Following news of the Copenhagen summit has been a roller coaster filled with false alarms, misinformation, consternation and uncertainty. Like many people, I was hoping for a binding agreement to dramatically reduce emissions, keep temperature rises below 2 degrees and support for developing nations. But now I’m not sure that was ever truly a realistic outcome.
Yes, it sounds like arrangements for this massive summit could have been better. Perhaps more could have been done in the preparatory meetings. But how likely was it that we were going to get nearly 200 countries of enormous diversity, development and political direction to agree on strong binding action to cut greenhouse gas emissions? It’s certainly unfair to compare COP15 with the Montreal Protocol process which successfully dealt with ozone hole causing gases such as CFCs.
The production and use of CFCs were nowhere as central to mainstream ‘developed’ lifestyles as greenhouse gases now are. And the key narrative behind the need for global binding action is that reducing emissions will hurt economies. As a result nobody wants to make the first move for risk of crippling their economic competitiveness.
I think this view needs challenging. If a recession is the time for public spending (and it is) then ambitious projects for improved rail, renewable energy sources, energy efficiency upgrades and more are what we need. They keep people in jobs, improve quality of life whilst addressing our need to reduce emissions.
What they also do is put nations in a much better place to cope with ever increasing fuel costs as well as supply uncertainty. Because if the threat of violent climate change isn’t enough to galvanise action, certainly fuel shortages and spiraling prices will be — these are proven political hot buttons for rapid action. Oil is running out, it’s just a matter of when.
So while a decent agreement at Copenhagen would have been welcome, on reflection I don’t think it was ever that likely. We’re instead going to have to rely on self-interest to get the job done. Countries are going to run out of things to burn soon and the last ones ready with renewable energy sources are going to be the ones to experience the most cost and pain. Politicians take note — voters don’t like not being able to heat their homes, cook their dinner or travel around their countries.
UPDATE: Let’s not forget that despite the Kyoto protocol being ‘legally binding’ most countries are way off meeting their Kyoto obligations.