Friday, December 31, 2010

Cancunhagen 1.0: Revenge on the Danes

"If the average American used only as much energy per year as the average European, America would be exporting oil, not importing it. Only our insistence on clinging to the dysfunctional lifestyles of an age that is passing away keeps such an obviously constructive goal off the table." — John Michael Greer

So, in our last post we gave the starting point of the negotiations. It would take some masterful negotiator, a combination of Mohandas Gandhi and KKR’s Henry Kravis, to reach any meaningful denouement. Such a master appeared in the unlikely guise of the President of the host country.

We have never been especially fond of Felipe de Jesus Calderon Hinojosa, its true. In the course of the first two weeks of December, however, our opinion reversed. Before the Cancún Summit we saw him as a Bush toadie who ascended to power over the populist candidate and rightful president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador through a Diebold-rigged election.

But, during the Summit, we watched slack-jawed as he opened the doors to civil society and welcomed all to attend the discussions. He held stakeholder sessions to listen to the views of science, development organizations working in the field, the media, indigenous rights groups, religious groups, and sub-governmental agencies. Everyone had access. Guayaberas replaced suits; “tú” replaced “usted” or “Excellency;” his casa was our casa.

In Copenhagen we had been forced to stand in blowing snow for hours to get daily passes only to find the doors to meeting rooms blocked by plainclothes security with earbuds and bulging armpits. In Cancún, if you jumped through a few months of hoops to get credentialed, you could observe almost any meeting, and in many of them you were offered the microphone and translator services, if you needed to speak. Contrary to the chants of the protestors, the UN did not silence civil society.

The effect this had was to bring in out-of-the-box thinking that was the only possible way to break through the numerous loggerheads.

Peter Wood of Australian National University told delegates in one meeting that the impasse boiled down to how nations deal with the free rider incentive. No-one wants to jeopardize their economy by being the first to act, or by acting alone. But, Wood said, “Some game theory mechanisms based on countries either matching each others’ commitments or subsidizing each others’ reductions have game theory solutions: fully cooperative outcomes.”

John Michael Greer has said, “If the average American used only as much energy per year as the average European, America would be exporting oil, not importing it. Only our insistence on clinging to the dysfunctional lifestyles of an age that is passing away keeps such an obviously constructive goal off the table.”

In a recent analysis published in Foreign Affairs and reviewed in Scientific American on-line, Prof. Bruce Bueno de Mesquita of NYU argues that political leaders will, by and large, act on what keeps them in power or helps them to get re-elected, not that which protects the planet. Even promising their constituents light economic pain now for understood benefits years into the future isn’t a winning formula.

“One way that it could work is to link cooperation on climate change with cooperation on other issues, such as trade,” argued Wood. “If a country introduces a carbon price, it may also want to introduce a ‘border tax adjustment’ that levies a carbon price on emissions-intensive imported goods.” That is also a strategy championed by James Hansen following a recent trip to China. According to Hansen, China may find economic advantage in going carbon-negative and could, under the rules of the WTO, impose import tariffs on countries like Australia, the US and Canada that were less environmentally responsible.

However, what game theorists failed to take into account was the latest findings in cognitive neuroscience. Not coincidentally, that is precisely the kind of knowledge that permaculturists, transition towns affiliates and the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) brought to the discussion.

Research by behavioralists Felix Warneken and Michael Tomasello indicates that toddlers as young as 18 months instinctively behave altruistically. When we contemplate violence done to others we activate the same regions in our brains that fire up when mothers gaze at their children. Caring for strangers is in-bred. When we help others, pleasure centers in our brains light up like Christmas trees. There is no self-other. We are our brothers’ keepers.

Most game theorists begin with the assumption that humans are hardwired to be aggressive and selfish, and politicians seek only self-interest. Ecovillagers and Transition Towners know from actual experience that people not only can behave well and nobly, but can take deep pleasure in doing so, a pleasure so intense it suggests that an unspoken, unmet appetite for fulfilling work and sharing community lies just below the surface of our collective angst.

Some of us even yearn for quick collapse, to get past the inevitable and back to a recognition of communitas. Civilizational collapse is not always as bad as it is made out to be. Ask the Maya.

At the Communications Forum we learned that 64% of the delegates believed the unwillingness to risk economic or political damage at home was the greatest barrier to reaching agreement. Only 20% think it is due to skepticism of the science. Of those representing industrial countries, 69% were unwilling to jeopardize continued economic growth; 59% in developing countries.

As many of the submissions from civil society made clear, however, excellent studies in various countries and regions already show profitable means to achieve 40% aggregate reductions from 1990 levels for 2020. Some groups, like Climate Action Network, Centre for Alternative Technology and European Climate Foundation, have shown how we can transition to a zero carbon economy for developed countries by 2050 or even 2030. Dubious technologies like clean coal and nuclear can be pursued by countries inviting their own financial ruin, but most will likely choose to adopt renewables targets like China’s. China’s carbon goal, without precondition of treaty or reciprocity by others, is 15% primary energy from solar/renewables by 2020 and an increase in forest cover by 150,000 square miles.

A declaration signed by 150,000 Chinese “members of the public” endorsed that national commitment, even though it recognized that cutting GHG by 40-45% of 2005 levels by 2020 would entail real changes in lifestyle options. Note however that China’s pledge is -40-45% per unit of GDP. That “per unit of GDP” rider is a significant qualifier since China’s GDP grows 8-10% annually. If the math seems a bit opaque, that is no accident.

South Korea’s Green Growth Initiative is groundbreaking in several ways: it has broad bipartisan and public support, it is being implemented with detailed and forceful legislation; and despite early opposition from energy-intensive sectors such as steel and cement, it has been embraced by mainstream industry. Firms like Hyundai and Samsung have implemented their own “green growth” strategies, including entering into new business areas such as solar energy, wind power, electric vehicles, and zero-emission factories.

Most impressive about South Korea’s initiative is the “just-do-it” philosophy that drives it. The country’s leaders are frustrated by the maddeningly slow and ideological character of the climate negotiations. They are firmly — and accurately — convinced that the global economy is no longer sustainable on its current track, and that those who choose to seize the “early mover” advantage and pioneer low-carbon, green industries will strengthen their economies and create millions of jobs. This was a repeating theme hammered in events featuring “Green Tech” displays, the CEO of WalMart and L. Hunter Lovins. We attended a Worldwatch sponsored event titled “Low-Carbon Energy Roadmaps: Insights from Those Who Are Leading the Way,” which, while pretty lame in its ambitions and case studies, showed how being green is, as a practical matter, the only financially sound option for the degrowth economic milieu.

Other good ideas, like Ross Jackson’s idea for an international carbon board or the carbon maintenance fee concept developed by Richard Douthwaite at FEASTA were also prominently mentioned at the unveiling of a cross-cutting study being tasked to the World Resources Institute by UNEP. These outside works, involving financial reforms, fee-bates, incentives and tariffs, and many other ideas, will now come into greater discussion in future COPs, as they are laid side-by-side and looked at in scientific, political and economic contexts.

That is all thanks to the open and transparent negotiations process created and stewarded by President Calderon. Danish President Rassmussen, eat your heart out.

Tomorrow: Cancunhagen 2.0: Reality Strikes Back

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cancún Revisitó

"The Kyoto Protocol was a very gentle proof of concept. Even if all Kyoto commitments had been met, Earth’s fever would merely have risen a fraction of a year more slowly."

We have been spending the turn of the new year, as the long shadows start to shorten and between festive occasions, contemplating what happened at the COP-16 Climate Summit in Cancún in early December. Our previous posts, directly from the event, tracked the lows and highs of the experience in real time, but lacked the distance that time for digestion and adequate sleep afford. Now, after some weeks, we have the benefit of many others’ opinions and considered analysis, so it might be helpful to revisit what actually was gained or lost.

Here is our pick-up of the climate negotiations, taken on a drive through the prism of our experience with peak oil, economic turmoil, empire collapse, and the coming climate chaos.

Cancunhagen 0.9 beta
Another reporter characterized our last post as the “Halleluia [sic] we have an agreement” end of the COP-16 reports spectrum. Well, that seems fair. What seems unfair to us is to place Evo Morales’ position at the other book-end. Our differences with Bolivia are less strategic than tactical. So let’s start there.

Morales and we probably agree that the Cancún Agreements are as good or better than might have been expected after the dying Empire’s power play in Copenhagen, and as expected they do almost nothing to slow the march towards the climate precipice. Physics and chemistry cut no slack in this regard.

Many critics feel that Cancún was another bust. A legally enforceable climate treaty seems as distant now as it was at the first Conference of Parties in Berlin in 1995. There is something to that, if you imagined that a legal treaty, with real teeth, was ever possible to begin with.

Why would an empire ever surrender a portion of its sovereignty unless it were to greater advantage? Within the United States, the right wing, and especially the extreme Lyndon LaRouche Tea Bag right, have always viewed the UN as a threat to US sovereignty, so why would they possibly want any legal treaty, with real teeth? Why would Obama risk offending the CIA, Joe Leiberman, or his financial backers to sign such a document?

At the first 5-year mark for Kyoto Protocol, one year from now, few if any of the countries that inked that treaty in Japan in 1997 will actually make their 2012 targets for emissions cuts. Some, like the US, never ratified. Others, like China, had no obligations to begin with. Still others, like the UK, Germany and Denmark, which took carbon dieting seriously, would be hard-pressed in 2010 to say it was good for their economies.

The Kyoto Protocol was a very gentle proof of concept. Even if all Kyoto commitments had been met, Earth’s fever would merely have risen a fraction of a year more slowly; it would still not be showing any signs of going down. Moreover, in the run-up to Cancún, UNEP released a devastating report showing that even if the pledges made in Copenhagen were fulfilled (and they have not been), there would be a “gigatonne gap” that condemns the world to unacceptable warming by mid-century and risks runaway effects that cannot be recovered from.

This is the same kind of report U.S. Presidents since Lyndon Johnson have been getting from their science advisors (and, to the man, bouncing back for further study): the sky is falling; you better do something, fast. In 2010, the US position was to jawbone lowballed targets for gas-mileage, lighting and appliance standards, coal power reductions, and other lame excuses for a climate policy. It was almost too pitiful to listen to. Stronger measures were implemented by the Carter Administration, 35 years ago.

Nonetheless, for the first 13 days of COP-16, negotiations ground on slowly. It was as though the delegates were being paid to sit there. Wait a minute, they were. So were many of the people who sent them — paid by the oil lobby, such as the Koch brothers and the Saudi royal family. Kabuki is what is expected here: a morality play, not a plan for action.

Opening gambits

Japan sat down to the table and reiterated what it had said months earlier, that the Kyoto Protocol was a failure and should not be extended. Russia, Canada, Australia and other large players saw that bid and stood pat. On the other side, small developing nations went “all in.” They said that either Kyoto would be given an extension or they could see no reason to stay at the table.

The two-track system of Kyoto, wherein developed countries would begin to go on a carbon diet, 5 years at a time, but developing countries could fatten their emissions until some sort of weight equivalency was reached at an unspecified date in the future, institutionalized the atmospheric-ocean-soils disparity. The Kyoto system of measuring, reporting, and verifying emissions (MRV) binds developed countries but not “developing” countries like China and Brazil. The US came with guns drawn. Either MRV expansion was in the deal, or there would be no deal.

The Copenhagen negotiations produced an understanding whereby one system of MRV would be used for any developing countries supported by outside financial support, and another system would be used for the rest, that were not financially supported. That seemed to initiate a path towards verifiable categorization of who is “developing.” At a stroke, it would bring into a reduction regimen the largest emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs)  — China and the US — and the greatest deforesters — Brazil and Indonesia. However, as of spring 2010, this COP-15 initiative had evaporated and was not being discussed. India, Malaysia (large prospective emitters and deforesters, respectively) and others in the global South had opposed it.

Japan’s rationale for blocking a Kyoto renewal lay along similar lines. The “developed world,” defined in 1997, now accounts for only 30% of global emissions, while those outside Kyoto restrictions — including the “developing world” — now account for 70%. No matter how ambitious you make a second 5-year carbon regime, you are only attacking a third of the problem.
A major rift was thus revealed between the developing countries, who maintained that they should not be bound — and under the Kyoto formula would not be bound — to emissions reductions, and the developed countries, who would rather not have a firm diet goal and then lie about what the scale read, or make “dog ate my homework” excuses about why they couldn’t get it done in these hard economic times.

One of the members of the Indian delegation said the atmosphere has about 300 gigatons of carbon (GtC) space available between 2010 and 2050. The question therefore is how to equitably distribute this allocation. If you base the ration on current levels, you lock all participants into their respective degrees of development, he said. That is not acceptable to the developing world. So the question is, how do you split the pie?

Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh convened a meeting to discuss “equitable access to the world’s carbon space.” Speakers from countries such as China and Malaysia made the case for an agreement that recognizes that most industrial countries have already used up their rightful share of the world’s carbon budget — and that therefore all future emissions should be allocated solely to developing countries. Additionally, India calculated that industrial countries owe developing countries between $4 trillion and $40 trillion in “climate reparations” over the next 40 years.

Setting aside that the G20 would likely never agree to this kind of formulation, it is really questionable whether this “pie” could be called an accurate view of atmospheric chemistry. Fossil fuels are currently responsible for about 6.4 GtC of emissions of all kinds each year, and the effect that 6.4 GtC has on the atmosphere is to overwhelm it with carbon, resulting in a 2 ppmv annual increase in CO2 equivalent GHG concentrations. 
We have already supersaturated the oceans, causing a disastrous acidification and threatening the entire marine food chain. We need to walk the atmosphere back to 350 ppm, or below, and to stop overloading both atmosphere and ocean. To do this we need to not merely not emit the 300 GtC referred to, we need to sequester that much, or more, in soils, plants and forests to take carbon out of the air and water parts of the cycle. Preferably we would sequester it in recalcitrant forms, like biochar, or long-term stocks, like old-growth forests, rather than short term, labile forms like maize for animals or biofuels.

As if these problems were not already insurmountable, the emerging Latin economies, “ALBA,” opposed almost all parts of the Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) track and threatened to blow up any compromise deal using the UNFCCC’s consensus rule unless their demands were met. Among their demands:
  • that the climate fund come only from general revenue sources (taxes imposed on the public) from developed countries (Annex I) — you know, those tubbies slurping slurpies in Wall-E.
  • that it be set at 1.5 percent of GDP from these countries, more than most now spend on all foreign aid combined.
  • a ban on using market mechanisms — offsets and carbon pricing — to leverage funding for resource protection and reforestation programs. No “guilt” tree-planting! Stop flying!
  • that the target for reductions be lowered to 1 degree of warming — slightly more than a tenth of a degree from where we now stand (bearing in mind that where we now stand is the result of human activities up to about the 1980s, and we have yet to feel the impact of what we did for the last 25 years).
  • a climate justice court, to prosecute historical climate criminals and the big polluters.
  • that the overall agreement acknowledge “rights for Mother Nature.”

The Empire Strikes Back

The US position was even more ambiguous than in Copenhagen, if that is possible. It still pledged only the weakest of reductions in its emissions and sent no members of the Obama cabinet to attend. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was doubtless chagrined by Wikileaks revelations that she had ordered inside-the-UN spying, including taking DNA samples on high-level Security Council delegates, and that the Obama Administration had bribed, extorted and blackmailed countries like the Maldives, Ecuador and Saudi Arabia to change their positions on the Copenhagen Accord. At the same time, the US seemed to have found détente with China on the MRV issue through a process of technology transfer. Confronted by a newly elected Congress openly hostile to the very idea of climate change, the US did not want a treaty, but it did want something to keep the process alive.

Apparently the Emperor found the distraction amusing.

President Correa of Ecuador was asked by Amy Goodman of DemocracyNow! if he could confirm the $2.5 million bribe Ecuador was offered by Hillary Clinton and whether he thought his refusal to take it was a cause of the failed coup attempt on his government earlier this year. President Correa said that indeed Ecuador had refused the $2.5 million, but that it would offer the US $5 million if it would ratify the Kyoto Protocol. As for the coup, Correa did not implicate Obama, but he said he would not go so far as to vindicate rogue elements of the US government held over from the previous administration.

It is easy to see how that sort of amusement can’t be found anywhere else.

That was how the first two weeks set the scene in Cancún. To find out what came next, tune in again tomorrow for Cancunhagen 1.0: Revenge on the Danes 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mexican Miracle: The Cancún Climate Compact

What a difference a few hours can make. This morning I was sitting in the Moon Palace next to Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones listening to Alden Meyer of Union of Concerned Scientists downplay expectations of any success at the Climate Summit. We all expected that the real hard work of the night would only just begin around midnight, and that endless haggling would end in stalemate, or maybe a few crumbs falling from the table.

At risk was the UN’s credibility as a negotiating venue. Putting a failure in Cancun back to back with the failure in Copenhagen would certainly raise many brows about the UN’s ability to broker a multilateral deal over such a difficult subject.

Sitting there listening to Meyer, I finished my blog post begun the day before and pushed the send button. I had condemned the US for its intransigence, obstructionism, weak-kneed wishywashyness and half-hearted pledges. Since then, I'd watched in awe as the US negotiator, Todd Stern, was whoopingly cheered by the entire assembly. He had just agreed to a text of the final 37-page document that reads, in part:

Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWGLCA)

The Conference of the Parties...

Recognising that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversile threat to human societies and the planet...

1. Affirms that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and that all Parties share a vision for long-term cooperative action in order to achieve the objective of the Convention ... through the achievement of a common goal, on the basis of equity and in accordance with common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities....

4. Further recognizes that deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required according to science... with a view to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions so as to hold the increase in global average temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.... Also recognizes the need to ... consider strengthening the long-term global goal on the basis of the best available scientific knowledge ... to a global average temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius....

6. Also agrees that Parties should cooperate in achieving the peaking of global and national greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible....

12. Affirms that enhanced action on adaptation should be undertaken in accordance with the Convention; follow a country-driven, gender-sensitive, participatory and fully transparent approach, taking into consideration vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems; and be based on and guided by the best available science, and, as appropriate, traditional and indigenous knowledge; with a view to integrating into relevant social, economic, and environmental policies and actions....

III/ Acknowledging that the largest share of historical global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries and that, owing to this historical responsibility, developed country Parties must take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof,

37. Urges developed country Parties to increase the ambition of their economy-wide emission reduction targets, with a view to reducing their aggregate anthropogenic emissions....

40. Decides ... to enhance reporting in the national communications of Parties ... as follows:

(a) Developed countries should submit annual greenhouse gas inventories and inventory reports and biennial reports ... including ... actions to achieve their economy-wide emissions targets and emissions reductions achieved, projected emissions and on the provision of financial, technology, and capacity-building support to developing country Parties....

45. Decides that developed countries should develop low-carbon development strategies or plans....

48. Agrees that developing country Parties will take nationally appropriate mitigation actions in the context of sustainable development, supported and enabled by technology, financing and capacity-building, aimed at achieving a deviation in emissions relative to ‘business as usual’ emissions in 2020....

65. Encourages developing countries to develop low-carbon development strategies or plans in the context of sustainable development....

Those excerpts only go as far as page 12, leaving 2/3 of the document to go, but you get the idea. The next section is on the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks, with safeguards for land tenure, indigenous peoples, etc.

Then comes a section on using markets to speed up the process, going for the so-called “low-hanging fruit,” while safeguarding ecosystem integrity and fair and equitable distribution of profits.

In particular, the text underscores the economic and social consequences of responses to climate change, urging the Parties to take note of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to avoid arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination or a disguised restriction on international trade.

The provision on fast-start financing commits $30 billion dollars for the period of 2010-2012 with a balanced allocation between adaptation and mitigation, putting priority on the most vulnerable, such as small island developing states and Africa.

The provision on long-term financing commits to raise $100 billion dollars per year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries, to flow through a “Green Climate Fund.” The structure of the fund is set out in fine detail, including governance, voting and accountability. The board has 15 members from developed countries and 25 from developing. The World Bank is appointed to serve as Trustee for the first 3 years.

All that takes the document to the halfway point.  Then there are the Technology Mechanism; the Climate Technology Centre and Network; the Expert Group on Technology Transfer; a review process that assesses the continuing adequacy of efforts to forestall catastrophic changes, beginning in 2013, full scope to be defined next year (one has to leave something for COP17 in Durban); guidance and safeguards for REDD, insuring stakeholder inclusion and respect for rights, especially regarding indigenous peoples and local communities, and that no moneys will be spent “for conversion of natural forests, but are instead used to incentivise the protection and conservation of natural forests and their ecosystem services, and to enhance other social and environmental benefits;” tasking of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice to assess progress and the adequacy of these efforts towards preventing climate change, measuring sources and sinks, and verifying actions claimed by parties, ensuring complete transparency.

To get a sense of this whole breakthrough as it was unfolding, one need only review the tweet-o-sphere archive:
10:30 pm

COP16: Presidency distributes draft of negotiations The document gathers contributions made by all working groups

AlexMStark: So: lots of vigorous support from every side, fingers crossed that Bolivia, Cuba et al won't block... going to be a long night!

OneClimate: Bangladesh: Text doesn't reflect everything we want but for the sake of the process, we feel this is a good outcome

OneClimate: Bangladesh: most vulnerable country in the world: not a qu of development for us, but of survival, and we want to move fwd


kate_sheppard: Todd Stern [USA lead delegate]: "Think this text does provide the necessary balance to do that and provide the way forward."

newscientist: US gets whooping from the floor - mad change from 3 years ago when they were booed and told to get out

alexmstark: Who could've anticipated cheers at the UNFCCC??

kate_sheppard: Stern says they should approve package, "put the world on a more hopeful path."

OneClimate: UAE: we run a great risk if we allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. Substantive progress on critical issues at cop16

CYDcancun: UAE pulls the "enemy of the good" card... in a good way.

enviromedia: "This deal is not ideal, but it works." Shocking display of unity among developed and developing countries @COP16 climate Praise for Mexico

OneClimate: Tajikistan: mexico has helped to restore trust in UN process and helped small countries participate.

AndrwLight: I predict no more negotiation. Ends with near unanimous agreement around Mexican compromise

iklimkarbon: China is talking now, "We are basically satisfied"

kate_sheppard: Japan!

AlexMStark: incredible energy here at the UNFCCC, fingers crossed that it carries us through the evening

AlexMStark: Algeria: "Africa has spoken w/one voice"  "would like to support the text"

OneClimate: India: god has been very close to Mexico. I come from country that has more godesses than gods, "a goddess present too in Madam President"

OneClimate: India: let us very soon bring a halt to this process and say that we do have an agreemeing in Cancun

lmdo: Yes, let's bring a half to this process (for a bit) and say that we have an agreement in Cancun!

kate_sheppard: Ramesh of India: "You have resorted the confidence of the international community in multilateralism and the multilateral process."

AlexMStark: Colombia: "we ask that the Cancun package be adopted w/o further ado"

climatebrad: Africa, with its 1 billion people, has spoken with one unique voice: Africa would like to support the text that has been submitted

kate_sheppard: Ecuador: "We understand the enthusiasm of the delegations here, but we believe we must demand a lot more for ourselves."

enviromedia: Talking points repeated by all at COP16: 1.Thanks to Mexico. 2.This agreement isn't perfect. 3.Multilateralism, planet at stake.


kate_sheppard: Kuwait is the last speaker for this plenary.

andrea_arzaba: Kuwait: Yes Cancun CAN, Yes WOMEN CAN

climatebrad: All I can say, is if global warming is a conspiracy, it's a really weird one. Kuwait, China, US, Maldives, Ecuador...

kate_sheppard: Informal plenary over. Espinosa directs working groups to meet immediately, briefly.

OneClimate: the first time that the word 'Party' has ever felt apt in my time covering unfccc talks. What a lot of love.

tcktcktck: "Watershed in the climate process" "We are on the path that can only lead to success"

12:00 midnight

gaytanariza: Bolivia: "No existe consenso porque nosotros no estamos de acuerdo. Queremos discutir algunos temas del documento"

rjtklein: Once Bolivia is done grandstanding, world will thank Mexico for restoring trust in multilateral negotiations in the UN.

Revkin: At cop16 plenary, why didn't someone do for Bolivia what Kevin Conrad of PNG did for US in 2007 ("Step aside..."):

lmdo: @Revkin Ha, possibly because Bolivia isn't "hated" in the same way America is. But, fair point.

CYJ_COP:【ブログ更新しました!】 怒涛のCOP後半戦 
glennhurowitz: Quote of the night from East Timor: "This is almost a good document."


JeremyLeggett: So exciting to wake up and read the positive Twitter feed from Cancun. I surely wasn't expecting this. Hope lives?

CYDcancun: Opening of AWG-LCA plenary yields long standing ovation. Bolivia first to speak, crowd responds with knowing chuckles!?

AlexMStark: Margaret gave Bolivia the floor and there weas audible booing!

AlexMStark: must say, it's hard to take Bolivia's argument about Africa/AOSIS seriously when they've already endorsed this text...

CYDcancun: Bolivia holding the hard line, demanding 1.5, payment of climate debt, world bank exlusion.

jschmidtnrdc: Bolivia going point by point through the draft text...UN equivalent of the filibuster


AlexMStark: Bolivia just will not stop talking. worries about whether they'll be able to block the entire show tonight

abranches: Bolivia is speaking with no time limit as a compensation for the fact it will not be granted veto power.

tcktcktck: Bolivia no acepta el documento

AlexMStark: Guatemala: "when are we going to stop talking and start taking decisions?"

CYDcancun: Columbia: Consensus doesn't mean giving the right of veto to one country [applause]

climateinstitut: Bolivia is threatening to derail Cancun climate deal.

anjalih: Gabon: This text isn't perfect, but it offers a number of favorable prospects for the future

climatebrad: Gabon: We cannot go to extremes. Everyone understand this is affecting Africa. (Applause)

eco_singapore: Guatemala: I wonder when we are going to stop talking and start acting.


climatebrad: LCA chair: "I sense an overwhelming will in the room to forward the document. So decided."

tcktcktck: Brasil: acepta el documento!!

AlexMStark: LCA text accepted to cheers and applause!!!! On to final plenary.

AlexMStark: Bolivia hasn't quite given up, wants objection stated for the record

tcktcktck: Bolivia: no esta de acuerdo con documento y no hay concenso para su adopción, anotan objeción.

CYJ_COP: ボリビアが反対しているが、議長がコンセンサスと判断。LCAが終わりました。
kate_sheppard: LCA closed ... now, on to the big show.


AlexMStark: cheers to the Swiss delegation for the snacks! Trackers appreciate it

coralmisaki: Mexican presser skedded for 6 a.m. CST. Final passage of U.N. climate between now and then.

kate_sheppard: Parties (ex. Bolivia) are really, really excited that the process is functioning, even if they're not as excited about the content.


AlexMStark: COP/CMP final plenaries open to applause UNFCCC

OneClimate: President: we will adopt historic decisions, process WILL be simple and straightforward

kate_sheppard: Espinosa opening final portion of the meeting, where they will decide on the two texts (Kyoto track and LCA)


AlexMStark: Bolivia has taken the floor in CMP plenary, doesn't accept KP text and says it's "a step backwards"

OneClimate: or in other words... RT @climatebrad: Bolivia is giving the finger to Mexico.

peaksurfer: Bolivia says no consensus (w/o it). COP16 going backwards; pledge and review no subst for Kyoto hard targets.

BoliviaUN: we wish to make headway but can't accept a document without the opportunity to negotiate on that document.

peaksurfer: Bolivia's final card: procedural irregularities.

AlexMStark: Bolivia: "there is no consensus for the approval of this decision"

kate_sheppard: Espinosa: "We've been spending literally years on these.

peaksurfer: Espinosa: Dear Bolivia, with due respect, we have all been spending years, not days or weeks, considering this document.
peaksurfer: COP16 APPROVED!

kate_sheppard: Espinosa: These will be listed as Cancun Agreement, "a new era in international cooperation on climate change."

peaksurfer: Applause continues

kate_sheppard: Solon arguing against adoption of the KP over their objection. "Today it is Bolivia, tomorrow it could be any other country.

esperanzagarcia: Bolivia keeping the translator busy. 3 AM.

climatebrad: COP16 president: "I do note your position, and if there is no other opinion, this text is approved." Roar of applause.

DougLain: I think I like twitter now.

artnotpolicy: the rule of consensus does not mean unanimity nor one delegation being able to impose a veto - another round of applause

nataliebrook: Espinosa: Bolivia cannot act to veto an agreement that has been achieved with so much effort and respect

NastasyaTay: Espinosa: Consensus does not mean unanimity. One party does not have the right to veto a decision everyone has worked hard to reach.

peaksurfer: applause resumes

kate_sheppard: Espinosa: "The decision of the conference has been duly adopted."

NastasyaTay: Espinosa suspends the discussion around the Kyoto Protocol and opens the official COP16 (the bit involving the bigger plan).

OneClimate: RT @BoliviaUN: we came to Cancun with proposals by an historic Peoples conference @oneclimate covered. None adopted

peaksurfer: @OneClimate Actually there is a fair amount of the Cochabamba Declaration buried in the 37 page doc adopted. Read it& see if U agree.

nataliebrook: Bolivia requesting procedure for consensus to be followed

BoliviaUN: this is the democratic right we're requesting.. we request you to respect the formal mechanisms for agreements of the UN

OneClimate: USA wading into the argument between @BoliviaUN and Mexican Presidency at COP16

CYDcancunCOP16: US says UNFCCC has never formally adopted decision-making rules, and "general agreement" is what they've been working under anyway?

OneClimate: LIVE: showdown between Bolivia and... well, pretty much the rest of the world at the moment

peaksurfer: T Stern gives lesson on consensus? Whodathunk.

kate_sheppard: Espinosa to Bolivia: "ask you to kindly not delay the work of the parties."

artnotpolicy: Pres: Bolivia doors been open to every meeting, i am unhappy members of ur delgation decided to exclude uselves

OneClimate: Pres Espinosa: Bolivia, sorry, but adopted

peaksurfer: goooaaaalllllll!

OneClimate: Mega drama in Cancun - deal pushed through despite Bolivia's very very vocal objections

peaksurfer: Calderon steps to podium

wwwfoecouk: Outcome of cancun climate talks weak and ineffective, but a small and fragile lifeline

wwf_media: Cancun negotiators shake off ghosts of Copenhagen climate talks, back proposals

4:00 am 
peaksurfer: Calderon: Inertia of mistrust led to paralysis and inaction. Refound hope today.

bryanrwalsh: Spare a thought for the Danes-the shock of Copenhagen likely had to happen before Cancun agreement could

peaksurfer Calderon: Given the gravity of the problem ... we are enabled to act, and act straight away.

david_turnbull: adopts Cancun Agreements. Important steps, faith restored but lots more to be done. We live to fight another day. 

I posted that and went to sleep 6 hours ago, at 4:15 am. Here is some commentary that came in while I was 10-7:

Alex Stark, tcktcktck: Liveblogging: Last day of the Cancun Climate Change Conference (with photos)

Message of Felipe Calderón, President of Mexico, regarding the newly adopted Agreements of Cancun (video of closing statement to the COP)

Cancun, Mexico (CNN) -- Delegates at the United Nations climate change conference in Cancun, Mexico, approved an agreement early Saturday morning despite objections from Bolivia, whose government claimed rich nations "bullied and cajoled" other countries into accepting a deal on their terms.

Protesting the overrule of its country's vote, Bolivia's Foreign Ministry called the Cancun text "hollow" and ineffective in a written statement.

"Its cost will be measured in human lives. History will judge harshly," the statement said, adding that developing nations will face the worst consequences of climate change.

USA Delegation Press Conference at 5:30 am (video) "Very good, from our point of view."

Brad Johnson, in a Wonk Room cross-post at Climate Progress: The Cancun Compacts — Nations of world choose hope in face of climate crisis:

The first lesson of the Cancun talks is that the governments of the world can in fact work together on global warming, even though decoupling civilization from greenhouse pollution is a herculean task. However, the second lesson is that their leadership only gets humanity so far. Only the full mobilization of the present generation can overcome the institutional barriers to change and protect our fragile civilization from the raging climate system our pollution has created. The Cancun compact has restored hope around the world, but now the actual work has to begin.

Kate Sheppard in Mother Jones: Cancun Climate Breakthrough — It's Not Perfect, But It's a Deal

The debate over the future of the Kyoto Protocol—which legally binds industrialized countries to reduce emissions—is the major lingering question. The United States, of course, famously failed to sign on to Kyoto. Japan and Russia have balked at a second commitment period for the 13-year-old protocol, while developing countries have said that allowing the agreement to expires is a deal-breaker for their ongoing participation in broader climate negotiations. The fate of Kyoto wasn't resolved in Cancun. "The biggest hole in the Cancun agreement is its failure to permanently resolve the Kyoto conflict. To be fair, that would have been an impossible task this year," said Michael Levi, senior fellow for energy and environment at the Council on Foreign Relations. "But Kyoto will come back as a front burner issue next year in Durban, and it will be impossible to avoid it again."

It's not clear, said Sivan Kartha, a senior scientist with the Stockholm Environment Institute in Boston, whether that one-year delay on a decision will serve as "a lifeline or a noose" for Kyoto.

US envoy Stern skirted the question of the question of whether the new agreement is heading toward a legally binding form anytime soon. "The day will come when there is a legal agreement, but we're not going to hang everything up on that," Stern told reporters.

"We should not see this Cancun conference as an end. We should see it rather as a beginning," said Mexico's Espinosa. "The text we have before us really seems to be the best we could achieve at this point in a long process."

The Guardian (London, unattributed):

More reaction to the deal from environmentalists, who note that while it was a step in the right direction it falls short of the action required to curb global warning.

Wendel Trio of Greenpeace said: "Cancun may have saved the process but it did not yet save the climate." Alden Meyer, of the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists, agreed that it "wasn't enough to save the climate. But he added that the deal "did restore the credibility of the United Nations as a forum where progress can be made."

3.03pm: We're closing the liveblog now. But there'll be more coverage of the deal in tomorrow's Observer.

In the meantime, here's a recap of the main points of the agreement:

•All countries to cut emissions

•Payments for countries who avoid deforestation and conserve nature

•Finance deal to provide $30bn for developing countries to adapt to climate change now, and potentially up to $100bn later.

•A new UN climate fund to be run mostly by developing countries

•Easier transfer of low carbon technology and expertise to poor countries

•China, the US and other major emitters to have their economies inspected

•Scientific review of progress after five years

Suzanne Goldenberg (quoted in The Guardian):

    I've heard a lot of comment this morning that the deal is a big win for the US, which came to Cancun with nothing to offer – given that Obama is not going to be able to deliver anything substantial on climate for at least the next two years.

    As Todd Stern, the US climate envoy, indicated at his press conference, Cancun delivers on two important matters.

    Firstly, it solidifies the idea that emerged at Copenhagen that emerging economies like India and China will eventually be legally required to cut their emissions – like the historic big emitters.

    "What we did this year is bring a lot of substance into that agreement," Stern said. "Ideas that were first of just skeletal last year and that weren't approved are now approved and were elaborated on. That is the core of what we see as a significant step forward."

Brad Johnson again at Climate Progress: Calderon on climate talks: “As we’re squabbling, the plane is going down.”

Calderon: "Sometimes I think in this respect we fail to understand that we’re all passengers in the same vessel, in the same aircraft, or the same vehicle. Our aircraft has now seen the disappearance of the pilot. Something happened in the cabin. And all the passengers are responsible for the aircraft, and we’re squabbling about these matters. Whether the guilt lies with those in the tourist class or those sitting up front in first class and the plane continues to go down. It’s as if we were in a truck on a winding road and the driver has had a heart attack, and we’re all on the edge of hitting a tree, going over into a ravine, squabbling again. I think, friends, somebody has to take control of the aircraft or put on the brakes.

"Taking control of the truck, taking the rudder, and starting to apply the brakes isn’t the only problem. We don’t know which curve we’re going to crash in. We need to get back the controls which we lost a long time ago. Let us take that step. Let us be practical where we can be practical — which implies not resignation or renunciation with respect to the fact that this is the only world we’ve got. The island states and everyone’s countries should last reasonably and should be fit for living in forever. This is the target. But today let us act. I don’t think that radical pretexts or all-or-nothing postures should provide a proper excuse for those who don’t want to cooperate to spend another year fighting and squabbling among the passengers among that single truck, that single bus, that single aircraft which is on the point of crashing. We need to get control back over the vessel."

Friday, December 10, 2010


Rant-warning. I’m going to step out of our long-standing practice of speaking less passionately in first-person plural and do some personal, singular venting here.

Here in Cancún at the Climate Summit I am a little sleep-deprived and perhaps that makes me more emotional, but last night I was not merely shocked, but aghast at the positions being advanced on behalf of myself, as an American citizen, by my government.

A few more caviats may be in order, because although I travel on a US passport, I was born on a Pacific territorial possession whose Queen was deposed by a coup led by Dole Corporation mercenaries backed by the US Marine Corps. At that time, 1893, the Hawaiian Army was more than capable of engaging and repelling the puny attack, but Queen Liliʻuokalani ordered her palace guards to stand down in the spirit of Aloha — non-violence, and allow her to win over the aggressors by returning kindness, in the tradition of her culture. Instead, her island territory was annexed by the United States for a naval base and she was placed under permanent house arrest.

For the past 20 years I have spent a lot of time away from the US, teaching and organizing, and so I consider myself more of a world citizen. As readers of this blog know, I criticize and entreat my government when I think it is wrong, but still, as a taxpayer and registered voter, I take a degree of ownership in the things that the United States does in my name. That is why I am so ashamed today.

Another piece of background is in order here. In 1980, as a young environmental attorney, I was engaged in litigation against an agricultural chemical company that was despoiling a freshwater aquifer with the byproducts of the manufacture of herbicides and pesticides. Millions of gallons of toxic fluids were being pumped a mile down, “fracking” the rock and contaminating an enormous drinking water source that stretches from the Appalachian mountains to the Texas gulf coast. Epidemiological “hot spots” of central nervous system damage like Reye's syndrome and brain tumors were already appearing near the injection zone. The argument being made by the company was that surface waters in the local area are so abundant there is no need to protect the deeper source. My countering argument was that two factors would converge to change that, long before the poison had lost its deadliness.

Those two changes were population and climate.

And so, I found myself, in 1980, having to argue climate change in court. At that time global warming was thought to be progressing at about 1 degree per century. By the time I compiled my research into a book, Climate in Crisis: The Greenhouse Effect and What We Can Do (foreword by Al Gore) in 1990, much more was known. Since then I have read most English language books published in the field and many of the source studies. One can say I am obsessed with the subject, but I would say only that I am concerned less for my country than for my species, and want to do all I can to insure our survival.

This concern led me to found the Ecovillage Network of the Americas, demonstrating low-carbon built environments across all cultures; to be on the board of the US Biochar Initiative, providing policy guidance in the ethical application of carbon-minus agriculture; and to offset my own travel and lifestyle emissions by tree planting since 1985. It is also what brought me to each of the United Nations climate summits as an NGO delegate with consultative status.

So when I listened yesterday to a briefing on the current US position in these talks, it was with a history of already having heard it all and not having very high expectations of my government. But even I was shocked.

President Obama, as he did in Copenhagen, is again undermining the Kyoto Protocol, which Al Gore negotiated but the Senate never ratified (President Clinton never sent it up to the Hill, nor has any president since). Obama’s Copenhagen Accord, a backroom deal with emergent powers India, China, South Africa and Brazil that substitutes voluntary pledges for the “commitments” agreed in Kyoto, leaves a “gigaton gap” of accumulating carbon in the atmosphere. Wikileaks’ State Dept. cables have revealed that since Copenhagen Hillary Clinton has turned US diplomats into spies, gathering dirt on various reluctant participants in the Obama Accord, and either blackmailing them or offering bribes. Hillary Clinton is persona non grata at the UN now, having breached its charter, so an appearance by the President of the United States is unthinkable.

Wednesday President Correa of Ecuador was asked by Amy Goodman of DemocracyNow!  if he could confirm the $2.5 million bribe Ecuador was offered and whether he thought his refusal to take it was a cause of the failed coup attempt on his government earlier this year. President Correa said that indeed they had refused the $2.5 million, but that Ecuador would offer the US $5 million if it would ratify the Kyoto Protocol. He is still waiting for John Boehner and Mitch McConnell to get back to him on that. Personally I think $5 million is chump change to most Republicans and $5 billion or $5 trillion might be a more successful bribe. There are 190 nations here in Cancún today. As Richard Nixon famously said to John Dean, “We can get that.”

Which brings me back to yesterday’s briefing. The US is sticking with voluntary pledges and claiming that the barrier to a climate treaty is lack of transparency by China and the less-industrial countries. Studies released here this week have confirmed that this is a false claim. China and others are very transparent and the commitments they have made in the past have uniformly been met. China has pledged to reduce CO2 emissions by 40% to 45% from 1990 by 2020 and in the first quarter of this year it built more renewable energy infrastructure than the rest of the world combined. In contrast, the lack of transparency is coming entirely from the United States, which has not even met the weak commitments it made in Copenhagen last December. So, for instance, transparency requires a standard reference term by which all parties measure progress.

When the Obama delegation arrived in Copenhagen, they were speaking such a strange language that UN interpreters, who are the best in their profession, were left staring at each other blankly. The common reference term under the Kyoto Protocol is 1990. So, for instance, in 1997 the US committed in Kyoto to reduce its emissions of CO2 equivalents (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride, and two groups of ozone hole gases, hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons) by 2012 by 5.6% from 1990 levels. The European Union and Australia committed to 8% and others, such as Iceland, Norway and Denmark, to higher numbers. National emission targets exclude international aviation and shipping. Kyoto Parties can use "sink" activities — land use, land use change, and forestry (LULUCF) — in meeting their targets, or can pay surrogates to do this for them, which is the basis for the current carbon markets.

The US fell woefully short of its Kyoto obligation. While US carbon emissions since 1900 already occupy a third of the available atmosphere (below concentrations that would cause warming), by 2012, US emissions are projected to increase to more than 7,709 teragrams (7.7 GtC), which will be 26 percent above 1990 levels. So President Obama merely changed the reference terms. US proposals are now couched in non-transparent terms like “since 2005” instead of 1990. Instead of speaking of a 2-degree or 1.5 degree warming target (we are now at 0.8 degrees and rising), Secretary Clinton speaks of “450 ppm,” which is an outdated reference from 13 years ago. By using 2005, Clinton can propose a “17%” reduction when actually it is more like 4%. By using 450 instead of 350, Clinton assures that catastrophic warming of 4 degrees and higher by mid-century will sink many Island nations, dissolve coral reefs and extinguish countless species, perhaps even our own.

To provide some context, World Resources Institute looked at the Obama pledge in Copenhagen and considered what kinds of sacrifices USAnians would be forced to make to meet it. One of the charts was particularly poignant. Transportation fuel milage standards would need to rise to 50 mpg by 2030. I drive a biodiesel VW Jetta that still gets 50 mpg even though it was built in 2003. Some sacrifice!

A US government spokesperson proudly said that they project that oil consumption would be flat by 2020, and that “by 2020 America will use less oil than in 2007 because of tailpipe standards.” Certainly by 2020 we all will be using less oil, but believe me (or the International Energy Agency), it ain’t the tailpipe. She went onto say that more than 200,000 US homes have been weatherized at an average annual savings of $500 and that Energy Star appliances have never been selling better. To me it sounded like whistling past the greenhouse.

In a listening session convened by the President of Mexico, Anote Tong,  President of Kiribati, the smallest island nation in the world, said “We are beginning to wonder if we will survive the negotiations themselves. We must keep the process afloat.”

“Whoever thinks they are more vulnerable than we are, we can swap countries, with pleasure,” he said. He recalled that the night before México had hosted a photo exhibit and gala concert of the national orchestra and displayed the tremendous breadth of the Mexican culture. “Mr. President,” he said to Felipe Calderone, “my country has a long and beautiful culture also, but that may soon be completely extinguished. The UNFCCC is becoming meaningless for us. We may not be here in future meetings. We will be gone.”

So far, however, no country has agreed to relocate substantial numbers of Kiribati. Tong’s government signed onto New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme and Australia’s Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme, which provide seasonal employment opportunities in fruit-picking and horticulture industries. President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia did tell President Tong that there was "plenty of room" in his country for Kiribati migrants, but he died suddenly in office in August 2008 and the offer as not renewed by his successor. 

Tong said we should not be speaking as nations, with mandates sent from our capitals. We should be talking amongst ourselves. We should remember we are human. And what we are talking about here are human lives.

Every shovel of coal mined and burned, every overweight car and inefficient light bulb, every useless piece of plastic in our lives — they all light a bonfire of the human culture, they destroy the legacy of forest, lake and ocean biodioversity, and they dash the hopes and dreams of our children. I weep for my country, my planet, my grandchildren.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Can Cancún Can-Do?

Last year in Copenhagen we were among a very few UN outsiders daily blogging from inside the climate summit and we went to great lengths to be relatively punctual and reliable in our reporting. This year, in contrast, there are scads of bloggers — an entire “bloggers loft” at the Cancun Messe site devoted to video bloggers (vloggers).

Just to read the feeds from all the tweeters here you would need multiple heads. So we are off the hook this year. Whew! Why spend time wading through security and trying to parse all the acronyms when you can be in a turquoise sea looking up at seagulls?

Yesterday we attended the Pew Center/Government of Mexico forum on Communicating Climate Change and got to knock elbows at the chow line with climate celebrities. FCCC organizer Simon Anholt gave the equivalent of a TED talk to close the morning session and IPCC nobelist Rajendra Pachauri gave the luncheon keynote. Ozone hole discoverer Mario Molino, No-Impact-Man Colin Beavan, and Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa were among the afternoon line-up. While Anholt really got people’s juices flowing, Espinosa’s rousing stand-up slayed. 

You don’t need to take a survey, as the Pew Center and Yale did, to know there is an enormous and growing gap in the public appreciation of climate change. Awareness of the climate is actually higher in China and India than it is in the United States and Mexico, but awareness does not mean understanding. While more than 40% of people in the US think climate change is serious (down from more than 50% five years ago), 97% of the 600 million Chinese who know about climate change feel it is no threat. Similar numbers can be found in India. This takes Fox News and the Koch brothers off the hook. The US is feeling less dumb already.

As Simon Anholt said, climate change, put as simply as possible, is the impact of having 7 billion people living at the highest level of resource consumption the world has ever seen. In many ways, that is a mark of the success of the United Nations, and of the international aid and development work of many agencies and individuals over the past 50 years. And not surprisingly, many of the stakeholders one finds roaming the halls at a UN event have the expectation that “sustainable development” mandate can and should continue. Most, if not all, would even go so far as to say it must continue. And so we drift, by Millennial Development Goals and Clean Development Mechanisms, towards unparalleled catastrophe. 

Another point made by Anholt is that governments care a lot about their reputations. Sweden has a great reputation and finds it easy to get credit, enter markets, attract tourists and so forth. Mexico, by contrast, has a serious image problem about safety. Its drug cartels, some trained and equipped in the School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia, are now more powerful than its government, and certainly more wealthy and with better long-term prospects. Such insecurity makes it much harder for Mexico to attract investors, credit and tourists, although it is the drug money that likely built the luxury resorts we are shuttling between. These resorts have more than one kind of laundry to do.

Anholt, a Planetary Emergency Technician who parachutes in to hot spots to advocate rescue remedies where others have failed (his business card bears only his name), said that countries know that they need a good image to have success, and so they waste millions of tax dollars on gawd-awful propaganda, not noticing that in the information age it has gotten harder to buy a good reputation. Sweden’s message is that you may have to actually do something good, like give to the poor, or save the environment. Many companies are starting to get this. Countries will eventually have to. Mr. Calderon’s Mayan Riviera windmill is a poignant case of trying to appear greener than you actually are, but at least it actually works. The first time we saw it we thought it was being turned by motors, entirely for show.

So that’s the formula. If a country wants to do business it must be admired. In order to be admired it must do good. This is a conundrum for many governments, not the least the USA, whose reputation took a huge hit from the Bush-Cheney torture-and-mayhem brand. It briefly revived with the Shepard Ferry “Hope” poster but that has now tarnished with the Obama torture-mayhem-and-cover-up re-brand, the Obama Security State (OSS) that imprisons whistleblowers, and the recent right wing election coup. A Pew survey found that of 22 US Senate challengers in the last election, 20 did not trust climate scientists. Given this display of Tweetle-dee and Tweetle-dumber on the world stage, USA’s credit and confidence reservoirs are drying up, globally, and the Cancun talks are a very clear indication of that. A US citizen attending these meetings feels much like a Japanese citizen attending a screening of The Cove. An icebreaker at parties is to find a shared interest in Michael Moore.

The problem is not confined to a few bad countries, however. We live in an era of borderless problems. As Simon Anholt told the forum, one thing our problems share is that they are all symptoms of a lack of any sane global governance. We haven’t attained the next stage of our evolution: species self-awareness. We are still fragmented and competing nation-states and soul-less corporations. The UN is in 0.9 beta. But, and we keep saying this whenever we get stuck in a long queue for a shuttle bus, as bug-prone as it is, its the only game in town.

After Copenhagen public opinion towards the UN, and government in general, entered a new crisis of confidence. The Wikileaks phenomenon is just another symptom of that. Wilkileaks’ popularity (not to mention its revelations) demonstrates that our governments are incompetent at best, corrupt and greedy at worst, and people now get that. That new branding is being seared into our common psyche. What Karl Rove couldn’t accomplish, Hillary Clinton is driving home.

As we begin the chaotic Anthopocene Epoch, the public is beginning to understand that no one is in charge and we are all aboard a burning ocean liner. Are there evacuation plans? A fire brigade? Any plan at all? Do we have a string quartet to play “Nearer My God to Thee?”
Rajendra Pachauri told the audience that the only superpower today is public opinion. We can take that a step farther and say people’s perceptions are based on patterns of development that begin while they are still in the womb, are strongly embedded by cultural experiences, and continue along driven by that inertia even in the face of strong evidence that the accepted norms of their parents no longer obtain. We are creatures of habit. The big picture – that there are 7 billion of us consuming resources at unsustainable rates, and that both the number of us and our rate of consumption are increasing, not diminishing — is an intractable dilemma simply because opinion about it is fixed and non-negotiable.
Jennifer Scott, Global Head of Strategy and Planning, Ogilvy & Mather, outlined a survey of more than 500 participants at COP-16. The study found that 56% believe that there has already been irreversible damage to the planet, and another 27% believe that such damage is coming within 10 years. Nearly 90 percent believe that the time to act is right now, but only 33% think the talks are headed towards resolution (29% developed world respondents, 38% developing). A full 83% believe response will only come once countries experience the consequences in the full 3D surround sound of real time. Appearances to peers matters — 64% believe the unwillingness to risk economic or political damage at home is the greatest barrier to reaching an agreement. Only 20%  think public apathy is due to skepticism in the science, although 58% say the public has only very limited understanding of the issues. Scientists are trusted by 66%, journalists by only 24% (and probably those respondents were the journalists). Still, 76% rank mainstream media as the best vehicle for conveying the message, and human interest stories as the most effective way (65%).

That last point was driven home by “No Impact Man” Colin Beaven, who put up two images, side-by-side, one of climbing stairs with a child on his shoulders and the other of a MEGO chart. “Which of these images is more likely to draw your attention?” he asked.

Anthony Leiserowitz, Director of the Project on Climate Change at Yale University, said that 66% of people surveyed in 150 countries trust scientists and experts, but less than half  trust global organizations like the UN (42%), or public figures and activists (41%). “Just between China and India we are talking about 2 billion people who know nothing about climate change,” he said, and added that this is very unfortunate because these are the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.

The sad thing, and Pachauri and many others alluded to this, is that our species’ suicidal, geocidal meander toward “sustainable development” is not even going where people think it is going. The objective is happiness, and every study shows that happiness is increased by factors having nothing to do with shopping in WalMart or the Gap; turning dolphins and salmon into catfood, or bling. Consumption doesn’t work.
The Onion ran a fake story yesterday with the headline “Report: Unemployment High Because People Keep Blowing Their Job Interviews.”  The irony is that may be true. People want jobs that maintain their status quo. They want governments that will give them whatever they consider their patrimony or natural right to consume. Those are impossible career goals, but public opinion, the world’s only superpower, has yet to come to grips with it. Demands for the impossible are clashing with what is possible, as in the case of a family whose breadwinners are out of work, the house has been foreclosed, social welfare provides for neither the children’s food nor the grandparents’ medical needs and they so they just decide to pack up and go to Disney World.
And the irony is that it is all so unnecessary because the low-energy, low-carbon, low-impact path is so much more fun, healthier, and more fulfilling than the dead-end wage slavery it could be replacing before it is all too late. After all, many good studies in various countries already show profitable means to achieve 40% aggregate reductions from 1990 levels for 2020. Some UN observers, like Zero Carbon Britain, Climate Action Network and European Climate Foundation, have shown how we can transition to a zero carbon economy for developed countries by 2050. Dubious technologies like clean coal and nuclear can be pursued by countries inviting their own financial ruin, but most would likely prefer to adopt clean renewables targets like China’s.
Speaking in Spanish, Patricia Espinoza said that while it is the usual thing to talk about climate solutions that involve energy production or transportation, and numeric limits, that few people yet see the whole picture. When we talk about climate change we are really talking about changing everything. She listed some of the things that people need to think about, like the size of their house and car, where their food comes from, how many children they have, and what it would be like if not just the business they were in was closed, but that entire industrial sector was phased out. Big problems require big thinking, she told the conference, and we are still thinking much too small.




The Great Change is published whenever the spirit moves me. Writings on this site are purely the opinion of Albert Bates and are subject to a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike 3.0 "unported" copyright. People are free to share (i.e, to copy, distribute and transmit this work) and to build upon and adapt this work – under the following conditions of attribution, n on-commercial use, and share alike: Attribution (BY): You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work). Non-Commercial (NC): You may not use this work for commercial purposes. Share Alike (SA): If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one. Nothing in this license is intended to reduce, limit, or restrict any rights arising from fair use or other limitations on the exclusive rights of the copyright owner under copyright law or other applicable laws. Therefore, the content of
this publication may be quoted or cited as per fair use rights. Any of the conditions of this license can be waived if you get permission from the copyright holder (i.e., the Author). Where the work or any of its elements is in the public domain under applicable law, that status is in no way affected by the license. For the complete Creative Commons legal code affecting this publication, see here. Writings on this site do not constitute legal or financial advice, and do not reflect the views of any other firm, employer, or organization. Information on this site is not classified and is not otherwise subject to confidentiality or non-disclosure.