Next on the climate change agenda: Durban, South Africa, the location of the next round of global climate talks.
The first phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires next year, by which time a new agreement needs to have been reached. Climate agreements are important because the signatory nations commit to reaching certain goals by a certain time. This being the case, it’s always a source of great disappointment to American environmentalists that, while the US signed Kyoto, it has never honored the agreement. Congress voted to not ratify it. (The other non-ratifying nations are Afghanistan and South Sudan.)
Our failure to work with other nations for the benefit of all, because we believe it will hurt us economically, has been the object of global condemnation. This intransigence notwithstanding, the US has been represented at all the climate conferences since Kyoto.
We can’t but we did
That brings us to an important point.
Where do signatory nations stand, in relation to their commitments? Have the goals, so painstakingly reached, been achieved?
The answer is yes – and no.
You see, a funny thing happened on the way to the climate conference. A global recession, to be exact, from which no one has recovered. Before the economic downturn, industrialized countries were registering increases in their fuel consumption, not decreases. Then along came 2008, when the derivatives hit the fan, causing a worldwide slowdown in economic activity. The faltering economy triggered a decline in the consumption of fossil fuels. Now the US’s GHGE (greenhouse gas emissions) have fallen to 1996 levels.
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The EU, whose ability to reach the agreed upon levels has long been debated, is probably going to surpass them.
China and Brazil, on the other hand, continue to ramp up economic planning, a sure sign that environmental targets are taking a back seat.
Japan, Canada, and Russia refuse to commit to new, binding CO2 targets, unless India and China do likewise. Inasmuch as the US and Brazil joined China and India in 2009 to oppose binding commitments, it’s likely such opposition will continue in Durban.
Here’s how it all adds up: record high CO2 emissions of 33 billion tons in 2010, 45% higher than in 1990.
Stupendous is hard
The problem is that it’s very difficult to count on events that happen purely because of a set of unique circumstances.
While the US is currently enjoying cleaner air, it has a long way to go in national and international arenas, where reaching agreement with other countries is concerned.
Duplicating the fallout resulting from the last three years of economic turmoil requires a plan. We know that the benefits to be derived from planning are considerable. Making plans forces people to examine their alternatives in great detail. Desirable outcomes require careful implementation in order to be accomplished. Negative outcomes can be assessed, so that those which are completely untenable can be avoided. These are exactly the kinds of analysis that ought to take place in Durban next month.
There have been a number of discussions pursuant to the negotiations of 1992, which led to the Kyoto Protocol of ’97. Most recently, negotiators have met in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2009, and Cancun, Mexico in 2010. Because stupendous results were needed in order to halt global warming, the lack of results caused the media to term both Copenhagen and Cancun “failures.” The fact is, the achievement of truly stupendous things (discovering America, inventing the printing press, eliminating greenhouse gases) is so rare that it should never be an expected outcome.
Treading water, if I remember rightly, can serve a useful purpose. Furthermore, sometimes it’s the best we can do.
All together, now
For these reasons, Durban is transpiring in an atmosphere, not of heady excitement, but of sober realism. Progress is always looked for, but it could well be incremental.
Those issues perceived as most likely to render promising results include technological cooperation, adaptation to climate change, and monitoring emissions. One aspect of negotiations in need of further discussion is the willingness of all parties to shoulder their fair share of the load. The EU, in particular, is losing patience with countries that have been slow to act in cutting their emissions.
Meanwhile, doctors, scientists, and military experts have attended a pre-conference meeting in London. The meeting’s theme, “The Health and Security Perspectives of Climate Change: How to Secure Our Future Wellbeing,” was discussed by experts from throughout England.
A statement issued at the conclusion of the program asked that governments adopt ambitious targets for curbing greenhouse gases. The statement further noted that increasing numbers of humanitarian disasters will place a great strain on military resources. Military attendees were particularly concerned about challenges involving armed conflict over trade routes, oil, and water. Medical personnel in attendance gave special attention to the spread of infectious diseases. All participants recommended a complete halt to the construction of coal-fired power plants.
Overall, there was a consensus that climate change poses “an immediate, growing and grave threat” to health and security around the world.
What will the history books say?
Such pre-conference roundtables serve an invaluable purpose, in that they focus attention on the issues that are of primary importance. In addition, they help set the tone for the conference’s future negotiations – in this case, in Durban.
That a country’s best minds regard climate change seriously enough to meet and discuss its ramifications speaks volumes. Their input is exactly what many of us have long desired.
What a source of gratification – and celebration! – it will be when America’s best minds bring the full force of their research and expertise to bear. Too many of us fortunate enough to live in this wonderful country are accustomed to thinking of ourselves as taking the lead, the result of which is a lack of awareness regarding our uniquely retrograde stance on this one issue. While it is difficult for Americans to accept the fact that, due to peak commodities and government/bank collusion, economic growth is dead, we must do so, in order to play the essential role expected of us in climate negotiations.