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Fri Apr 27, 2012, 01:28 PM

A different take on the collapse of the Copenhagen climate talks

Last edited Fri Apr 27, 2012, 02:02 PM - Edit history (1)

I have a lot of issues wth JMG's position on the problems of industrial civilization and climate change, mostly revolving around his condescending "Now, now, there, there, children..." tone of voice, but this bit on the geopolitics surrounding climate change seems entirely believable to me.

Seascape With Methane Plumes

Those of my readers who remember how the WTO talks at Cancun in 2003 crashed and burned may have experienced deja vu when the climate talks at Copenhagen in 2009 did exactly the same thing. The resemblance is not accidental. In the years leading up to the Copenhagen climate talks, the US and its allies argued that it was necessary to replace the Kyoto protocols of 1997 – which mostly restricted carbon emissions from the industrial nations – with a new set that would apply to industrializing countries as well. This was fair enough in the abstract, but the devil was in the details: in this case, the quotas that would place China, India, and other industrializing nations at a permanent disadvantage, and grandfather in the much higher per capita carbon emissions of the United States, Europe and Japan.

Environmental rhetoric has been used for such purposes often enough in the past. One of my college ecology textbooks, copyright 1981, mentions ruefully that attempts to pressure Third World nations into enacting strict environmental protections had come to be recognized by those nations as simply one more round of attempts to keep them in a state of permanent economic dependence. While there was more going on than this – the environmental movement in general, like the climate change activist movement in particular, has always included a large number of idealists with the purest of motives – it’s a safe bet that the Third World nations were broadly correct in their assessment, as none of the industrial nations that exerted the pressure ever proposed, let’s say, to forbid their own nationals from exporting environmentally destructive products to the Third World.

The stakes at Copenhagen, in other words, were rather different from those discussed in the media, and the outcome could have been predicted from the debacle six years earlier at Cancun. When it became clear to the major players that the United States and its allies were not going to get what they wanted, the entire process fell apart, leaving China to seize the initiative and offer a face-saving compromise that committed neither bloc to any limits that matter. Afterwards, since climate change had failed to keep the BRIC nations at bay, the US dropped the issue like a hot rock; the financial hangover of the housing bubble made climate change lose its appeal to the Democratic Party; and activists suddenly discovered that what they thought was a rising groundswell of support was simply the result of being temporarily funded and used for somebody else’s political advantage.

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