Copenhagen: a deal of sorts

The push for a global, legally binding deal could not overcome national self-interest
Brian Lilley | Dec 19 2009 | comment  



President Barack Obama talks Israeli President Shimon Peres, right, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Møller. Official White House photo Pete Souza.Upon hearing that the Copenhagen Conference was over, I quickly found that there were, just like in the conference, competing headlines and stories about what had transpired. One story told me a deal had been reached; another said that all hope was lost. This much I know; George Monbiot is beside himself and Lord Monckton is outraged. Both men are upset, because neither got everything they wanted.

Monbiot, one of Britain’s leading climate change activists, is no fan of the Copenhagen Accord; the agreement that leaders cobbled together on their way out of town. Writing in The Guardian, Monbiot says, “A clearer and less destructive treaty than the texts currently being discussed would be a sheaf of blank paper, which every negotiating party solemnly sits down to sign.” Clearly, Monbiot sees nothing but failure.

Meanwhile, Lord Christopher Monckton, one of Britain’s leading climate change sceptics, is in a funk becase he says the conference has been a success in helping to establish a world government. Monckton points to the huge sums of money that will be drawn from nation states to finance climate change adaptation; up to $100 billion US by 2020, as proof of the imminent global government.

While it might be easy to dismiss Monckton, his claim evoking images of people who wear tinfoil hats and fear black helicopters; it is this fear, of a supra-national government-like structure, that helped kill off what activists had hoped for.

Throughout the conference there have been calls from activists, and from United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, for the leaders to sign on to a legally binding treaty. Canadian environmental guru David Suzuki says the the problem with the Kyoto Protocol was that it had no teeth and countries that did not meet targets could not be punished. In the middle of the conference, Suzuki appeared on CBC Television to say any deal out of Copenhagen would need to have teeth, “We need, if we're going to have such regulations, we need ones with teeth; a way of punishing those that fail to meet them. If we don't have that, then it's just on paper and any rinky-dink country or person can say, no, I'm not going to even bother trying.”

Don’t feel bad for Suzuki that the current accord is a set of voluntary emissions reductions that cannot be enforced. The crusading environmentalist says, “We'll wait until next year, until we get the negotiations going along further. But we've got to say nature sets the limits, not us.” And expect this same demand to be pushed back next year, just as it was this year, by China.

Much of the negotiations in Copenhagen centred on the idea that developed countries needed to provide money for developing countries to sign onto any agreement to limit carbon emissions. The calls for such funding went as high as $200 billion a year, but in the end it was agreed that the developed world would, by 2020, provide $100 billion annually for climate change mitigation. In exchange for the money, the developed nations demanded “transparency”; they wanted to know where the money was going and they wanted to monitor the emissions reductions for which they would be paying. China balked at both demands. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao called any attempt to have outside groups monitor emissions reductions in China a violation of his country’s sovereignty.

It’s not just the monitoring that would violate the sovereignty of China, or any other country that believes in such antiquated concepts, but also the idea put forward by Suzuki and others that there will be an international body that can impose sanctions upon countries that do not meet emissions reductions targets. There would also be a loss of national sovereignty if the proposal to have an international tax established to pay for this fund were agreed to.

One of the proposals discussed widely at the conference, and supported by European countries, was for a tax on aviation fuel and bunker fuel, the energy source for international shipping. The levy upon these two carbon-emitting fuels would be passed onto the International Maritime Organisation, a division of the United Nations, which would then oversee the distribution of funds. What do we generally call bodies that impose and collect taxes, that can impose penalties and monitor what you do? Government.

China cannot, and likely never will, accept outside authorities telling them what they can and cannot do within their boundaries. I expect there are other countries that hold a similar point of view, but dare not express it in relation to such a fashionable cause as climate change.

We’ve been told that climate change is based on science, and Climategate aside, the science they tell us is clear. Yet what happened over the last twelve days in Copenhagen was not science, it was politics, pure and simple. It was countries attempting to see if their national self-interest could mesh with the self-interest of other nations. Environmental purists may not like that, but barring that, global government Lord Monckton fears it will stay this way.

As he left Copenhagen late Friday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper admitted that activists may not be happy with the accord, but, “Leaders have to translate necessity of dealing with the challenge and the science of climate change, with the very real impact of what trying to deal with it will have on our economies.” That’s realpolitik in it’s truest sense. The leaders have agreed to what they see as practical and possible now while also singing the refrain familiar to so many sports fans at the end of a disappointing season, “there’s always next year.”

Brian Lilley is the Parliamentary Bureau Chief for radio stations Newstalk 1010 in Toronto and CJAD 800 in Montreal, Canada. Follow Brian on Twitter to get the latest as it happens.



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