Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The End of The Kyoto Accord

COP17 – the climate change talks taking place in Durban with 20,000 delegates, journalists and hangers on from 194 countries – will see the end of the Kyoto agreement.

The European Union, its delegation led by Poland, is demanding that any extension of Kyoto involve India, China and the US and these nations have said that they will not sign on to Kyoto. Further, Russia, India and Canada have said that they are backing out of Kyoto. It’s dead. There will no longer be a legally binding agreement with respect to CO2 emissions, not that much enforcement of the existing treaty ever took place.

Furthermore, the EU is hardening its position. Angered by suggestions that the EU is not doing enough with respect to climate change (a remarkable suggestion, in the view of the EU, which sees itself as having done more than North American nations and more than any other bloc of nations), the EU is also getting tough on the conditions under which funds from the fund established in Copenhagen could be distributed to developing nations adjusting to the impact of climate change. Canada is also taking this position – its not a gift fund.

Canada is taking a rational stance. It is backing out of Kyoto, challenging the conditions of the climate change fund and suggesting that there needs to an adaptive response to climate change rather than a reinvention of the global economy. It is also not buying the orthodoxy of the “science is settled” and is questioning the way in which the IPCC is operating. This is angering many at the gathering, who accuse the Canadian government of being in the pockets of the oil companies.

What is being proposed is that there be a break in the process – COP18, 19 and 20 will likely take place but work towards a global agreement that will be completed three years from now to come into effect ten years from now. In political terms, lets worry about this two US Presidents from now.

The activists are angered by this and suggest that this delay will make responses to climate change more difficult and less likely to occur. Correct. This is in fact the “cunning plan” which the major Governments of the world are proposing. The message is not subtle. It is “we are done with this”.

The primary reason for this stance is that there are more pressing issues: sovereign debt, a double dip recession and 250 million unemployed (with 1.5 billion with vulnerable jobs) being uppermost in their minds. When given a choice between fundamental changes to the economy required by Kyoto or dealing with the immediate challenges of sovereign debt and economic recession, Governments go local and seek immediate responses. Just yesterday the UK government downgraded its climate change strategy and gave up the protection of its set aside £1 billion for carbon capture and storage. Other governments are backing away from guaranteed feed in tariffs on the grounds that the spike in energy costs are killing jobs, increasing energy poverty and making no real difference to CO2 emissions anyway. They simply do not have the risk capital or the ability to raise it for such an unsure outcome.

The second reason is that the costs of the changes to energy policy, transportation, building codes and other changes required to meet the Kyoto targets are not justified by the returns on these investments. As the shrill science dampens and the uncertainties of the science become clearer, the massive costs of a transition to a post-carbon economy are clear, but the returns are not. If Canada were to cut its emissions dramatically, would this impact global CO2 emissions in a significant way? Not really – China and India would soon make up for the difference. Without a level playing field with all engaged, the impact of unilateral actions are modest, at best. When the science begins to suggest that the impacts are less than we first thought and that there are growing uncertainties about the science, then Governments are not going to risk their capital on improbable outcomes.

The third reason Kyoto is dead is because there is an abundant supply of energy. New technologies for natural gas extraction, oil shale extraction and enhanced oil recovery have pushed the likelihood of “peak oil” (really, peak carbon based fuels) back some fifty to a hundred years. The urgency of action was in part driven in the past by the fear of oil prices moving to unaffordable levels. Advanced in fuel efficient transport, low cost natural gas and new technology have changed this part of the equation. A post-carbon future is no longer an urgent imperative.

None of this is helped by the furtive behaviour of a clique of scientists revealed in Climategate I and II or the rejection of critical voices at COP17 and similar events. The cult like pursuit of climate change policies by deceptive methods – Al Gore comes to mind – makes it less likely that rational policy decisions and conversations take place. The response to serious and mindful criticisms by Canada and the EU are examples of this cult-like devotion. While some saw a UK court decision to see climate change as a religious cult in 2009 as an amuse, it is in fact a correct diagnosis.

So COP17 will end with nothing but emissions and the end of Kyoto. Expect more of the same for the next four years.

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