At climate conference, just more talk

Big emitters like China are refusing to act and the new Congress is full of climate-change deniers.

Rolf Westgard

Today, representatives from most of the worldâÄôs nations will meet in a U.N.-sponsored Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico, in an effort to reach an agreement to address global warming. This meeting follows the December 2009 U.N. Climate Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, which barely managed to achieve a nonbinding accord. Preliminary meetings before Copenhagen, especially a major one in Bali, Indonesia, called the Bali Road Map, established a working document theme for Copenhagen delegates.

The Bali Road Map stated that evidence for human-caused global warming was unequivocal, and it called for a long-term global goal for emission reductions. It urged enhanced action on clean energy technology and the transfer of this technology to developing countries.

It also set out the necessity for substantial financial support by developed countries for developing countries in order that they could make economic progress while curbing emissions. The result of Bali was the following Copenhagen theme. It pinned the blame for existing atmosphere emission levels on developed nations and created an adversarial climate for Copenhagen, stating:

“Developed country Parties shall provide financial resources and transfer technology to developing country Parties to make full and effective repayment of âÄòclimate debt,âÄô including adaptation debt, taking responsibility for their historical cumulative emissions and current high per capita emissions.”

A final Copenhagen accord adopted a target limit on future warming without setting out specific measures to achieve it. It also set a goal of $100 billion in aid for developing countries from developed countries such as the U.S., Japan and most of Europe. The notion of sending aid to industrial China, which poses as a developing nation, did not appeal to the U.S. Congress.

The Copenhagen Accord relies completely on voluntary contributions toward climate protection that the nations were supposed to specify by Feb. 1, 2010. That amounted to a kind of collection-plate principle, by which each nation gives what it considers appropriate. The Copenhagen plate is essentially empty.

The gulf between developed and developing countries remains wide. ItâÄôs not likely that deficit-plagued developed nations will grant tens of billions of dollars to developing nations or transfer technology to developing Asian competitors, some of whom already lead in green technology.

Still, the real rivals are not other nations but the laws of atmospheric chemistry and physics. Global temperatures for the first nine months of 2010 equal those in 1998, the warmest year in recorded history. And 1998 had the benefit of a major global warming El Nino. As of Nov. 25, 2010, the arctic ice cap was smaller than it was on the same date in the record low year of 2007, continuing a steady shrinking trend.

Above all, the two big emitters, the U.S. and China, are not going to play this year or in the next. China notes that its per capita emissions are one-fifth that of the U.S., and it needs to burn increasing amounts of its coal to maintain growth and improve living standards.

President Barack Obama could not pass a weak climate bill when he had Democratic majorities in Congress. Nearly all of those newly elected Republicans are global warming skeptics, leaving the chances of any real action on global warming emissions roughly equal to winning the Powerball.

 

Rolf Westgard taught “Global Warming: real or myth” for the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Lifelong Learning Program. Please send
comments to [email protected].