Climate change and the complex complications of the Copenhagen COP
The Copenhagen climate conference in December is crucial for the future well being of the vast majority of humanity alive today and the billions yet to be born. Its prospects are not good, however, and it is beset by multi-layered complexities. There needs to be much more political energy going into it now in order to achieve anything that can be politely called success in three months time.
The task of the Copenhagen meeting – the 15th Conference of Parties (COP) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – is to come up with the next global deal on mitigating global warming and responding to climate change. The arguments around this issue have been thoroughly aired by now. There is a scientific near-consensus about what is happening to the global climate and the necessity to limit global warming. The few scientists who reject the consensus get an inordinate amount of coverage fuelled by big money interests because the message is a tough one: business as usual will be the ruin of us.
That’s simple enough, isn’t it? All that’s left, surely, is to keep piling up the evidence until the argument is won even more than it’s won already and then to bring in the regulations that penalise high carbon emissions and reward low emissions. What’s complicated?
Yet the UNFCCC negotiations are reportedly making infinitesimal progress. The optimists say the talks are moving at a snail’s pace; the pessimists say they are stalled, and among their ranks should be counted UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. He hosted a UN summit on 22 September that was intended to be an occasion when additional political energy could be injected and a greater sense of urgency generated.
At the summit, President Hu Jintao of China made headlines with a commitment that China would “endeavour” to reduce its carbon emissions by a “notable” amount. This was almost certainly not empty rhetoric – China is actually doing quite a lot to green its economic development – but there were no specifics. And apart from what Hu said there was not much to cheer UNFCCC-watchers up.
In this context, what constitutes success?
Last year, especially when looking forward to a new US administration getting stuck in, “success” meant a new agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, an agreement that, basing itself on a difficult but achievable target (say, global mean temperature rise of no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels), and recognising that the rich world did almost all the damage while the poor countries will bear the brunt of the ensuing problems, would work out who has to cut carbon emissions by how much, and design a series of schemes: one to encourage and reward low carbon emissions, one to monitor implementation and progress, one to finance adaptation to the consequences of the climate change that is already inevitable because of previous emissions.
Everybody acknowledged this would be complicated because of the different needs as well as views of some of the major players, but following the Bali COP in December 2007, there was a commitment from the developed and developing countries alike to get the deal done.
Today, expectations have been managed downwards. Agreement on the basic principles so there are only details to fill in after Copenhagen would now be regarded as outstanding success. Unless the UN summit registers a really big step forwards, that kind of success will be beyond most knowledgeable commentators’ dreams. At this rate, by the time we get to Copenhagen, agreement on what the basic issues are will look like success.
Seen in this light, progress this year has not just been slow but actually in reverse. What can get things going again? Where will the necessary leadership come from? It is soon to tell whether Ban’s UN summit managed to renew the energy in the talks but at this point it seems unlikely.
Many are still turning hopeful eyes to the US and the Obama administration. But it is bogged down trying to get health reform passed by Congress and has the economy and two wars to deal with. It seems as if climate is just going to have to wait its turn.
It is worth wondering whether there are others who could step into this leadership breach. If there is not decisive single leadership to be had, we need stronger voices to give practical support to the consensus.
Business has too often been seen as opposing any action on this issue but it is only a very narrow section of interest that has ever declared an interest. The development of greener technologies in energy mineral extraction, transport and construction engineering – to name but a few sectors – would be enormously beneficial, will generate jobs and profits and is bound to happen; the only question is when. Market leaders in green technologies are going to be both popular and prosperous.
It is perhaps time for entrepreneurs to step forward with some of the leadership that, at present, sadly enough, political leaders seem little able to offer.
This article was originally written for a GIZ International Business eForum on Business Fights Poverty.
This article is based on a blog first published on 16 September 2009 on Dan Smith’s Blog and was expanded by Dan Smith for the IBF Background Report.