Friday, 8 January 2010

Copenhagen Contradictions

For those who take any interest in green politics, politics of the environment, climate change, or international relations at all can't have missed the palava that was the UNFCCC's COP15 in Copenhagen in December. It was two weeks of unbridled politicking, bitching, policy-making, policy-wrecking, and all round political giggles that as far as most can see had rather little to do with mitigating disastrous climate change and quite a lot to do with (poorly played) power games. What emerged at the end was the 'meaningful' (not 'historic', nor 'effective', not even 'quite good') Copenhagen Accord. While this has been received as it should have been (that is, laughably) in most quarters, the Accord is not really what is interesting about the event.

What I find most interesting is the plethora of reaction, response, recommendation, reflection, and soothsaying that occurred post-fiasco. The number of quoted 'successes' and 'failures' of the Conference is truly astounding. And, what's more, often the 'successes' are recorded as 'failures' (and vice-versa) simply depending on which publication you happen to read. I have had the privilege (no, Mat, it really is a privilege, come on now, don't be defeatist, you have a lot to be thankful for, such as the ability to type, even if you're hands are freezing because they won't fix the heating in your tiny, neglected, empty, grey, lonesome office)... sorry... I have had the privilege of looking through about 180 mainstream broadsheet news articles published since the end of the Conference and it is amazing at the sheer lack of agreement on such a large number of issues post-event. Ignoring the major question of whether the Conference as a whole was a 'success' or 'failure' (it's probably becoming increasingly obvious which side of that I fall on), there is extremely little agreement on even whether the smaller happenings in the Conference represent a good or bad thing. So, to that end, below is a list of my favourite post-Copenhagen media contradictions:

1. Getting States talking about Climate Change

Success: The UNFCCC got 193 States in all one place talking about Climate Change, yes!
Now, this is in fact an impressive feat. To get the representatives of all the 193 UN accredited nations into the Conference centre in Copenhagen, largely at the same time, largely together, talking about Climate Change represents a massive increase in the official interest in the issue since the Kyoto talks of 1997 where there were more like 90 delegations.

Failure: The UNFCCC got 193 States all one place only talking about Climate Change, bummer.
Of course, given the impressive nature of getting all the delegations to the Conference to discuss the issue (and putting aside the fact that most of the less important little delegations got left outside, in the snow, in Denmark) what would have been great if there was actually some action following all the talk. Unfortunately, what occurred was much like a Monty Python sketch except that instead of trying to one-up each other on how little they had, the smaller countries competed on how badly hit they would be by climate change and how they couldn't possibly do anything about it themselves while the developing countries stood around arguing the finer philosophical points of regulation. By this I mean America asks China to let people check they were actually doing what they said they might say they might do in terms of emissions reductions, to which a junior Chinese aide replied 'if a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?', to which America went 'huh? Yes. No. Maybe. Look, are you gonna let us police it or not?!' The end result being that all parties came away declaring boldly that climate change was a 'bad thing' for much the same reasons they (and everyone else) thought it was before.

2. The Accord

Success: They did actually agree, an Accord was written, and something 'meaningful' happened
They all sat down, made signs at each other that suggested they each thought that climate change was 'bad', Ed Miliband made the V-sign in response to the whole process and someone took this as a signal that there was unified agreement to try to reach a 2 degree cut in emissions to avoid the worst effects of climate change while still slowly killing the planet ('two, Ed, is that two degrees you're trying to suggest, Sir?'). A 'meaningful' moment it was.

Failure: They all sat down, and agreed... to do nothing, really
It is well publicised, well known, and well repeated that the UNFCCC's science bods themselves admit the Accord goes nowhere near the reductions needed - in word, spirit, or policy. It's not even a proper UN declaration; for that you need unanimity. As such what we're left with is the UN 'noting' something that they had already 'noted' before (in the form of an actual treaty at Kyoto, shoddy as it may have been) thanks to a few small, holdout states.

3. Having the US on board, discussing climate change properly

Success: The US were there, with a delegation, seeking to actually do something about climate change
It is hard to refute that seeing the massive, over-the-top, heavily 'secured' delegation that the US took with them to Copenhagen is an improvement. The big man himself showed up and everything. They are willing to talk, and isn't that the start of any rehabilitation process; admitting you've got a problem (even if it's bleeding obvious to eeeeeeeeeeeeeeveryone else) is the first step, right?

Failure: The US were there, with a delegation, seeking to do something, but going about it in an oh-so-American way
Sure they were there, but did that actually help? Obama insulted China, so China insulted Obama, so Obama insulted China some more then smiled and moved on, so the Chinese frowned and sulked and will hold a grudge (God only knows how long for). Likewise, Todd Stern (Obama's Climate Change Special Envoy) said climate change wasn't a social problem at all but all Math(s) - something the drowning masses will no doubt ponder as another unexpected Tsunami hits their homes built on nothing but numbers and engineering. Oh wait, that's not right is it - homes are built by people, who then live in them as people, and die in them when an unexpected weather event hits like people do. Ah well, at least the US were there to show themselves up, unlike last time.

4. Developed countries showing leadership

Success: The developed countries finally agreeing to lead the way
The EU, UK, and US all turned up prepared. They had knowledge, expertise, delegations, and nicely prepackaged policy. I have absolutely no doubt that much of this policy would be great and would make a massive difference (in real terms) but to try and get it rubber stamped without having the courtesy to at least pretend some of it came from elsewhere is just not how the UN works, ya know.

Failure: The developed countries finally agreeing to lead the way, so long as the developing nations do as they say
Seriously guys, a leaked policy document from the (ever agreeable) hosts proposing to take power away from all other countries who aren't HD-ready on day two?! Even by our colonial standards that's a bit quick.

5. Brazil, China, and India talking to each other about doing something about climate change

Success: They were in a room, they were talking climate change
Like point (1), that's actually pretty impressive. The fact that they are prepared to talk about multilateral action on this issue is genuinely a massive step, and a darn significant one.

Failure: They were in a room, they were talking about climate change, when the Chinese Premier was meant to be in a room, talking about climate change, with Obama
In one of the most public and balls-out snubs of what promises to be a great decade of Chinese snubbery Obama was sent a junior aide instead. And when he tried to meet the Premier again 'just found all these other people' (the Heads of State of Brazil and India) in the room too. How dare they, this was meant to be Obama and China's alone-time, darn it.

All in all, a bit ridiculous. Not so much one-step forward, one step back as 20 horses trying to do the Samba, on ice, thin ice, because of the climate change and all that. Whether or not Copenhagen was a 'success' or 'failure' I really can't say. It just kinda 'was', like climate change will 'be', until we find a frankly less ludicrous way of going about trying to abate it than this.

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