Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cancún Revisitó

"The Kyoto Protocol was a very gentle proof of concept. Even if all Kyoto commitments had been met, Earth’s fever would merely have risen a fraction of a year more slowly."

We have been spending the turn of the new year, as the long shadows start to shorten and between festive occasions, contemplating what happened at the COP-16 Climate Summit in Cancún in early December. Our previous posts, directly from the event, tracked the lows and highs of the experience in real time, but lacked the distance that time for digestion and adequate sleep afford. Now, after some weeks, we have the benefit of many others’ opinions and considered analysis, so it might be helpful to revisit what actually was gained or lost.

Here is our pick-up of the climate negotiations, taken on a drive through the prism of our experience with peak oil, economic turmoil, empire collapse, and the coming climate chaos.

Cancunhagen 0.9 beta
Another reporter characterized our last post as the “Halleluia [sic] we have an agreement” end of the COP-16 reports spectrum. Well, that seems fair. What seems unfair to us is to place Evo Morales’ position at the other book-end. Our differences with Bolivia are less strategic than tactical. So let’s start there.

Morales and we probably agree that the Cancún Agreements are as good or better than might have been expected after the dying Empire’s power play in Copenhagen, and as expected they do almost nothing to slow the march towards the climate precipice. Physics and chemistry cut no slack in this regard.

Many critics feel that Cancún was another bust. A legally enforceable climate treaty seems as distant now as it was at the first Conference of Parties in Berlin in 1995. There is something to that, if you imagined that a legal treaty, with real teeth, was ever possible to begin with.

Why would an empire ever surrender a portion of its sovereignty unless it were to greater advantage? Within the United States, the right wing, and especially the extreme Lyndon LaRouche Tea Bag right, have always viewed the UN as a threat to US sovereignty, so why would they possibly want any legal treaty, with real teeth? Why would Obama risk offending the CIA, Joe Leiberman, or his financial backers to sign such a document?

At the first 5-year mark for Kyoto Protocol, one year from now, few if any of the countries that inked that treaty in Japan in 1997 will actually make their 2012 targets for emissions cuts. Some, like the US, never ratified. Others, like China, had no obligations to begin with. Still others, like the UK, Germany and Denmark, which took carbon dieting seriously, would be hard-pressed in 2010 to say it was good for their economies.

The Kyoto Protocol was a very gentle proof of concept. Even if all Kyoto commitments had been met, Earth’s fever would merely have risen a fraction of a year more slowly; it would still not be showing any signs of going down. Moreover, in the run-up to Cancún, UNEP released a devastating report showing that even if the pledges made in Copenhagen were fulfilled (and they have not been), there would be a “gigatonne gap” that condemns the world to unacceptable warming by mid-century and risks runaway effects that cannot be recovered from.

This is the same kind of report U.S. Presidents since Lyndon Johnson have been getting from their science advisors (and, to the man, bouncing back for further study): the sky is falling; you better do something, fast. In 2010, the US position was to jawbone lowballed targets for gas-mileage, lighting and appliance standards, coal power reductions, and other lame excuses for a climate policy. It was almost too pitiful to listen to. Stronger measures were implemented by the Carter Administration, 35 years ago.

Nonetheless, for the first 13 days of COP-16, negotiations ground on slowly. It was as though the delegates were being paid to sit there. Wait a minute, they were. So were many of the people who sent them — paid by the oil lobby, such as the Koch brothers and the Saudi royal family. Kabuki is what is expected here: a morality play, not a plan for action.

Opening gambits

Japan sat down to the table and reiterated what it had said months earlier, that the Kyoto Protocol was a failure and should not be extended. Russia, Canada, Australia and other large players saw that bid and stood pat. On the other side, small developing nations went “all in.” They said that either Kyoto would be given an extension or they could see no reason to stay at the table.

The two-track system of Kyoto, wherein developed countries would begin to go on a carbon diet, 5 years at a time, but developing countries could fatten their emissions until some sort of weight equivalency was reached at an unspecified date in the future, institutionalized the atmospheric-ocean-soils disparity. The Kyoto system of measuring, reporting, and verifying emissions (MRV) binds developed countries but not “developing” countries like China and Brazil. The US came with guns drawn. Either MRV expansion was in the deal, or there would be no deal.

The Copenhagen negotiations produced an understanding whereby one system of MRV would be used for any developing countries supported by outside financial support, and another system would be used for the rest, that were not financially supported. That seemed to initiate a path towards verifiable categorization of who is “developing.” At a stroke, it would bring into a reduction regimen the largest emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs)  — China and the US — and the greatest deforesters — Brazil and Indonesia. However, as of spring 2010, this COP-15 initiative had evaporated and was not being discussed. India, Malaysia (large prospective emitters and deforesters, respectively) and others in the global South had opposed it.

Japan’s rationale for blocking a Kyoto renewal lay along similar lines. The “developed world,” defined in 1997, now accounts for only 30% of global emissions, while those outside Kyoto restrictions — including the “developing world” — now account for 70%. No matter how ambitious you make a second 5-year carbon regime, you are only attacking a third of the problem.
A major rift was thus revealed between the developing countries, who maintained that they should not be bound — and under the Kyoto formula would not be bound — to emissions reductions, and the developed countries, who would rather not have a firm diet goal and then lie about what the scale read, or make “dog ate my homework” excuses about why they couldn’t get it done in these hard economic times.

One of the members of the Indian delegation said the atmosphere has about 300 gigatons of carbon (GtC) space available between 2010 and 2050. The question therefore is how to equitably distribute this allocation. If you base the ration on current levels, you lock all participants into their respective degrees of development, he said. That is not acceptable to the developing world. So the question is, how do you split the pie?

Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh convened a meeting to discuss “equitable access to the world’s carbon space.” Speakers from countries such as China and Malaysia made the case for an agreement that recognizes that most industrial countries have already used up their rightful share of the world’s carbon budget — and that therefore all future emissions should be allocated solely to developing countries. Additionally, India calculated that industrial countries owe developing countries between $4 trillion and $40 trillion in “climate reparations” over the next 40 years.

Setting aside that the G20 would likely never agree to this kind of formulation, it is really questionable whether this “pie” could be called an accurate view of atmospheric chemistry. Fossil fuels are currently responsible for about 6.4 GtC of emissions of all kinds each year, and the effect that 6.4 GtC has on the atmosphere is to overwhelm it with carbon, resulting in a 2 ppmv annual increase in CO2 equivalent GHG concentrations. 
We have already supersaturated the oceans, causing a disastrous acidification and threatening the entire marine food chain. We need to walk the atmosphere back to 350 ppm, or below, and to stop overloading both atmosphere and ocean. To do this we need to not merely not emit the 300 GtC referred to, we need to sequester that much, or more, in soils, plants and forests to take carbon out of the air and water parts of the cycle. Preferably we would sequester it in recalcitrant forms, like biochar, or long-term stocks, like old-growth forests, rather than short term, labile forms like maize for animals or biofuels.

As if these problems were not already insurmountable, the emerging Latin economies, “ALBA,” opposed almost all parts of the Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) track and threatened to blow up any compromise deal using the UNFCCC’s consensus rule unless their demands were met. Among their demands:
  • that the climate fund come only from general revenue sources (taxes imposed on the public) from developed countries (Annex I) — you know, those tubbies slurping slurpies in Wall-E.
  • that it be set at 1.5 percent of GDP from these countries, more than most now spend on all foreign aid combined.
  • a ban on using market mechanisms — offsets and carbon pricing — to leverage funding for resource protection and reforestation programs. No “guilt” tree-planting! Stop flying!
  • that the target for reductions be lowered to 1 degree of warming — slightly more than a tenth of a degree from where we now stand (bearing in mind that where we now stand is the result of human activities up to about the 1980s, and we have yet to feel the impact of what we did for the last 25 years).
  • a climate justice court, to prosecute historical climate criminals and the big polluters.
  • that the overall agreement acknowledge “rights for Mother Nature.”

The Empire Strikes Back

The US position was even more ambiguous than in Copenhagen, if that is possible. It still pledged only the weakest of reductions in its emissions and sent no members of the Obama cabinet to attend. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was doubtless chagrined by Wikileaks revelations that she had ordered inside-the-UN spying, including taking DNA samples on high-level Security Council delegates, and that the Obama Administration had bribed, extorted and blackmailed countries like the Maldives, Ecuador and Saudi Arabia to change their positions on the Copenhagen Accord. At the same time, the US seemed to have found détente with China on the MRV issue through a process of technology transfer. Confronted by a newly elected Congress openly hostile to the very idea of climate change, the US did not want a treaty, but it did want something to keep the process alive.

Apparently the Emperor found the distraction amusing.

President Correa of Ecuador was asked by Amy Goodman of DemocracyNow! if he could confirm the $2.5 million bribe Ecuador was offered by Hillary Clinton and whether he thought his refusal to take it was a cause of the failed coup attempt on his government earlier this year. President Correa said that indeed Ecuador had refused the $2.5 million, but that it would offer the US $5 million if it would ratify the Kyoto Protocol. As for the coup, Correa did not implicate Obama, but he said he would not go so far as to vindicate rogue elements of the US government held over from the previous administration.

It is easy to see how that sort of amusement can’t be found anywhere else.

That was how the first two weeks set the scene in Cancún. To find out what came next, tune in again tomorrow for Cancunhagen 1.0: Revenge on the Danes 

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