the organiser of the UN conference on climate change, which closed in Doha on December 7. The conference was supposed to deliver a new agreement in the fight against global warming that would set new targets for cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and extend the Kyoto Protocol – which runs out this December 31 – until 2015. And a highly under-publicised event it was (excepting the coverage of The Guardian, which has done an outstanding job). For good reason: expectations were minimal.

This is just the latest in a long line of failures since the Copenhagen conference of 2009. Begun with enthusiasm, it ended in a flop, due mainly to the inability of Europeans to impose their vision. The following conference, in Cancun, saw Europe marginalised. The 2011 conference in Durban was marked by divisions, like the Doha conference of today.

This time around, the question of the surplus carbon allowances of Central European members of the EU (CEEC) is the main stumbling block. When they joined the Union they were given very generous carbon allowances (pollution permits expressed in tonnes of CO2). With the rapid conversion of their industries, however, they are now sitting on large emissions rights “capital”.

To support a CO2 market that is falling due to the crisis and to encourage companies to reduce their emissions instead of buying more affordable allowances to compensate for them, the European Commission wants a temporary freeze on nearly a billion tons (of the existing 8.5 billion tons) that should be emitted between now and 2020. Don't even think of touching our war chest, argue the CEECs, with Poland at the head of the group.

Another point of contention is the aid that rich countries pay to developing countries to combat their GHG emissions. The latter also require compensation for the consequences of climate change that those countries, hit by the crisis, are undergoing. The rich countries, however, fearing endless demands, are reluctant to hand over their wallets.

If we add to this the fact that the United States has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol and that some countries – Canada, Japan and Russia, not to mention any names – refuse to ratify a new climate change treaty until China and India commit to doing so, we can see why the negotiations have stalled.

Should we throw in the towel then and resign ourselves to accepting the idea that the average temperature of the Earth will rise by more than 2° C by 2050 compared to the pre-industrial era, with all the consequences that will entail?

Definitely not. Reducing emissions is the key to sustainable development and the technological advances (and public health) that go with it. Giving up is suicide.