December 10, 2011

In the third #CO2 corner in Durban, it's India, with climate #deniers

Will we finally, potentially, get a handle on Chinese emissions?/NY Times
That's the latest word from the Durban, South Africa climate talks: New Delhi wants to water down a seemingly watered-down "agreement" even further, one that seems to have brought China and the U.S. at least baby steps closer together. Here's the key point:
India is emerging as the country leading opposition to a strong binding deal on climate change at the annual UN talks in South Africa.
Other important countries including the US are prepared to negotiate an emission-curbing "legal instrument" by 2015, taking effect by 2020.
India is holding out for a start after 2020, and the weaker "legal outcome."
 My guess? India thinks it won't be able to catch up to China enough on industrialization by 2020. This from a country that shows the disorganization perils of democracy for more than 1 billion people, that adds to those perils with a level of corruption that probably, on a petty scale, at least, rides well above China's, and still has the semi-official, climate-harming goal, of passing China in population, and preferably sooner rather than later.

In short, it's a country that, towards Beijing, has a kinder, gentler form of the same sort of paranoia that Pakistan shows toward it.

It's true that papering over disagreements between China and America may turn out to be nothing other than kicking the can down the road five years. But, if there's a glimmer of hope that China (and Brazil) are agreeable to being treated as "top-tier developing nations" and not just "developing nations," with a plea for more time to work out details, then that is progress of some sort.

And, it's clear that even that is unacceptable to some denialists, big business interests or somebody:
What delayed matters further was a fake text issued apparently by the South African presidency after consultation with the EU, US, Brazil, India and China.
It contained weaker targets and longer timescales, and was initially greeted with consternation by the EU, Aosis and the LDCs, which have been pressing hardest for a strong deal.
The consternation turned to fury when it was discovered that the text was fake. European officials said it appeared to be a deliberate attempt to stall negotiations.
The perpetrator has not been identified. But it appears likely that the aim was to fracture the ad-hoc partnership between the EU and its developing world allies.
Meanwhile, beyond paranoia over China, it seems India wants to have its cake, of acting like it's a top-tier developing nation, and eat it, too, by still trying to act like "just a developing nation."

Well, a lot of China's economic growth may be little more than bubbles; its population control may have been too harsh, and its limited political liberalization may be largely unacceptable within its borders to its own residents as well as outside, but, it's showing a level of activity India isn't.

That said, the proposed agreement may be little more than papering over issues and kicking the can of U.S.-Chinese loggerheads down the road. Perhaps that's why U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern is so supportive of it.
Speakers from many developed countries said the package of documents more than 100 pages thick did not go far enough to help poor nations and did not require industrial countries to make more immediate and serious cuts in their carbon emissions. But most said they would accept it for lack of a better option. ...

A separate document obliges major developing nations like China and India, excluded under Kyoto, to accept legally binding emissions targets in the future, by 2020 at the latest.

Together, the two documents overhaul a system designed 20 years ago that divide the world into a handful of wealthy countries facing legal obligations to reduce emissions, and the rest of the world which could undertake voluntary efforts to control carbon.
I have blogged going back at least two international climate conferences that the world needed a three-tiered, not two-tiered, set of nations, with "top-level developing nations" considered separate from the Botswanas and similar countries.
Now, we tentatively have it. Let's see both China and the United States grow up in climate change responsibility, and see India stop engaging in its new-found petulance.

It's regrettable that it took at least one, if not two, additional climate conferences than it should have to get even this much done, but the realist part of me will take it, even if it takes until 2020 to define what the in-between BRICs and others will have to meet in terns of emissions targets.

Another advantage of that is that, assuming China agrees to said targets, is it stops dirtier U.S. businesses from exporting quite so much pollution.

More thoughts below the fold.

All of the above said about Durban in particular and climate change in general, the New York Times throws out a question: Should governments' economic advisers as well as environmental staff be at climate talks?
Effectively addressing climate change will require over the coming decades a fundamental remaking of energy production, transportation and agriculture around the world — the sinews of modern life. It is simply too big a job for the men and women who have gathered for these talks under the 1992 United Nations treaty that began this grinding process. 
“There is a fundamental disconnect in having environment ministers negotiating geopolitics and macroeconomics,” said Nick Robins, an energy and climate change analyst at HSBC, the London-based global bank. ...
Negotiators left for another day the precise sources of the money for the Green Climate Fund (the money pool for rich nations to help developing nations get greener) and how and by whom it would be disbursed. But, in discussing this question last week, Todd D. Stern, the chief American climate negotiator, revealed his own qualms about the inability of the United Nations climate bureaucracy to deal with the broad political and financial questions posed by climate change. 

“We want to see a green fund that is going to draw in a lot of capital from countries all over the world, including the United States,” Mr. Stern said at a briefing. “And although I love climate negotiators and spend much of my time with them, they are not necessarily the most qualified people to run a multibillion-dollar fund.”
These are serious issues. Could having economists involved help? That said, this assumes that government environmentalists are in zero contact with economists, either before or during talks.

It also assumes that economists won't act like neoliberals or worse, and fail to adequately price environmental benefits, to the degree you can put a price on them.

Consider the U.S. Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, which writer John M. Broder didn't. Today? Wingnuts would be having wet dreams of obstructionism at applying cost-benefits analysis to such legislation.

So, in John M. Broder's world of rational but big-picture neoliberals, or Todd Stern's world or rational Obamiac big-picture neolibs, yes, this would be a great idea. In reality? Today's talks would seem like a walk in the park compared to a likely clusterfuck like that.

Speaking of money, climate skeptic lite Bjorn Lomborg says, where's the green development fund money actually at? He's right, but people better than him have raised the same question. His comments about the West, especially the U.S., needing to do more with both green energy and conservation are true but also a red herring. While the U.S. could do more on both sides, it's already doing a fair amount with green energy.

Finally, let's remember that people at Durban just agreed to discuss tightening parameters. Until we get a more binding treaty, requiring action, and, per the Guardian, we actually get that action, all we had in South Africa was more talk, nothing else. So, while I am hopeful from what I saw, I can also agree with the Guardian's Damien Carrington: I"ll wait and see if the necessary actions happen.

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