Doomed Planet

In for their COP — Part II

The World Bank rejoined the ranks of self-interested groups ramping up pre-conference alarmism this week. It issued a new report TURN DOWN THE HEAT – Why a 4 degree warmer world must be avoided.  Its design motif is a cracked cross-section of tree rings, ironically echoing an earlier IPCC (Mann et al “hockey-stick”) fiasco.

Creating a big scare requires a big threat. As H L Mencken observed, “the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed — and hence clamorous to be led to safety — by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

God’s wrath, or the Devil’s mischief, won’t work for you? Try instead speculation about “plausible world futures” (aka “probabilistic temperature projections”, “hypothetical scenarios” and “storylines”). Hobgoblins like a “nonlinearly evolving cascade of risks” (page 60) and claims about “the increasing likelihood of threshold crossing and tipping points being reached or breached” in the next half-century are sure to scare the gullible masses.

“All our work, all our thinking, is designed with the threat of a four-degree Centigrade world in mind”, wrote President Jim Yong Kim. “Such a world can, and must, be avoided.”

Click here for Part I of this series

 “It is my hope that this report shocks us into action. Even for those of us already committed to fighting climate change, I hope it causes us to work with much more urgency.”

Despite being “well aware of the uncertainty that surrounds these scenarios”, the Bank did not discard them as alarmist fictions, but felt they were “sufficient to justify strengthening current climate change policies.”

After all, it had positioned itself as a leading advocate for ambitious action on climate change. It saw not only a “moral imperative” here; but somehow it all made “good economic sense”. (Imagine missing out on all that “climate financing”, “green growth and “climate smart development”.)

The ABC’s Radio National also went for shock treatment with this segment: World Bank warns of four-degree temperature rise. PM’s Mark Colvin told listeners that “one of the economic world’s most conservative agencies has joined what it calls an "unprecedented consensus" among scientists, to warn that climate change is on course for catastrophic levels this century. The World Bank today issued its assessment of global warming, and it’s devastating. The bank president warns that ‘time is very, very short’ to address a crisis that he believes could see the planet warm by four degrees by the 2060s.”

What they were not told, however, was this assessment was not prepared by the bank. While there were “contributions from a wide range of experts across the globe”, it was commissioned, prepared and written for the bank by one of the EU’s most activist research groups – the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics.

The Bank, of course, does “not guarantee the accuracy of the data”. The report’s “findings, interpretations and conclusions” do not “necessarily reflect the views of” the Bank, its Board or the governments they represent.”

For a local expert response, PM’s Tim Palmer (curiously) asked lawyer John Connor from a privately-funded activist group – one that claims to be “unencumbered by vested interests” yet has 10.5 per cent of its funding sourced from the Australian government – the Climate Institute. Would the World Bank’s status spark more urgency from businesses and policymakers?

Palmer: The study says there’s a 20% likelihood of a four degree rise by the end of the century; even if all current pledges from countries are fulfilled, and that it’s likely to hit three degrees. So what kind of effects are we likely to see from, let’s assume a three degree rise.

Connor: This is the head of the World Bank, an extremely conservative agency speaking very clearly about the risks that are involved on our current pathways that the world is heading towards in terms of climate change, and talking vividly about the need to shock people and governments into much stronger action.

The biggest shock for COP-18 delegates, however, could come from an unexpected source. According to EurActiv, the US could propose transferring core elements of the Doha Summit to the Major Economies Forum (MEF), a platform of the world’s largest carbon dioxide emitters, reducing the UNFCCC to a forum for discussing, monitoring, reporting and “verifying” emissions reduction projects.

Should the US do so, it would be “provocative”, potentially splitting the world into “rival climate blocks led by Washington and Beijing”.

“The one and only place where formal negotiations and, above all, decisions take place and where treaties are negotiated is the UNFCCC,” stressed Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC’s secretary-general.

Nevertheless, something has to change – and soon, as Yvo de Boer suggested at a recent event: “We are in a process that has gone downhill at a pace that is absolutely stunning, and the very appropriate question to ask at this time is what we do about it.”

“We’re in a situation where the mandate is extremely unclear, and that creates endless opportunities to confuse, to move the goalposts and to procrastinate,” he said.

“Are we aiming for a target of 2°C or do we want to aim for 1.5°C? Do we need targets, and to whom should they apply? Do we need to set new goals or revise existing ones? Do we need a legally binding treaty, or something in international law?”

The Durban agreement called for a process to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or a legal outcome. In a three-page 1,026 word media release, the 194-party COP-17 conference agreed to develop and to “adopt a universal legal agreement on climate change as soon as possible, but not later than 2015.” It (hopefully) would “come into affect by no later than 2020”. A new Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action would begin talks immediately.

For many, however, what was agreed was merely a voluntary deal whose implementation has been put off for a decade. Others saw it as little more than an announcement to keep talking to avoid collapse of the two-decade process. As de Boer warned, “it could and would be interpreted by Parties in a variety of ways with the intention of slowing decision-making” to an even slower crawl.

Watch Quadrant Online for Part III of Michael Kile’s essential backgrounder to the Doha climate carnival. Part I can be found here

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