“Mr President, I ask whether - under the eye of the UN secretary general - you are going to endorse this coup d’etat against the authority of the United Nations?”
The President did, and the last minute ‘Copenhagen Accord’ was pushed through. It was a document agreed between a handful of rich nations whilst the majority of delegates talked amongst themselves.
The Sudanese were blunt in their verdict. The ‘accord’ asked “Africa to sign a suicide pact”.
It was widely reported as an Obama brokered deal. But the UK Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband was the man who stepped in at 4am to save it. He’s been something of a late night specialist over the last two weeks. On this final occasion, he was heading for bed when reports came in of a turn for the worse in the negotiations. African and South American countries were set to use their veto, leaving world leaders with nothing to sign at all.
Miliband was straight on the podium, arguing that it was far from a perfect outcome “but it is a document that will make the lives of people around this planet better because it puts into effect fast-start finance of $30bn; it puts into effect a plan for $100bn of long-term public and private finance.”
Shortly after this speech, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said: “We have a deal.” The deal was that the delegates agreed to ‘take note’ of the document.
The money is far from water-tight. In fact the $100bn is a ‘goal’ rather than an obligation. And aside from the money, the Copenhagen Accord simply recognises that it would be a good idea to keep temperature increases to less than 2 degrees, but makes no mention of the emissions cuts needed to do so. A little like an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting agreeing it would be a good idea not to have a drink before heading back to the pub.
By this stage in the process, few people seemed interested anyway. For the last couple of days, the talks had been knocked off the top spot on the news by advice not to give children watered down wine, and by the cold weather.
The Sunday Time’s comment piece saw Dominic Lawson have a go at former chief UK scientist David King. Even if things do get hotter, said Dominic, King’s “apparent belief that man is completely unable to adapt to a changing environment suggests that, whatever his claims as a scientist, he knows next to nothing about either human nature or history”.
What David King knows, along with most people apart from Dominic, is that our entire history has taken place during 11,000 years of remarkably stable climate. Yes there have been ice ages in the past, and the earth has been much hotter in the past, but there weren’t 7 billion people on the planet at the time. So on balance maybe we should try and avoid pushing the earth into a climatic shift that will render uninhabitable much of the land where humanity now lives, and that will destroy the agriculture on which our lives are based. If that’s not going to be a problem, can we please have his guidebook as soon as possible.
“How to feed 7 billion people with 50% less water and farmland than we now have”, by Dominic Lawson.
His piece is full of the joys of Christmas on the basis that we now have the green light for the developed and the developing world to continue to burn as much fossil fuel as we like. “Let’s toast the negotiators of Copenhagen. By failing so spectacularly, they have presented us with a wonderful Christmas present. All we have to do is open it.”
Lets open it.
As the developing world’s demand for oil and gas rises, prices will skyrocket. Ofgen, the UK energy regulator, is already predicting energy price rises of 60% as more and more people fight over fewer and fewer resources. Military budgets will go through the roof and lives will be lost as we fight over the remaining supplies. Increased coal use will add to the hundreds of thousands of people who die each year from coal related air pollution.
Unless Dominic thinks that the UEA stolen emails have reversed some basic scientific laws, massive increases of CO2 in the atmosphere will mean that more heat gets trapped and things get hotter. This will finish off melting the glaciers that provide the drinking water for millions and the irrigation water for the worlds’ two biggest producers of food - India and China. They may try and make up the difference by pumping even more water from the non-replenishable aquifers that irrigate the rest of the harvest. But these are already set to run out in 20 years or so.
As is the great aquifer that has supported the ‘bread basket’ plains of the USA. This is all bad news for the UK where 60% of our food is imported. Meanwhile, tens of millions of refugees will pour into Europe as the African deserts expand. We heard last week that the rains failed for the 6th consecutive year across much of East Africa. So maybe Dominic is so full of festive cheer because he knows that the borrowed time which Copenhagen’s failure condemned us to, is enough time for him.
“World leaders in Copenhagen seem to have forgotten that they were not negotiating numbers, they were negotiating lives,” said Dame Barbara Stocking, Oxfam’s chief executive.
But Xie Zhenhua, head of China’s delegation, was defiant. “For the Chinese, this is our sovereignty and our national interest”.
The technologies for a low-carbon future are ready and waiting. A price on CO2 emissions would unleash these technologies at affordable prices within a decade.
But it seems that collectively we can’t even think a decade ahead.
So we’re left in an enclosed space with nowhere else to go, but we have decided to leave our engines running until someone else turns theirs off first.