From the November 15, 2009 Sunday Times (London)
November 15, 2009
by Irwin Stelzer
In a few weeks some 20,000 United Nations bureaucrats, representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), world leaders and accompanying experts from 192 nations will descend on Copenhagen for the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. They aim to devise a substitute for the expiring Kyoto Protocol, the agreement among several nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent global warming — and at the same time redistribute some of the world’s wealth from richer to poorer nations, a UN goal long before anyone ever heard of climate change.
“Human survival itself is at risk,” contends scientist/activist James Lovelock, expressing a belief so strongly held that British courts this month gave some greens all the rights the law contains for practitioners of any religion.
The delegates are to consider a 181-page draft that calls for developed countries to pay an “adaptation debt” to developing countries to the tune of somewhere between $70 billion and $150 billion a year. The European Union has endorsed the $150 billion estimate, and Germany’s Angela Merkel says the EU should contribute 30% of needed funds, or close to $50 billion, leaving about $100 billion for other developed nations to cough up. Gordon Brown, seemingly unaware that Britain is broke, has offered to throw $1.5 billion into the pot. But neither Merkel nor her peers can agree how the EU’s 27 members should share the balance of the funding burden.
There is agreement on at least one thing: the stumbling block to a final treaty is the US. “We expect American leadership. President Obama has created great expectations around the world. Now we expect the US to contribute,” says Andreas Carlgren, Sweden’s environment minister, speaking on behalf of the EU presidency.
The reluctance of Congress to pass expensive environmental legislation is no excuse, adds Connie Hedegaard, his Danish counterpart. “I remind the US that it is not the only country in the world that has to have discussions with its domestic parliament. The expectation out there worldwide and among populations and the young [is for] the US to deliver.” John Bruton, EU ambassador to the US, adds: “The world cannot wait on the Senate’s timetable.” Oh?
Meanwhile, China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, has agreed only to cut its “carbon intensity”. It will reduce its emissions per unit of increased GDP — and since its GDP is growing, its emissions will continue to increase. (When George W Bush made a similar proposal it was greeted with disdain.) Obama hopes to use his visit to Beijing this week to get the Chinese to sign up to several specific actions, in lieu of specific targets: more renewable energy and research into clean coal technology are high on the list. India is also refusing to accept firm emissions-reduction targets. As the developing world sees it, the industrialised world created the warming problem and so is poorly placed to ask emerging economies to slow the growth that is raising the living standards of their masses.
Which brings the delegates right back to America. They contend that only American leadership-by-example — acceptance of tight curbs on its own emissions, and willingness to fund a substantial portion of the wealth and technology transfers developing countries are demanding — can produce a meaningful treaty. Which is why the delegates are so pleased with Obama’s belated decision to stroll across the Skagerrak Strait to Copenhagen immediately after accepting his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on December 10. Surely, the man who promised that his election would be “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal” can bring agreement out of discord.
No summary of the positions being taken would be complete without mention of the bunch with the most chutzpah, although that is a word they would reject for many reasons. The Opec oil cartel contends that since the goal of the Copenhagen summit is to reduce the use of oil, its members should be reimbursed for any reduction in their revenues. Ridiculous, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Although recent climate data suggest that the herd-like response of environmental absolutists might be plain wrong, low-probability risks with high-magnitude consequences of the sort predicted by some scientists cannot be ignored. But is the approach taking shape in Copenhagen the only one available? The Netherlands’ Yvo de Boer, the UN climate chief who presides over a staff of 200 and an annual budget of $30m, believes that only a supranational agency can manage the galaxy of measures needed to produce the needed cut in emissions. The UN is eager to acquire the power to tax to fund its vision, and to take such steps as are necessary to enforce the agreed emission-reduction limits, including the imposition of intrusive controls on the production processes of member nations. Which means the conference might be on a hiding to nothing, as the US Senate is unlikely to approve any such scheme.
Deutsche Asset Management, in a report with Columbia University’s Climate Center, estimates $3 trillion will be needed by 2020 even to approach the Copenhagen targets. The bureaucrats, regulators, NGOs and national leaders in Denmark might usefully spend some time figuring out what incentives will be necessary to get investors to put up that much cash without stifling growth or inviting government control of ordinary citizens and industries.
They will have time enough to reflect: failure to agree on the scale of payments to developing countries, how that cost will be divided, and what to do if the US Senate fails to pass cap-and-trade have scaled down the greens’ ambitions for Copenhagen. It is now seen as merely a step on the road to a new treaty — the so-called “political deal” that will be the basis for a yet-to-be drafted treaty that will replace the Kyoto Protocol. So it’s back to the drawing board.
Irwin Stelzer is a Senior Fellow and Director of Economic Policy Studies for the Hudson Institute. He is also the U.S. economist and political columnist for The Sunday Times (London) and The Courier Mail (Australia), a columnist for The New York Post, and an honorary fellow of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies for Wolfson College at Oxford University. He is the founder and former president of National Economic Research Associates and a consultant to several U.S. and United Kingdom industries on a variety of commercial and policy issues. He has a doctorate in economics from Cornell University and has taught at institutions such as Cornell, the University of Connecticut, New York University, and Nuffield College, Oxford.
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