The Bigger Picture
Published on January 7th 2010 in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
For my first column of this New Year of 2010, I will pick up where I left off at the end of 2009 and continue my discussion about the goings on at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Copenhagen last month.
I closed my last column by questioning the efficacy of Bolivian President Evo Morales political grandstanding while he was in front of the global news media at the UNFCCC. But make no mistake; Mr. Morales wasn’t the only political leader using the UNFCCC’s world stage for finger pointing and or to promote their political views instead of working towards the resolution of a difficult environmental issue.
At the end of his 20 minute diatribe against the United States, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela actually got a standing ovation from around a third of the conference delegates after his closing statement that; “Our revolution seeks to help all people. Socialism, the other ghost that is probably wandering around this room, that’s the way to save the planet, capitalism is the road to hell. Let’s fight against capitalism and make it obey us.”
But what was noticeably absent from Hugo Chavez’s remarks was any mention of what Venezuela was planning to do to reduce its own carbon emissions which have grown by 42% in the last five years alone, from 37,076 metric tons in 2004 to just over 52, 529 metric tons is 2008. In fact, during the last five years Venezuela has overtaken Argentina as Latin America’s biggest polluter and second largest source of carbon emissions after Brazil (although most of Brazil’s CO2 emissions are due to deforestation).
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who is banned from international travel and was only able to attend the climate change conference because it was being held under the auspices of the United Nations, flailed away at his western critics too saying that; “When these capitalist gods of carbon burp and belch their dangerous emissions, it’s we, the lesser mortals of the developing sphere who gasp and sink and eventually die.”
But of course Mr. Mugabe also failed to mention that Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister, Morgan Tvsangirai, declined to join Mr. Mugabe’s entourage of over 60 people because of the recent “revelations of a bloated Zimbabwe government foreign travel budget.” But Mr. Mugabe probably felt he deserved a trip abroad with an entourage worthy of royalty because he has succeeded in cutting Zimbabwe’s carbon emissions by 25% since 2000 (by impoverishing over 80% of those Zimbabweans who haven’t died from the highest AIDS infection rate in the world). Yes Mugabe is truly a star isn’t he?
But U.S. and European political leaders weren’t the only victims of such political grandstanding. After Australia’s Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said he also believed that any climate change agreement would have to be independently monitored because “Verification is essential”, he too was attacked by other political leaders in attendance.
Lumumba Di-Aping, a Sudanese diplomat, accused Mr. Rudd of advocating weak responses to climate change and likened Mr. Rudd’s comments to those made by climate change skeptics. India’s Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh went even further, saying Australia wanted to tear up the Kyoto Protocol and replace it with a single new treaty and accusing Mr. Rudd of being “the Ayatollah of the single track.”
But is it possible that Lumumba Di-Aping doesn’t like the idea of having Sudan’s carbon emissions monitored because then Sudan wouldn’t be able to continue getting away with almost doubling its CO2 emissions (from 1509 metric tons in 2000 to 3000 metric tons in 2005)? Surely not! And surely Jairam Ramesh remarks about Rudd acting like an “Ayatollah” weren’t a reflection of the fact that India’s carbon emissions are growing faster than those of any other country in the world save China? Of course not!
Maybe I’m wrong but I have yet to see a difficult problem resolved because of finger pointing and political posturing by government leaders. So I was disappointed but hardly surprised that the UNFCCC negotiations appeared to be on the verge of collapse prior to President Obama’s arrival on the scene Friday. But instead of attacking those who were opposed to having their nation’s CO2 emissions monitored, Mr. Obama sought to work through these differences by focusing on the need for compromise by all parties.
The resulting climate change agreement that Obama engineered with China, Brazil, India and South Africa left many of the convention’s participants decidedly unsatisfied. But then again, that is the nature of a political compromise. The dictionary defines a compromise as “A settlement of differences in which each side makes concessions.” In other words, no one leaves the negotiating table entirely pleased with the terms of the final agreement. I’m not exactly pleased with the agreement either, but I’m also happy that I don’t have to contemplate where the world would be without one.
Here is my take on what the 11th hour climate change deal President Obama brokered does and doesn’t do to address climate change.
It does say that both developed and developing countries will make a list of their respective targets for reducing carbon emissions and provides for international monitoring of their progress. It also provides for the development of a mechanism to distribute money provided by rich countries to poor countries that need help adapting to the ill effects of climate change such as droughts, floods and rising sea-levels.
It doesn't represent a new climate change treaty that will take the place of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which mandates strict cuts in carbon emissions by developed countries but not by faster growing developing nations like China and India. It also doesn't set targets for reducing CO2 emissions by 2050.or a date when a new climate change agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol must be finalized.
Indeed, the world’s nations are still a long way from addressing the problem of climate change, but at least we’re finally moving in the right direction instead of continuing to point fingers at each other.