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Monday, December 21, 2009

Newsweek: Copenhagen R.I.P

Originally at the Breakthrough Institute

Newsweek's senior science writer Sharon Begley doesn't mince words in her post-mortem on Copenhagen. Declaring "Good Riddance to Copenhagen," Begley writes:

That sound you'll hear in 2010 is a can being kicked down the road. Again. In the wake of the failure of the international negotiations in Copenhagen to reach a legally binding treaty to reduce greenhouse gases, you'll hear a lot of talk about how the world has two good chances in the new year to achieve what it failed to do at Copenhagen. Don't believe it. ...

The best chance of reining in emissions of greenhouse gases and avoiding dangerous climate change is to stamp a big green R.I.P. over the sprawling United Nations process that the Copenhagen talks were part of.

That's because developed countries are no more likely to work out their differences with developing countries before those 2010 meetings than they did before Copenhagen. Must China, India, and Brazil agree to legally binding, verifiable cuts in their carbon-dioxide emissions? How much will rich countries ante up to help poorer ones segue to noncarbon renewable-energy sources and adapt to rising seas, droughts, dwindling water supplies, and crop failures? Will countries have to accept international monitoring of their emissions, which drives China crazy? Rather than repeating the Copenhagen charade in 2010, then, it's time for creative destruction.

Accept that the 192 nations roped together by the U.N. will not agree on a meaningful climate treaty next year either. Drop the pretense that every country matters equally. Instead, set up bilateral talks and a "club" of the countries that do matter: a mere dozen account for almost all greenhouse emissions.
Sounds like another cogent call for a new Climate Realpolitik actually capable of bending the course of global emissions downwards and putting the world on a clean development path.

As the Breakthrough Institute's Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus write:
The death of the UNFCCC heralds the end of the delusion that nation-states will radically alter their energy, forestry, and agricultural paths through pollution regulations and a massive and extremely complicated global carbon market managed by Wall Street firms. It will mark the end of the belief that serious action on climate is better negotiated with representatives from 193 U.N. member nations in the room, rather than bilaterally or between a handful of large economies, which generate the bulk of emissions.

It should also land a death-blow to the dark fantasy that we'll solve global warming by restricting economic growth. ...

A more appropriate forum will allow major economies to more easily advance their collective self-interest through real actions, such as energy and agricultural technology development, rather than United Nations-certified acts of altruism, such as more development aid or purchasing fake emissions reductions in the form of offets. Climate realpolitik must function in a larger context of trade and technology innovation, both of which have historically created win-win opportunities between nations. ...

If we're lucky, the historians of the future will look back at Copenhagen as the beginning of the secularization of climate policy, a time when the religiosity, pomposity, and mania of efforts to reduce emissions were asked to take a back seat by serious nations who had left the simulacrum to do the hard and vital work of shaping a new, real world.
After the chaos in Copenhagen, Begley concludes, such a change in tact could not come a moment too soon:
With the emerging science on sea-level rise, it is becoming clearer that it isn't just the good people of the Maldives who will have to look for a new home. Even more reason to say good riddance to Copenhagen, and replace it with something that actually has a prayer of reining in dangerous climate change.

Begley's full column can be read here.

See Breakthrough's collected Copenhagen coverage here.

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