Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Climate conference produces nothing but hot air

It took the various environment ministers two weeks to come to a conclusion for the next step after the expiry of the Kyoto protocol in 2012. Negotiations and tense stand-offs dragged on for days, even though many participants left. And the solution: a conference next May in Bonn.

The agreement was proudly described as a compromise between the European and the American point of view. In fact, as the Dutch Environment Minister, Pieter Van Giel put it:
"We fought hard to get this agreement. It is not as much as we had hoped for, but it is a step forward and that is important. In this process it takes two to tango. I am very glad that everybody is on the dance floor now."
The agreement was between what the Americans wanted, which was one day’s discussion that would lead to no agreements and what the Europeans wanted, which was summed up by TurkishPress.com:
“The EU wanted several informal meetings on strengthening the international fight against climate change that would include the United States.”
And the compromise? Well, it will be a conference that will last for several days at which there will be an exchange of information and the future of climate change negotiations will be discussed. A lot of hot air, in other words.

Everybody is blaming everybody, or almost everybody. Clearly the main “villain” is America and, particularly, President Bush, who refuses to agree to anything that places unnecessary limits on the American economy. Greenpeace is also blaming Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are the only ones in the Middle East and the Third World, who can be blamed with impunity. Goodness knows why, but that is how it is seen among the international and transnational great and good.

It seems to have escaped these people's attention or, maybe, it is too embarrassing to talk about, but none of the large developing countries want to sign any agreements either. They are afraid that their economic development, which is essential if they ever want to be in a position to deal with climate change or with ordinary natural disasters, would be hampered by Kyoto, an unscientific, badly argued proposition of the developed world. And they did not find themselves in Russia’s position, where they could be blackmailed into signing the Protocol in return for a possible WTO membership.

Nor has there been too much comment about the Italian position, which, simply stated, is that these difficult to agree and even more difficult to police multinational agreements lead to nothing. Bilateral agreements will be needed after 2012 and these must somehow involve the United States and the large developing countries.

Finally, there is the unfortunate analysis produced by a number of environmental scientists that climate change and dealing with it are not the most pressing problems. In any case, none of the signatories are anywhere near the limits of the emissions they have signed up to. No wonder the American delegates sounded cheerful.

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