TCS Daily

TCS COP 10 Coverage: Changing of the Guard

By Alan Oxley - December 15, 2004 12:00 AM

The picture was worth a thousand words.

When Paula Dobrianksy, the State Department's senior official on climate change, presented Washington's partnership programs on climate change this week during the Buenos Aires conference on climate change, alongside her on the platform were the representatives of China, India and Italy. This is who is now in charge of UN climate change negotiations. No wonder NGOs looked glum. The European Commission, the leading backer of the Kyoto Protocol is isolated and no longer driving the global climate change debate. The Protocol is doomed to be a five year wonder.

The EU and the NGOs came to Buenos Aries to celebrate the entry into force of the Protocol. The UN Secretariat had festooned is administrative offices at La Rural, the international conference centre in Buenos Aries with posters carrying the message, "Ten years in partnership". The posters listed the NGOs who had campaigned for Kyoto. The European Commission offices were emblazoned with the message "Combating Climate Change for Ten Years".

This message was unintentionally ironic. There is little to show for Commission effort. The Kyoto Protocol will have no impact on levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and would probably slow growth in the world economy a little if it is fully implemented. Climatologists would say, "What would you expect? Ten years is a nanosecond in climate time".

The commitments in Kyoto run out in 2012. They only apply to industrialized countries. The writing was on the wall last year in Milan at the 9th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Developing countries had already made clear they would not make commitments in the future to cut emissions.

This made the European Commission, Greenpeace, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Friends of the Earth edgy in Milan. Despite 10 years of agitation with exaggeration and unsubstantiated claims of calumny and doom about global warming, the Kyoto Protocol was the best they could do and it fell far short of their expectations. To make the best of a bad situation, they started justifying Kyoto as "just the first step", arguing Kyoto itself did not have to make a difference, it would just begin a process where progressively tougher and tougher terms would be adopted in subsequent "steps".

The Environment Directorate of the European Commission has been cocky about Kyoto. The Bush Administration's refusal to support Kyoto had been lambasted in Europe as one of the defining examples of US "unilateralism" (the other being invasion of Iraq) which undermined the multilateral system of international affairs.

In Buenos Aires, the Bush Administration showcased peerless multilateral diplomacy. Here it was working publicly hand in glove with China, a leader of the developing country group, and India, another leader in that group. It even was working with Italy, immediate past President of the EU. The European Commission is isolated and casual slights against the US have ceased, except among the NGOs who haven't twigged to the change.

They are simply sullen and puzzled. One confessed he couldn't work out why the mood was different. This was typical. By and large NGOs have failed to understand the capacity of the UN to work conscientiously on colossal white elephants which have no prospect of working and, when finally reality bites -- usually when Governments work out the cost -- discarding them or reshaping them into something else. The US and the developing countries decided in Buenos Aires to discard the Protocol.

The leading question in Buenos Aries is "What do we do after Kyoto?" The US, China and the developing countries have said "Not more of the same".

They are content to let the Europeans sort out how to meet their foolish and ineffective commitments. If the permissiveness of France and Germany to the disciplines of the Euromoney system is any guide, they will flout them as it suits. The EU is already dividing. Italy has announced that it will not support proposals for Kyoto Mark II that lays down binding commitments to reduce carbon dioxide.

The US is in charge in Buenos Aires. At last we might now start to get some serious thinking about the climate change issue. Rather than rush in and tax energy to reduce consumption (and growth) a more practical approach is to open up power sectors to encourage foreign investment and installation of modern combustion technologies. This would be very effective in reducing emissions of carbon dioxide in the fast growing East Asian economies. This will also provide time to get a better understanding of the science of climate change. It is by no means clear that global warming of any significance is occurring or that human activity is the trigger if it is.

The developing countries are not just following the US lead. They appreciate that the Kyoto strategy of regulating reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide will flatten growth. The Greens accuse them of ignoring the impending threat of greenhouse warming. They are not stupid. They evidently find the case of global warming and the science adduced to support it unconvincing.

Alan Oxley is host of the Asian Pacific page of Techcentralstation and Chairman of the National Australian APEC Study Centre.


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