The Cop-outhagen was a dead certainty

By Dev Nadkarni

The lame, toothless outcomes of the Copenhagen jamboree were wholly expected. After two years of preparations and two weeks of intense negotiations – not to mention the tons of CO2 spewed into the skies by 35,000 junketing politicians, boffins, journalists, activists and allsorts at the cost of hundreds of million dollars – the document cobbled together in the end is a pathetic attempt at face saving by the world’s top leaders, with scant regard to the severely threatened existence of vulnerable nations like those in the Pacific.

While committing to limit emissions so as not to cause a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius – widely accepted as a crisis point – it is clear the leaders of the countries had their fingers firmly crossed behind their backs.

The agreement means little because, first, it is not binding (and a binding agreement was a desired outcome at Copenhagen especially after all those millions of man hours of research and negotiations over so many years).

Second, the large developing countries have refused to be transparent about their emission cuts. They have not agreed to any verification regime for their claims of emission cuts despite having made demands of tens of billions of dollars to assist them in mitigation programmes and alternative energy initiatives. In short, nobody is accountable for any defaults.

Adding insult to injury especially to the people genuinely affected by climate change like low lying Pacific atoll countries whose very existence is increasingly threatened as each month passes, the leaders have said that the document is a “good beginning”.

Beginning? What then was Kyoto? And Rio before that if they care to remember? If every mega climate jamboree is a new beginning, nothing will ever get agreed upon and the cause of the genuinely threatened populations will never be addressed. But politicians and boffins are continuing to soldier on. They will “build” on this document at the next convention in Mexico slated for next year, they say.

It is interesting that the very governments that fund the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and declare unanimously that they are absolutely convinced by its findings about anthropogenic (man made) global warming find it so hard to come to an agreement on how to deal with the problem.

And it is not far to seek the reasons, though they may be different for different groups of nations. But clearly, there are reasons that are common for all concerned and we’ll come to that in a moment.

For the fast developing large nations particularly of the BRIC group (Brazil, Russia, India, China), it’s about economic progress – they understandably do not want any hindrances on their road to prosperity and will brook no pressure in committing anything that will affect their targets. The developed world would commit only if the developing world does. So it’s a classic catch 22. It always has been. And that’s the single biggest reason for the Copenhagen disaster.

But the underlying common reason for all this fudging could well be that no one is thoroughly convinced about anthropogenic global warming, though no one will publicly admit it. It would be political suicide and shame on a global scale to publicly doubt anything that the countries’ well-funded, can-do-no-wrong, Nobel laureate baby, the IPCC, says.

Surveys around the world show that there is a growing body of people that do accept that climate change is real but seriously doubt that human beings are the only or the biggest factor causing it – though they certainly agree they are a factor. Quite obviously, there would be many politicians and bureaucrats who share this view. Anyone who has even an iota of doubt would loathe making commitments on the basis of something that is iffy in the very least. But it would be suicidal to air their honest thoughts especially in global forums.

The Copenhagen non-outcome is a classic cop-out, which is a natural consequence of unconvinced leaders forced by political correctness to make commitments on the basis of unproven science that is not acceptable universally by the scientific community; a commitment that could have grave consequences on the economies of their nations – consequences perceptibly real than the premise of anthropogenic global warming. This is the inconvenient truth.

In the meantime in all that squabbling and din, as always, the real issue and urgency of the effects of climate change, especially of the low lying nations in the Pacific and coastal populations in the poorer world have been drowned.

There was great empathy displayed toward Tuvalu and Kiribati in our region from several quarters at Copenhagen but their pleas failed to make a mark on the negotiations.

Tuvalu made several impassioned remonstrations asking the countries to commit to a rise in temperature of no more than 1.5 degrees. It was unsurprising that it was ignored and had to cut a sorry figure. Unfortunately in toeing the 1.5-degree line too hard, it put the anthropogenic global warming theory ahead of the dire consequences of climate change that it faces. It took the IPCC findings a little too seriously for the rest of the world, certainly the big developing countries, who thought 2 degrees was adequate – and that too, with no strings attached.

Tuvalu and Kiribati should have raised the pitch of the issue of their survival irrespective of the science involved.  It should have focused purely on the human aspect: the danger to their fragile, subsistence economies; the snuffing out of their livelihoods; the very disappearance of their nations.  An emotional appeal shorn of taking the unsteady and unconvincing crutch of anthropogenic global warming, even if it was the one offered by the IPCC, would have been far more effective.

It is amazing that amid all the din of climate negotiations and band aid mitigation measures financed by half-promised funding by rich nations all put together in a document that is supposed to be “a good beginning”, there is no mention of the most important issue of all, irrespective of the science that is causing climate change and sea level rise: the actual threat to their lives faced by the people of the low lying Pacific Islands.

The small island nations need to tell the world in no uncertain terms to keep their science and negotiations aside while coming up with a worldwide policy to address the problem of their very survival.

Shame on the world’s leadership for brushing this all important issue under the carpet.

First appeared in Islands Business, January 2010