Monday, November 28, 2011

Cop Out at COP 17

It seems clear that Canada will not renew its commitment to the Kyoto accord. It does not make sense to do so, since neither will the US, Russia or Japan and most of the major polluting countries (India and China, for example) did not sign up in the first place. Kyoto is dead, or at least on its last legs (it will die of natural causes next year if it is not renewed).

Also dead is any major agreement on climate change mitigation for the world coming from the Conference of the Parties (the 17th such gathering) meeting in Durban. The EU has made clear that it will sign up to any binding emissions targets unless all of the major polluters also agree. Since this is not going to happen, the move now is to postpone any attempt to reach a global agreement till 2015, coming into effect in 2020. Even this assumes that an agreement can be reached, which is also unlikely.

Meantime, the science is changing. It is become less certain - more recognition of uncertainty and less acerbic. For example, a recent paper in Science lowers the estimate of CO2 impacts while the IPCC s suggested that extreme weather impacts are less affected by human induced climate change than other factors.

Overall, climate change is moving down the political agenda as the challenges faced by Governments, especially in Europe, are more focused on economics, jobs and debt. The Pielke Jnr. law – climate change mitigation always takes second place to economics – seems to apply, as governments back away from past commitments.

So the 20,000 people gathering in Durban from 194 countries to discuss climate change will focus on money - the commitment made in Copenhagen to transfer money to the most affected nations, especially the small island nations. And that tells us a lot. It’s all about money, at least for some.

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