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November 23rd 2012 print

Michael Kile

In for their COP — Part III

Intoxicated by self-importance, the Doha delegates will talk climate change until those methane-exuding cows come home. Not a word of it will make a scrap of difference to the weather

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) is the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which now covers only 18 per cent of global GHG emissions. Under the Protocol, 37 states – mainly developed countries – have agreed to legally binding emission limitation and reduction commitments. It has yet to be ratified by the US, while NZ, Canada, Japan and Russia have said they would not sign up to a second round when the commitment lapses at the end of 2012.

The objective of both treaties, according to the UN, is “to stabilize atmospheric GHG concentrations at a level that [allegedly] will prevent dangerous human interference in the climate system.”

What is that critical level? Desperate to keep the Climate Circus alive, a figure was pulled out of Cancun’s tropical air in late 2010. It was agreed (arbitrarily) that human GHG emissions should be reduced to a level that (hopefully) ensures “global temperature increases are limited to below 2 degrees Celsius.”

To understand how we got here, a closer look at the history of international climate politics is instructive. We also have to ask (often), as did ancient Rome’s famous judge, Lucius Cassius: “Cui bono?” Who benefits?

When, for example, did "climate change" first appear as the rationale for developed-developing world wealth transfer on an unprecedented scale? It was two decades ago. Ever since the UNFCCC codified dubious notions of “dangerous” climate change, “climate debt” and “precautionary” action in 1992, UN agencies been moving slowly – and obsessively – towards this highly politicised end-game.

UN climate debt has two components: Adaptation debt – compensation owed to the poor for the damages of climate change they have not caused; and emissions debt – compensation owed for their fair share of the atmospheric space they cannot use if climate change is to be stopped.

The UNFCCC’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), was established in 1988 by the UN Environment Programme and UN World Meteorological Organization. It provided the agency’s climate juggernaut with a deepening alarmist narrative over two decades, successfully getting the issue on national political agendas.

So why has it been left off the guest-list this year? “For the first time in the 18 years of COP, the IPCC will not be attending, because we have not been invited,” Chairman Dr Rajendra Pachauri told the Gulf Times in Doha last week.

When an accurate history of the UN’s involvement is written, it will show how eagerly – and prematurely – the developing world (and other players) embraced it, years before the IPCC and its well-paid consultants ruled (incorrectly) the science was “settled”. It will be a case study in politicisation of science and confirmation bias on a grand scale.

Blind spot: 1. Psychology (scotoma): An obscuration of the visual field. 2. Psychology: An individual’s (or group’s) inability (or unwillingness) to perceive personality (or organizational) traits in themselves that are obvious to others.

Did the UNFCCC’s desired policy options – anthropogenic carbon dioxide and climate “stabilisation” – create a negative feedback loop between politics, science, and science funding? Was there overconfident assessment of the importance of GHGs in driving future climate change and of agency confidence in its model “projections”?

The UNFCCC’s primary objective was to prevent ‘dangerous’ human interference with the Earth’s climate. Under Article 3.1 of its Principles, the Parties “should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”

It assumes collective global action actually can stabilise greenhouse gas concentration levels at about either 550 parts per million or 450ppm by about 2100 and meet the Copenhagen (COP-15) objective of limiting global warming to below 2C above preindustrial levels. Yet this controversial objective is not based on an established law of Nature that quantifies the precise relationship between human-generated GHC levels and global surface temperature. (There is no such law.)

Uncertainty, however,, has never bothered the UNFCCC or IPCC. When in doubt, use the (pseudo-scientific) precautionary principle to justify your preferred course of action. Article 3.3: “The Parties should take precautionary measures to anticipate, prevent or minimize the causes of climate change and mitigate its adverse effects. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing such measures.”

As for “climate vulnerability”, IPCC has defined it as ‘the degree to which a system is susceptible to, and unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes’.

Vague and unquantifiable, open to PP exploitation, the concept is a carbon conman’s dream come true. What if one person’s vulnerability is another’s natural (not anthropogenic) variability? What if the system is “unable to cope” due to adverse impacts of rapid population growth on resource availability and so on? And who will determine system “susceptibility”?

Hence the UNFCCC’s disclaimer:

“This site may contain advice, opinions and statements of various information providers. The United Nations does not represent or endorse the accuracy or reliability of any advice, opinion, statement or other information provided by any information provider. Reliance upon any such advice, opinion, statement, or other information shall also be at the User’s own risk. Neither the United Nations nor its affiliates, nor any of their respective agents, employees, information providers or content providers, shall be liable to any User or anyone else for any inaccuracy, error, omission, interruption, deletion, defect, alteration of or use of any content herein, or for its timeliness or completeness, or for any resulting damages.”

Hubris, n., 1. Drama: in ancient Greek tragedy, an excess of ambition, pride, etc, ultimately causing the transgressor’s ruin. 2. Pride or arrogance. 3. Pysychology: Loss of contact with reality; overestimation of competence or capabilities, especially by a person in a position of power.

Strange, but true: blindfold a person, place them in an open field and ask them to take a walk. They invariably go around in circles. Some agencies have a similar tendency, growing in size and complexity during the process.

In today’s green Zeitgeist, sclerotic bureaucracies (and religious institutions) are especially vulnerable to capture by an issue like DACC; a dodgy fable of post-modern science, one that bestows both feel-good moral superiority and a seductive sense of global purpose, while encouraging the quixotic delusion that the Earth’s thermostat can be placed under human control and manipulated merely by monetising, trading and ticket-clipping coupons (“credits”) over a harmless invisible trace gas.

Whatever the ultimate cost of the international Carbon Cargo Cult Club’s surreal attempts to engineer a decarbonised world, you can be sure of one thing – there will be no measurable effect on the planet’s climate. As for the impact on your wallet, contact our Minister for Bovine Emissions and Future Generations for details.

Michael Kile’s essential backgrounder to the Doha climate carnival. Part I can be found here and Part II here