Monday, December 10, 2007

Prime minister's monkey business keeps dashing hopes for progress on environmental issues

Related Links: UNFCC wikipedia, UNFCCC website, UN climate change conference in Bali website, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) website, IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (Nov. 17, 2007 - AR4 Synthesis Report)

In the days leading up to the Bali conference on climate change, the world seemed poised to set plans in motion that would put major curbs on emissions of greenhouse gases that cause global warming. The release of major study of global warming in November* signaled the clear and present danger confronting the entire human race. Arriving in Bali last week, delegates' optimism about tackling a major environmental crisis was reminiscent of the scene at the General Assembly in New York only a year ago.

Photo (Jotman) : "Prime Minister poses for Bali photo op."

Last year at the UN headquarters, the countries of the world were poised to sign onto an extraordinary international agreement to end "bottom trawling" -- a despicable fisheries practice that effectively destroys seabed habitat. But one country was instrumental in scuttling that agreement. When this nation introduced a toothless "compromise" initiative, perhaps the last best hope for protecting undersea life on earth was sabotaged (see post).

Something eerily similar seems to be afoot this December in Bali where negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Kyoto Protocol are being held.*

The country in question pledged a 6% CO2 reduction under the Kyoto Accord, but instead has increased its emissions by 33%. Essentially, this country signed the Kyoto Accord, but has ignored it.

As you may have guessed, the country is Canada.

BBC reports:
US opposition to the Kyoto Protocol has partly been predicated on the argument that major developing countries, as well as the industrialised world, should accept binding targets for reducing emissions.

The argument has been freshly made in Bali by Canada. A set of "Canadian Principles for a post-2012 Climate Change Agreement", leaked to environmental groups, states: "The agreement should include binding emission reduction targets for all major emitters. "

"Developed countries should be required to take action more quickly, but major industrialised developing countries should also have binding targets."

Major developing economies such as China, India and Brazil argue that their per-capita emissions are a long way below western levels, and that taking on targets would slow their economic growth.

In September the US hosted the first meeting of the "major economies" group - also known as the "big emitters" - bringing together the biggest greenhouse gas producers from the developed and developing worlds.

The same group has been meeting again on the fringes of the Bali talks, which environmental groups say is a US move designed to undermine the UN process. The US has announced a further "big emitters" summit at the end of January.

Photo (Jotman): "US President Bush hides behind Canadian Prime Minister Harper."

Opposing the Canadian block is the EU and developing countries. They want industrialized nations to start talks on a further set of emissions targets. Both sides have a valid point. Although the West brought about the climate change crisis, the rapidly industrializing East is poised to make a bad situation far worse. As Al Gore pointed out in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech today, the US and China must work together to solve the problem.

The conflict is between those who argue, on the one hand that total emissions need to be the determining factor, and those who would focus on per-capita emissions. North Americans and Australians have the highest carbon emissions on a per-capita basis. The average citizen of China, for example, don't account for high emissions; but as a country, China's carbon emissions will soon surpass even America's.

Why has the EU been quick to side with the developing world?

Europeans and the Japanese have lower per-capita carbon emissions than the North Americans and Australians. They don't feel the need to own giant houses in isolated suburbs requiring long commutes. In Osaka or Rome an SUV is not considered a birthright. Basically, Europeans and Japanese don't consume as much as North Americans and Australians. The latter have perfected the high-carbon emission lifestyle. The individual inhabitants of Canada, the US, and Australia bear the largest share of responsibility for global warming on a per-capita basis. They are also among the wealthiest people on earth; their countries among the most resource-rich; and they tend to be well-educated.

Clearly, it's up these nations most responsible for a problem take the lead in solving it. Especially as the countries in question possess the skills and resources to set things right. What they lack today is leadership.

Another strategy of industrialized countries in Bali has been to turn the agenda to trade issues. Specifically, the West wants the developing countries to lower trade barriers on low-carbon energy products. Non-profit organizations are crying foul, accusing the Western block of attempting to "recycle failed WTO initiatives". Perhaps its a fair point. The World Trade Organization was set up for discussion of trade issues. And at recent talks Western industrialized countries refused to open their markets to agricultural products from poor countries, so those talks stalled.

So what's with Canada? Canada's Prime Minister, Stephen Harper is an ideological cousin of George W. Bush. On the home front, when it comes to social issues, Harper's Conservative Party is far more progressive than its American counterpart, the Republicans. But internationally, Canada's young government is rudderless; it acts as if George W. Bush were its only constituency.

Experience taught us to expect nothing by way of leadership from the former Australian Prime Minister John Howard or outgoing US President Bush. Most disappointing is the young Canadian Prime Minister.

At least the European Union and Australia's new PM Kevin Rudd are taking steps in the right direction. But it looks as if the level of international resolve and leadership necessary to tackling the climate change crisis will have to wait until after the 2008 US presidential elections.

Photo (Jotman): "President Bush returns the favor."

* The backdrop to the Bali summit is the comprehensive assessment of climate science, impacts and economics produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) during the course of 2007. The Bali conference is sometimes referred to as COP-13 or MOP-3
Photos: Taken at Ulu Watu Bali by Jotman. Ulu Watu is an spectacular temple situated on some high cliffs not far from Nusa Dua, the site of the UNFCCC conference in Bali.
Other sources:
UNDispatch, DeSmogBlog, BBC News

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