Annual Green Theatrics
UN Climate Summit ‘Headed For Collapse’ - Again
A stand-off over how many billions of dollars wealthy countries should stump up to help poorer nations cope with climate change over the next three years is prompting concern that fresh UN climate negotiations may be headed for collapse. The talks in the Qatari capital of Doha are entering their final five days. But they risk collapse, according to some negotiators, unless developed countries formally agree to commit to as much as $60bn in fresh funding by 2015. --Pilita Clark, Financial Times, 3 December 2012
Climate change talks have been rescued from the brink of collapse by a last minute “huddle” between the EU and India to create an “historic deal to save the planet”. --Louise Gray, The Daily Telegraph, 11 December 2011
Less than a day after the international summit in Cancun hit deadlock, a breakthrough agreement was reached amid scenes of tearful jubilation. --Geoffrey Lean, The Daily Telegraph, 13 December 2010
The United Nations climate talks that seemed headed for sure disaster were saved from utter collapse late Friday night in Copenhagen, after leaders from the U.S., India, Brazil, South Africa and China came to an agreement to combat global warming. --Bryan Walsh, TIME Magazine, 18 December 2009
Deadlock threatens Copenhagen climate deal... but down worry, the planet will be saved by brave politicians at the last minute of the last day. --The Global Warming Policy Foundation, 14 December 2009
High drama characterized the final days of the UN climate summit. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon returned to Bali to try and broker an agreement. ... Just five minutes later, when it appeared the conference was on the brink of collapse, Dobriansky took to the floor again to announce the United States was willing to accept the arrangement. Applause erupted in the hall and a relative level of success for the conference appeared certain. –- World Council of Churches, 2005
US climate change negotiator Jonathan Pershing says there is no chance of the USA signing up to a climate deal that requires the country to make substantial cuts in its emissions. “If we can’t take it home and sell it at home, in whatever political economy we are living in, we won’t do it,” he said. --Ed King, RTCC News, 30 November 2012
The annual theatrics of the climate change conference has entered the second half of its intense but, by all accounts, futile negotiation process in Doha. If the world, especially the developing world, didn't get anything out of the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009, which was supposed to finalize a binding agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, it cannot expect anything from Doha either. –Op Rana, China Daily, 3 December 2012
The pattern of climate talks is pretty clear. An alliance of bureaucrats wanting the conference and position paper gravy train to keep rolling with greens who think a futile process is better than nothing keep the charade alive. Many rich country politicians are fine with that; a “process” that allows them to appease greens without having to impose unpopular measures is not a bad thing. --Walter Russell Mead, Via Meadia, 30 November 2012
The 18th UN Conference on climate change negotiations has just started in Doha. The probability of success is a mere 2.3%. Recently, over $100 million per year was spent on fruitless negotiations. Having flogged, ever harder for 18 years, the dead horse of legally binding emission targets, the UN should close that chapter and try something new. --Richard Tol, Vox, 27 November 2012
1) Annual Green Theatrics: UN Climate Summit ‘Headed For Collapse’ Again (For The Umpty-Umpth Time) - Financial Times, 3 December 2012
2) There’s No Chance USA Signing Up To Climate Deal - RTCC News, 30 November 2012
3) Qatar Plan Threatens To Kill Un Climate Summit - The Times of India, 1 December 2012
4) Walter Russell Mead: Another Climate Confab Going Down in Flames? - Via Meadia, 30 November 2012
5) Richard Tol: Let’s End UN Climate Summits And Try Something News - Vox, 27 November 2012
1) Annual Green Theatrics: UN Climate Summit ‘Headed For Collapse’ Again (For The Umpty-Umpth Time)
Financial Times, 3 December 2012
A stand-off over how many billions of dollars wealthy countries should stump up to help poorer nations cope with climate change over the next three years is prompting concern that fresh UN climate negotiations may be headed for collapse.
The talks in the Qatari capital of Doha are entering their final five days. But they risk collapse, according to some negotiators, unless developed countries formally agree to commit to as much as $60bn in fresh funding by 2015.
If the negotiators fail to reach an agreement in Doha, some say it could unravel the fragile accord wrung out at the last minute at last year’s UN talks in Durban, South Africa, to finalise a new global climate pact by 2015 that would enter force by 2020.
Such warnings are often seen as negotiating stances rather than real threats at this stage of the annual two-week climate talks. But some veteran negotiators said they were unsure if the Qatari hosts of this year’s talks were doing enough to pull negotiators together to iron out a compromise.
Others said developing countries’ funding calls should not be dismissed.
“These are not idle threats, these are serious demands,” said Tim Gore of Oxfam, an experienced observer of the UN talks. “Developing countries are determined this year they won’t leave without knowing that finance levels will go up and not down from 2013.”
Wealthy countries agreed at the 2009 UN climate talks in Copenhagen that they would mobilise $100bn a year by 2020 to help poor countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
To prove it, they agreed to put up $30bn over the three years from 2010 to 2012 in what was known as “fast start finance”.
2) There’s No Chance USA Signing Up To Climate Deal
RTCC News, 30 November 2012
US climate change negotiator Jonathan Pershing says there is no chance of the USA signing up to a climate deal that requires the country to make substantial cuts in its emissions.
The Times of India has obtained a transcript from a closed meeting with NGOs Pershing attended in Doha on Wednesday evening, where he outlined the USA’s ‘red lines’ when it comes to negotiations on a 2015 climate treaty.
In particular he takes issue with proposals for atmospheric quantities of CO2 to be ‘equitably’ divided among the world’s states, arguing that it would leave the US having to commit economic suicide.
“It’s a vision you can say that the atmosphere can take an X quantity of coal emissions and therefore what you do is you divide that number into percentage,” he said.
“The obligation it states is that you (the US) would have to reduce its emissions down to negative 37% (below 1990 levels).
“And the obligation of China will be a tiny bit, but India can still grow quite a lot. The politics of that quite frankly really don’t work. I can’t really sell that to the US Congress.
“One way to think about it is what you could deliver. You say what you are going to do and you will be held to that. So how do you marry the reality of what you are doing with the reality of what is needed. To me, it’s going to be a hybrid. It’s going to be something between those two.
“If we can’t take it home and sell it at home, in whatever political economy we are living in, we won’t do it.”
While the comments come as little surprise to observers who have followed the USA for many years, they do emphasise the challenge that negotiators will face as they dig into the detail of a 2015 binding agreement.
US President Barack Obama has already said he will only take actions that will boost US jobs: “if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody’s going to go for that. I won’t go for that,” he said.
3) Qatar Plan Threatens To Kill Un Climate Summit
The Times of India, 1 December 2012
Qatar wants to scrap the work done so far and get a set of key ministers to draft new negotiating texts, according to media reports.
Host Qatar plans to start a ministerial-level closed door meeting at the ongoing UN climate negotiations but outside the formal schedule, which could potentially short circuit and make redundant the negotiator-level talks that started on November 26.
The move has got several developing countries, who have been informed of the plan, agitated.
While a pre-schedule meeting of the 190 plus ministers is slated for December 5, sources in the developing countries told TOI that the host plans to hold a meeting of ministers even before the date. This has evoked distrust and bad blood among gathered nations that have been characteristic of UN climate talks.
The normal process at such two-week-long annual UN negotiations starts with officials and negotiators from the gathered countries trying to hammer out as much consensus as they can and leave the remaining political decisions to the ministers to draw a conclusion. The final decisions of UN meetings are adopted only when there is a complete consensus among all gathered countries.
But, sources told TOI that Qatar wants to scrap the work done so far and get a set of key ministers to draft new negotiating texts. One key developing country negotiator, who spoke to TOI on condition of anonymity, expressed fears that this would bring to naught all the effort put in so far, and put several smaller countries out of the frame from decision making.
When host Denmark did the same at the UN climate meeting in Copenhagen in 2009, it led to an acrimonious end to the talks with the gathered countries failing to approve the decisions taken behind closed doors first by a select group of less than 30 countries and later the BASIC four along with the US. Denmark faced severe flak for the move.
In Durban too last year, host South Africa began a ministerial round table outside the official process producing new negotiating texts out of the blue leading to clashes between rich and developing world, and a marathon meeting was held much beyond the scheduled closure.
The talks here are embroiled in bitter arguments over how to keep key issues of finance, equity, global peaking years and concerns alive even as the existing two tracks — the LCA and Kyoto Protocol — draw to a close this year. The US is keen that no unresolved issue from 2007 till date be taken into the negotiations on the new global treaty currently under negotiation. The US is joined by other developed countries, while a few others want only issues of their interest to be on the agenda for the post-2020 regime.
4) Walter Russell Mead: Another Climate Confab Going Down in Flames?
Via Meadia, 30 November 2012
The latest round of climate talks in Doha began Tuesday in the usual fashion—with a spate of bickering and accusations between developing countries and the West. China and India led a group of 15–20 developing countries calling for their developed peers to reduce emissions (in particular, Annex 1, the group that took part in the Kyoto protocol).
Greens, for their part, are championing this development. TheTimes of India has their take on the situation:
Too often in the previous couple of years the small island developing countries and LDCs have cozied up to the EU. But they too mounted pressure on the developed world to do more.
“The commitments proposed by those parties ready to join a second commitment period are roughly consistent with an aggregate 20% reduction below 1990 levels by 2020. So this ambition must be urgently increased, and the time for this increase is here in Doha,” said the Association of Small Island States at the launch of Doha talks.
The US came under attack by Gambia, who spoke on behalf of the LDCs, with the African nation singling out the biggest historical emitter. “We also hope that the year with a monster storm and scorching heat waves, as well as the re-elected leadership will lead the US to be more active and will no longer be a disinterested bystander in this process,” Gambia hit out in a rare outburst of nations singling out others by name in such international diplomatic wars.
India, China & Co. would like Annex 1 to commit to reducing emissions. The green NGOs present at the conference agree emphatically and are calling for a second, legally binding Kyoto Protocol—this time without the loopholes which, in their view, gutted the original agreement. They plead that not taking stronger action now will set a precedent for the future.
On the other side, the U.S. is flatly refusing any binding measure. (The original Kyoto Protocol lost a 95-0 vote in the Senate, with even the most liberal senators deserting the greens on an agreement that would have given India and China significant advantages over the United States. A second Kyoto would probably not do much better in today’s Senate without deep changes.) The EU, for its part, says that it will commit only if its fellow developed nations do the same and if economic conditions permit, which is, in essence, a “no” as well.
India and China’s bargaining position is becoming increasingly divorced from reality and is guaranteed to deadlock the climate talks. Indeed, it’s beginning to look like their position is largely intended to allow them block any progress on an idea they both fear and loathe while insulating themselves against being blamed for the likely failure of yet another round of expensive and useless negotiations.
The pattern of climate talks is pretty clear. An alliance of bureaucrats wanting the conference and position paper gravy train to keep rolling with greens who think a futile process is better than nothing keep the charade alive. Many rich country politicians are fine with that; a “process” that allows them to appease greens without having to impose unpopular measures is not a bad thing.
5) Richard Tol: Let’s End UN Climate Summits And Try Something News
Vox, 27 November 2012
The 18th UN Conference on climate change negotiations has just started in Doha. This column suggests that the probability of success is a mere 2.3%. Recently, over $100 million per year was spent on fruitless negotiations. Having flogged, ever harder for 18 years, the dead horse of legally binding emission targets, the UN should close that chapter and try something new.
Game theory suggests that attempts to negotiate an international environmental agreement, aiming to provide a global public good such as greenhouse gas emission reduction, are bound to fail (Barrett 1991, Carraro and Siniscalco 1992, Carraro and Siniscalco 1993). The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) nonetheless sought to find an agreement on legally binding targets for emission abatement. International conferences have been held each year since 1995. This year’s event, the 18th Conference, is from 26 November to 7 December in Doha, Qatar.
The previous 17 conferences have failed to reduce emissions. There were glimmers of hope in 1997 and 2001 when the Kyoto Protocol was, respectively, initiated and finalised. This international treaty, however, bound Europe and Japan to do nothing much and most other countries to do nothing at all. The US and Canada would have had substantial obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, but the US decided not to ratify the treaty and Canada withdrew after ratification.
Suspending game theoretic insights for the moment, let us assume that the first Conference of the Parties in Berlin in 1995 had a 50-50 chance of succeeding. If we further assume that the successive negotiations were independent tries, we can estimate the probability of success in Doha. The outcome of the series of negotiations follows a binomial distribution. Initialising with a Jeffrey uninformative natural conjugate Beta prior, Figure 1 shows the evolution of the expected probability and its one-sided 95% confidence bound over time. There is a 2.3% change of success in Doha, and we are 95% confident that the success probability is smaller than 22%.
An obvious critique of this calculation is that the negotiations would have changed over time. This is not the case. In the run-up to Doha, a number of organisations have released alarming reports. This has happened every year. The only surprise in 2012 was that the report by the World Bank was prepared by a former director of Greenpeace (Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics 2012). In the run-up to Doha, negotiators and climatocrats have called for legally-binding targets and timetables. Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, has called for a “centralised transformation” of the energy sector (Kolbert 2012), echoing other calls for a world government to solve the climate problem (Biermann et al. 2012). The policy rhetoric in 2012 is much the same as it was in 1995.
Empty promises and token actions by politicians are not new and not limited to greenhouse gas emission reduction policy. The international climate negotiations are expensive, though. Almost 1,000 delegates attended in 1995 (Schroeder et al. 2012). This rose to almost 11,000 in 2005 and to 24,000 in 2009. The numbers have fallen somewhat since then, with only 16,000 delegates in Durban in 2011. 17,000 delegates are expected in Doha. Almost 7,000 person-working-years have been spent on the conferences alone.
But the UNFCCC organises more than one meeting per year. In 2012, 107 meetings were held, down from 111 meetings in 2011. Meetings were (much) rarer in the earlier years. I reckon that the UNFCCC has organised 682 meetings since 1995. Some of these were small. Negotiation meetings, now held once every quarter, attract thousands of participants. Assuming an average attendance of 200 delegates (one per country) and a duration of one week (including travel), 3,000 person-working-years have been spent at subsidiary meetings. Travel and subsistence for these meetings (say $2,000/person for a subsidiary meeting and $3,000/person for a conference) would amount to over $700 million. If delegates earn $30,000/year on average, the total costs of the UNFCCC meetings alone (ignoring preparation and overhead) would be $1 billion.
Figure 1 depicts the estimated cost per year. Recently, over $100 million per year was spent in fruitless negotiations. This is not a large sum of money, but Figure 1 suggests that ever more effort has been put into an increasingly obviously hopeless venture. This seems foolhardy.
Alternatives have been suggested, and it is time they are taken seriously. Bradford (2008) points out that other global public goods are provided through voluntary contributions, often bolstered by international jamborees where countries pledge their contributions and review those of others. Tol (2010) argues that this is made easier by the international standards on emission monitoring and the international flexibility instruments through which countries and companies can invest in greenhouse gas emission reduction elsewhere. Having flogged, ever harder for 18 years, the dead horse of legally binding emission targets, the UNFCCC should close that chapter and try something new.
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