Sunday, December 20, 2009

The failure of Copenhagen

I was not optimistic that a strong and binding global agreement would be reached at Copenhagen in December, but the so called "Copenhagen Accord" still came as a bitter disappointment.

It is apparent that most of the so called "developed nations" are not willing to curb their indulgent and excessive use of fossil fuels. These nations, including the United States, Europe, Australia and Canada, have produced most of the carbon emissions to date and still have very high per capita carbon emissions, yet they are unwilling to take substantive action to reduce their emissions.

For example, Kevin Rudd was only prepared to commit to a 5% emission reduction target, and he capped the "negotiating range" prior to Copenhagen first at 15% then at 25%. Yet in Bali in 2008, it was agreed based on scientific advice that developed nations should make cuts in the 25% to 40% range.

Australia negotiated at Copenhagen in bad faith. A 5% target is ludicrous and the 25% target was an absolute minimum rather than a maximum.

Many small and developing nations - such as Tuvalu in the Pacific - are feeling severe impacts of climate change through sea levels rises that are engulfing them. Little wonder they were not impressed by rich developed nations ignoring their plight and refusing to put significant emission reduction cuts of 40% or greater on the table.

I believe that the only fair and equitable target is to restrict carbon emissions to 2 tonnes per person per year. This would create a level playing field for all humanity.

The Copenhagen accord is a political agreement that specifies a voluntary target of restricting global temperature increase to 2C. However, current emissions by the world's nations put us on track for a 3.5C rise which scientists tell us would be catastrophic.

It is clear that global and national political and economic systems are failing to address climate change and associated ecosystem collapse, even though we have the technology and opportunity to move to low carbon economies and lifestyles.

It is time for the blame game to end. We must set and achieve goals to ensure a safe climate future such as limiting per capita carbon emissions to 2 tonnes per person, limiting global temperature increases to 1.5C, and reducing atmospheric CO2 to between 300-350ppm.



Anonymous said...

Very depressing. But lets keep up the good fight! Hopefully as the cost of alternative energy keeps going down and down we can reach a turning point.

Grant said...

Peter, I like most Australians did not expect much to come from Copenhagen. I know you worked in a corporate environment, and would have experienced meetings with a cast of thousands where, due to the numbers, vested interests, etc. nothing was achieved.

In my view, we should now (and should have done from the start), restricted the Copenhagen show to the top 20 polluters, and had them work out emission reductions that their economies, businesses, and electorates would have accepteed. Binding targets with penalties are a major negative, as these items are sure to ensure that Western Governments only agree to attempting to reduce their emissions to very small amounts. No Western Government would survive if their nation did not meet targets and they had to reduce spending on Health, Education, Welfare, Transport, and even the Environment, to enable them to pay some imposed penalty.

I have noticed that Bob Brown has stated that next years election will be fought on emission reductions, but I suspect that this would be very dangerous as it would be very easy for a opportunistic party to prove that costs of energy will go througth the roof, taxes will dramtically increase (possibly through a carbon tax), unemployment increase, all cost increases to businesses would be passed to the electorate, and Government expenditure would have to be decreased in major areas affecting the electorate.

It would be better for the Greens to work with the Government of the day, to reduce emissions, over say 20 - 50 years, through steps that do not impact too dramtically the living standards of Australians. Remember, Australians buy 800k - 900k new motor vehicles a year, hundreds of millions of electrical appliances, and we need to build tens of thousands of new homes each year. It would be a very brave / stupid party that went to the electorate, and told them that what ever they had bought, they cannot use as somebody is going to price the cost of energy so they cannot use the new item just purchased. Add to this, if somebody did push up the price of energy, then inflation would ensure interest rates rise, causing more pain to the electorate. No, Bob needs to work with the Government to reduce emissions through steps that all stakeholders agree to, and that will not impact too dramtically the living standards of the electorate.

Peter Campbell said...


Australia has developed a meeting culture in both government and corporate circles where there is often too much talk and too little action.

The problem with restricting Copenhagen negotiations to the top 20 polluters is that they are all demonstrating great unwillingness to stop their polluting ways, and it is the rest of the world that is suffering as a result. In particular, small developing nations of the Pacific are worst impacted - the writing is on the wall for their demise due to sea level rises.

Look at the protests that brewed up around G20 talkfests and top down globlisation policies - I really don't think it is in the worlds' best interests to go back there.

A global 2 tonnes per capita targets would get around specifying and agreeing individual country targets.

I think that spending on sectors like health, education, welfare and transport now need to allocated in a framework where avoiding dangerous climate change is the number one priority - otherwise they all be adversely impacted as the effects of climate change intensify. Imagine a Black Saturday every year for the next decade.

I think the next election will be fought on all the normal topics with lots of the usual spin - just look at the Higgins by-election as a case in point.

Unfortunately it seems that more climate catastrophes are required to shift the majority of voters away from the "politics as usual" of the old parties.

The really big opportunities that are being overlooked are green and clean energy jobs and exports - which can be acheived without a dramatic drop in living standards. Beware the scare campaigns of the big polluters. They really don't care about jobs, or the environment.

We need som real courage from our political leaders, not the fawning to old industries that we currently see from both the Labor and Liberal parties.

Anonymous said...

I worked on the Higgins campaign for the greens - I dont understand why people were down about it - it was a great result!

33% primary vote with no labor candidate, highest federal primary vote ever. Better than the 28% they got in Kooyong, with a similar high profile candidate, Peter Singer.

And the Liberals spent half a million versus the greens 35k.

A great result.