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December 11th 2012 print

Michael Kile


The UN's latest scare-a-thon has drawn mercifully to a close, but not before pushing the boundaries of institutionalised idiocy. Apart from the usual dire predictions of the world's imminent peril, here is what the delegates achieved

“I have been a bad boy,” confessed Viscount Christopher Monckton of Brenchley.

At the U.N. climate conference in Doha, I addressed a plenary session of national negotiating delegates, though only accredited as an observer.

One just couldn’t resist. There they all were, earnestly outbidding each other to demand that the West should keep them in pampered luxury for the rest of their indolent lives, and all on the pretext of preventing global warming that has now become embarrassingly notorious for its long absence.

No one was allowed to give the alternative – and scientifically correct – viewpoint. The U.N.’s wall of silence was rigidly in place.

The microphone was just in front of me. All I had to do was press the button. I pressed it. The Chair recognized Myanmar (Burmese for Burma). I was on.

The incident reminded Scandinavian blogger Agust Bjarnason of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes.

“…So off went the Emperor in procession under his splendid canopy. Everyone in the streets and the windows said, “Oh, how fine are the Emperor’s new clothes! Don’t they fit him to perfection? And see his long train!” Nobody would confess that he couldn’t see anything, for that would prove him either unfit for his position, or a fool. No costume the Emperor had worn before was ever such a complete success.

“But he hasn’t got anything on,” a little child said.

Others, however, were less impressed by Monckton’s actions. One observer noted “he was booed and heckled by other delegates, when it became clear what he was saying.”

Activist Cindy Baxter complained: “He took Myanmar’s seat in Plenary and made an intervention, claiming 16 years with no warming. I personally think it’s disgusting that he’s playing the fool, while the Philippines delegate is in tears calling for action after the typhoon.”

There was more monkey business too, especially during the last hours of COP18/CMP8, the UN Climate Change Conference; as well as some camel business (below) outside the Qatar National Convention Centre.

There had to be an agreement, even if what was agreed had echoes of déjà vu all over again. (The Please Recycle logo on each draft document page took on a spooky significance.) Otherwise the route from Bali Action Plan to Durban Platform to Doha Climate Gateway (DCG) would be a by-way to bye-bye – not a highway to the mirage of a “stable” global climate. (You can’t make this stuff up.)

Nothing strikes fear in the heart of a climate bureaucrat – not even “the risk of crossing activation thresholds for nonlinear tipping elements in the Earth System” or increases in “the likelihood of transitions to unprecedented climate regimes” – more than the possibility that, after 18 years, this might be the final COP-out.

But it was a close call. Mr. Abdullah Bin Hamad Al‐Attiyah, COP 18/CMP 8 President, raised anxiety levels late last Friday. When Connie Hedegaard, the EU climate commissioner, suggested there was not much time left to strike a deal, he replied: “I have plenty of time. I can sit here for one year."

“Negotiators have called on him [Al-Attiyah] to close things down on time tonight so they can make their flights home,” complained one group. “But he lives ten minutes from the convention centre. “I like having you visit, I want you to stay here some more days", said Al-Attiyah.

Fiona Harvey, a Guardian environment correspondent, noted the next stock-taking session would be at 11pm Friday 7th December (8pm UK time). Al-Attiyah hoped negotiators would come back with "the white smoke."

She wondered if “this was a reference by an Arab to the Papal tradition where, as Wikipedia reminds us, "dark smoke signals that the ballot did not result in an election, while white smoke signals that a new pope was chosen”? Would a climate agreement be the white smoke? Who knows? The cultural references and language in Doha exists in a parallel universe.”

The President’s final wrap-up began at 7.30 on Saturday morning at what was described as an “informal COP/CMP stocktaking plenary”.

“We have worked for two whole weeks in a fully transparent and inclusive manner. I therefore do not present these documents as a take‐it‐or‐leave‐it proposition.

Rather, I ask you the question: Do you, Ministers and Heads of Delegation, consider that further consultations will substantially improve what we have here, and if so at what cost?

This is the time to assess what we have in our hands. I have put these documents before you because, in my judgement, they make a balanced package. We should not make the search for the better the enemy of the good.

If we take them as a whole, they should make us all equally happy or unhappy. But can any of us honestly say we would be happier with no package, with no outcome from Doha? I believe that this is a package that we can all live with, and which is also good for our planet and future generations.”

“Kyoto is dead! Long live Kyoto!” The Doha Climate Gateway, described by some as a “major milestone” but by others as a “ritual farce”, includes (i) a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol (Kyoto II). Besides (ii) “a systematic way of addressing [climate change] loss and damage” (four pages), there was little else except (iii) another “roadmap to 2015, 2020 and beyond” (two pages); and (iv) “a qualitative but bold understanding on finance”, but with no new moolah for the UN’s 100 billion dollar annual 2020 target (two pages). The preamble for (ii) includes this clause (emphasis added):

Reaffirming the need for Parties to take precautionary measures, in accordance with the principles and provisions of the Convention, to anticipate, prevent or minimize the causes of climate change and mitigate its adverse effects, and underlining that the lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as reason for postponing action.

How developed countries such as Australia fulfil their “precautionary” obligations here, especially with regard to yet another curious UN concept – “slow-onset [climate] events” [Decision 1/CP.16, paragraph 25] – while keeping their hands in pockets, will – like the antics of a circus contortionist – be an interesting spectacle. And what, precisely, are the “important linkages between extreme weather events and slow-onset events”? (You can’t make this stuff up.)

Sustainable development, meanwhile, has morphed into climate-resilient sustainable development. How many UN and national government bureaucrats, one wonders, will be required to determine the “modalities” of such absurdly vague notions – and their “gaming” potential?

Yet Kyoto II will cover only about 15 per cent of global emissions. Canada, Russia, NZ and Japan – where Kyoto I was signed 15 years ago – all abandoned the agreement. Unlike Australia, the US never ratified it. It excludes developing countries where emissions are growing most rapidly. Current estimates suggest there will be a 20 per cent global increase to 40 bn tonnes by 2020, with 75 per cent coming from the developing world. That’s some agreement, folks.

The EU, Australia, Japan, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway and Switzerland also made declarations not to purchase assigned amount units (AAUs) carried over from Kyoto I.

This takes us to yet more UN monkey business. AAUs are a type of carbon credit awarded under Kyoto I and traded via the clean development mechanism. The CDM allows developed countries with emissions-reduction targets to meet them partly through buying carbon credits, most of which were to be generated by projects that cut emissions in developing countries.

According to Fiona Harvey, countries who had seen their emissions fall since 1990 — chiefly ex-Eastern bloc countries, whose industrial bases and economies collapsed after the fall of the Soviet Union — were able to claim credits on the difference between their 1997 emissions and those in 1990. “This was a carrot to tempt them to sign up to Kyoto I. They now have large surpluses.”

AAUs are derided by their critics as "hot air" because they represent greenhouse gas reductions many years ago, not new efforts. Developing countries wanted a Doha deal that ensured their cancellation, in order to preserve the “environmental integrity” of Kyoto II.

But Poland –- host of next year’s COP19 — refused to give up its 500 million tonnes of AAUs, insisting they be carried over into Kyoto II as a "national right". However, a deal was reached so that the EU could present a single position. Poland was allowed to keep its AAUs, but if it wants to sell them, they can effectively only be sold to Kyoto II countries — chiefly EU member states and a few others. All of these countries have already agreed that they will not use AAUs towards their emissions-cutting targets. So Poland retains the right to sell its credits, but has no legal buyers.

Sounds absurd? Well, quite. But apparently to Poland it was an important issue, because it was seen as one of national sovereignty. (You can’t make this stuff up.)

There is at least one encouraging sign. Climate “control” agreements — or the lack of them -– have acquired an intriguing counter-intuitive correlation with the surge of nasty prognostications about “high-end” climate change. Somehow, the more scientists renounce their traditional roles as objective observers of the natural world, morph into promoters of end-is-nigh speculation and assail us with French-fry scenarios a century hence, as they have done this past month, the more distant seems to become the prospect of a global agreement, which must now resemble – at least for the developing world – an elusive pot of promised green gold at the end of a fast-receding rainbow.

Perhaps the developed world is suffering from Apocalypse Fatigue, as well as GFC-fatigue? Does it smell a big and hungry eco-rat? How can the UN use dodgy codified notions such as climate “loss and damage” to justify reparation funding? Is post-modern “precautionary” scare-mongering debasing real science by participating in this charade?

Signing up to Kyoto II, as Australia has done, means accepting that all “climate change” – DACC is indistinguishable from natural variability – can be construed as the cause of every atmospheric-related “anomaly” or catastrophe in the developing world. Cynicism is no surprise, especially after attempts to appropriate every so-called “extreme” meteorological event – from a “Franken-storm” on the US east coast to a typhoon in the Philippines – to the alarmist cause.

There is another suspicion too. When the memes of global warming and even “dangerous anthropogenic climate change” (DACC) were insufficient to persuade the public to get on board, the orthodoxy turned up the “extreme weather event” volume another notch.

When Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary-General, embraces all the clichés and time-is-running-out rhetoric of climate catastrophism, we truly have entered the parallel universe of international climate politics. How much longer will we allow our bureaucrats, Ministers of Climate Change and governmental bought-advocates to get away with it? Are the outcomes of conferences such as this one really “significant events in tackling global warming” and so on?

Are we nurturing another global financial crisis? Tear away the green curtain and climate angst. Lurking between the UN annexes, paragraphs, clauses and declarations, are the twin demons of “carbon” (dioxide) capitalism and emissions trading schemes. (Perhaps this is why Liechtenstein and Monaco just joined up?)

When governments decree a worthless (and priceless) invisible gas to be a “commodity” (anthropogenic carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases) – one “stored” only in the atmosphere (not in a warehouse or vault) – has de jure monetary value, and permit this fiction to be imbedded in financial markets and investment products, they ultimately get themselves – and their citizens – into a big “sub-prime” mess.

Pricing carbon (dioxide) is the biggest public policy trick in a long time. It will have absolutely no impact on the nation’s climate. How could it? Our emissions are only 1.5 per cent of the global total. The rising cost of energy – the carbon price is designed specifically to drive it up – will make us collectively poorer and less competitive.

Legislation passed the Senate on 26th November this year enabling Australia and Europe to begin linking their emissions trading systems. Local businesses, the Minister proudly proclaimed, can now purchase permits under the EU ETS to use for local compliance.

But there’s a catch. They can only do so from 2015. Why not now? EU carbon (dioxide) contract prices have collapsed (to 6.78 Euros, or AU$8.50, last Friday). The prospect of a huge budgetary black-hole from the government’s “permanent assistance” promises if it is unable to get more than its legislated $23 to $29 a tonne and post-2015 $15 floor price is too daunting to allow domestic industry such a (legitimate) windfall.

There’s another catch too. Commonwealth Treasury modelling assumes availability of unlimited international emissions permits from 2015-16. Given there is currently no global permit market, this is very optimistic. Virtually all the modelled national “reduction” in our emissions is projected to come from purchasing offshore permits, some inevitably from carbon cowboys and carpetbaggers. Domestic emissions actually are expected to increase by 2020, declining by only 2 per cent by 2050. Significant amounts of income (estimated at $57 billion in 2050) will be transferred to developing countries. If international permits are unavailable, the domestic cost of emissions abatement could be much higher.

Consider, finally, the scale – and hubris – of what is happening here: global climate “control” allegedly will be achieved by decarbonising the world’s economy; while simultaneously using spurious notions of “climate justice” to justify unprecedented developed-developing world wealth transfers. (You can’t make this stuff up.)

One word stood out at COP18 – ambition. In UN Newspeak, it describes the developed world’s obligation to capitulate and accept unlimited liability for any developing world “loss and damage” allegedly due to climate change, which itself allegedly is due solely to DAGHG emissions. COP-18 ultimately was all about money and “revenge politics”, about looking for “ways that ambition can be raised with the necessary urgency.”

Kyoto II, for example, “requests each Party with a quantified emission limitation and reduction commitment inscribed in the third column of Annex B as contained in annex I to this decision to submit to the secretariat, by 30 April 2014, information relating to its intention to increase the ambition of its commitment, including progress made towards achieving its quantified emission limitation and reduction commitment, the most recently updated projections for greenhouse gas emissions until the end of the second commitment period, and the potential for increasing ambition.”

Time to reflect on George Orwell’s observation that: “if thought can corrupt language, then language [climate change rhetoric] can corrupt thought”– or, as he put it in 1984:

‘But how can you control matter?’ Winston burst out. ‘You don’t even control the climate or the law of gravity.

O’Brien silenced him by a movement of his hand. ‘We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull. You will learn by degrees, Winston. There is nothing that we could not do. Invisibility, levitation — anything. I could float off this floor like a soap bubble if I wish to. I do not wish to, because the Party does not wish it. You must get rid of those nineteenth-century ideas about the laws of Nature. We make the laws of Nature.’

Something must be done. Fortunately, experienced professionals have been training selflessly for roles in the “de-biasing” gulags now springing up all over the planet like magic mushrooms. Convinced the “scientific debate [about climate change causation] ceased decades ago”, cognitive psychologists and climate change researchers will be making important contributions here. Many, fortunately, are well aware that climate “denialists” are a “troupe of cranks straight out of central casting” living in a “fantasy world”. "You can’t make this stuff up." (What could be more fanciful than notions of global climate control and compensation for “extreme weather” and “slow-onset” events?)

A “patrician figure” received a standing ovation at the American Geophysical Union’s 2012 annual meeting in San Francisco on Tuesday 4th December. Dr James Hansen reportedly “expressed the view that professional dis-informers who facilitate and encourage climate denial” ought to be tried for “crimes against humanity”, presumably by a new UN body or Court of International Climate Justice.

Christmas is coming. Perhaps the world will wake up to a chorus of angels singing, if not The First Nobel, then this: “But they haven’t got anything on!”?

© Michael Kile, December 2012

Disclosure Statement: Michael Kile does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. He does not trade, or intend to trade, carbon units, Australian carbon credit units or eligible international emissions units.