TCS Daily


Game, Set and Match?

By Bob Carter - August 5, 2005 12:00 AM

The politics of climate change has been moving with breakneck speed recently. Leaked plans for Asia-Pacific Climate Plan, which generated the front page headline in Australia's national paper last week ("New Asia-Pacific Climate Plan"; The Australian, July 27), may signal the approaching culmination of a long and hard-fought match.

A longstanding dilemma confronting the Australian and U.S. government has been how to deal with incessant pressure from green politicians and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to be seen to be "doing something about global warming." The U.S. benefits from a cheap-petroleum economy and Australia from its possession of abundant resources of coal, gas and uranium. Signing the ineffectual and expensive Kyoto Protocol has never been a serious option for either country, green pressure notwithstanding.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair sought to focus attention on Australia and the US by announcing he would use Britain's E.U. Presidency to develop a new policy on climate change that would "bring into the fold" both the USA and developing countries such as India and China.

Mr. Blair's attempt to use the July Gleneagles G8 summit as a step towards such a Europe-led policy turned into a fiasco. Shortly before the meeting the British Royal Society alienated both the Russian and American academies of science by misrepresenting their views in the press release for a much-hyped "new consensus" report on climate change. Then on the first day of the G8 summit, global warming scaremongering was identified as such, when a powerful House of Lords Committee report contradicted large parts of the prevailing global warming myth.

Amongst other things, the Lords' Report asserted that the Kyoto Protocol was not worth supporting; that the IPCC's advice on climate change was tainted by political interference; that the benefits of any global warming which might occur over coming decades were underplayed; and that the science of climate change remains uncertain.

In consequence, The Times commented that "Britain's environmental policy is a costly shambles based on dubious predictions about the future," which statement might serve as an appropriate epitaph for the entire global warming scam.

It is therefore not surprising that the final G8 climate change communiqué comprised mostly vague generalizations about stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions. It also contained such masterpieces of ambiguous diplowrite as "While uncertainties remain in our understanding of climate science, we know enough to act now to put ourselves on a path to slow and, as the science justifies, stop and then reverse the growth of greenhouse gases."

This statement was, of course, interpreted by green interests as signaling that President Bush had accepted that the science already shows that human emissions are causing significant global warming. More balanced commentators pointed out the alternative meaning, namely that any need to deal with greenhouse emissions is contingent on new science establishing first that there is a problem that needs fixing.

Enter the Australian government, which on July 26 finally released a 159 page report from the Allen Consulting Group, entitled "Climate Change Risk and Vulnerability." The report, which was unauthored and appears to have been prepared by economists with few scientific credentials, caused environment minister Ian Campbell to acknowledge that "climate change is a reality and Australia must deal with the consequences of that."

The lead article in The Australian that announced the new climate pact between USA, Australia, South Korea, Japan, India and China, and which was based on leaked information, appeared the very next day. Coincidence? To be known as the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate (so much for European leadership on climate management), this U.S. led initiative will "aim to use the latest technologies to limit emissions and to make sure the technologies are available in the areas and industries that need them most". Confirmed from U.S. sources, the story then ricocheted around the world such that within 24 hours a Google search generated more than 250 media stories on the issue!

Traditional environmental pressure groups reacted predictably by commenting that the agreement was symbolic, and that to rely on future technological fixes was dangerous and did not address the issue of climate change in the here and now. More balanced environmental groups, such as the newly formed Australian Environmental Foundation, sensibly welcome the use of technology to solve environmental problems.

The discomfort of hardline political greens to the outflanking of their long-outdated Kyoto evangelism is already palpable. This is not surprising, because the new climate initiative has the following implications:

  • Developing new technology WILL, unlike Kyoto measures, make a genuine environmental difference, irrespective of whether future temperatures go up, down or remain about the same. Furthermore, technology can be used to clean many things more important than the greatly overhyped pseudo-problem of carbon dioxide emissions.

  • Using technology to improve efficiency of energy generation and usage, and to reduce dangerous emissions, is a classic "no regrets" policy. Driven by public opinion and other market forces, such new technologies are already emerging. It makes complete sense for governments to give them a helping hand, and to ensure new fixes are made readily available to developing countries.

  • The pact delivers a lesson in diplomacy and politics to British Prime Minister Blair, and the vacuity of his unsuccessful Gleneagles posturing on climate change now stands revealed.

More generally, the new Pacific climate accord brilliantly finesses the EU, whose members, together with Canada and New Zealand, are locked into the ineffectual and costly Kyoto accord. Not being developing countries, and therefore receiving no technological favors, they will be forced to compete fiercely for a position in new energy technology fields, all the while lumbered with massive Kyoto bills.

Though development of the new Pacific climate accord was led by the USA, by his participation Australian Prime Minister Howard yet again sends a message to his detractors not to underestimate his political skills.

An accord to develop new technology to improve the efficiency and cleanliness of energy generation satisfies at one stroke three imperatives of Australian national interest. First it cements ties with USA. Second, it strengthens ties with the three largest and most economically important Asian countries. And third, signing the accord will go far to counter the pressure that the Howard government has been under over their (entirely sensible) intransigence over Kyoto.

Australian and trans-national green organizations will, of course, not take all of this lying down. But with their shrill misassertions that dangerous human global warming is a proven fact (it isn't), they have backed themselves so far up Kyoto's blind alley that turning around without much loss of face will be difficult.

Tony Blair has a deserved reputation as an international spinmeister of excellence, bar none. But in the combination of President Bush and Prime Minister Howard, he has more than met his match.

With clever politics and exquisite timing, the U.S. and Australian governments now appear to have a firm grasp on the tail of the climate change tiger.

Professor Bob Carter, of the Marine Geophysical Laboratory, James Cook University, is a former director of the Australian Secretariat for the Ocean Drilling Program, the world's pre-eminent international collaborative program in environmental and geological science.

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