Posturing and Small Victories
Predictably, the bulk of the conference that I have seen has been nations advocating theories and mechanisms that would either limit their own responsibility for controlling emissions (relative to everyone else’s) or make it easier for them to achieve a given amount of climate change mitigation equivalent under the law. I’m sure that there are substantive negotiations going on behind closed doors, but it seems clear that now is the time for posturing and small victories.
The US state department hosted speakers from several nations (and India made the case in the main forum discussion) that CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage: grabbing CO2 as it is being emitted and sticking it somewhere out of the atmosphere) technology should be included as a CDM (Clean Development Mechanism: a way for rich countries to cheaply invest in carbon mitigation in developing countries instead of adopting more costly measures at home). This is controversial since CCS is a collection of unproven methods for reducing long-term emissions. During Q and A for the U.S. forum a person from the crowd called the speakers out for focusing on unreliable CCS technology when they could be developing renewable energy. The speaker responded that as rich nations it is the responsibility of the U.S. and others to develop the technology and to give it to the less fortunate countries. He presented the argument so well that I almost didn’t notice that he didn’t answer why these rich nations should be given credit for reducing emissions with this method before the technology is shown to work.
China, for their part, hosted a special session where a group of their think tank representatives suggested a plan that figured out how much obligation each nation has for reducing emissions based upon the per-capita national emissions to date. I couldn’t tell from the presentation where they got their population numbers, but it was clear where this plan was headed…with their recent industrialization and tremendous modern population their emission reduction obligation would be essentially negligible relative to other large emitters’.
A central battle that has developed is over the future of Kyoto. Kyoto doesn’t contain emission obligations for the nations of the world that were developing back in 1997, so many of the developing nations, China, and India would like to see the continuation of Kyoto after the U.S. signs on. Canada and the U.S. have pointed out that the developed world now accounts for only ~35% of the total emissions, so a continuation of Kyoto is not a viable way forward. There is also a lot of talk about parallel plans. Perhaps this means extending and strengthening Kyoto while also adopting another simultaneous plan that requires emissions reductions for everyone.
I’ve read that the U.S. has explicitly ruled out signing on to a Kyoto-like deal…
The flyer on my chair is demanding “reparations for climate debt”…
And never the twain shall meet? Hopefully this is just posturing.
–Brendan Carter, Scripps Oceanography graduate student