Thursday, December 06, 2007

Climate Change conference: Rudd's hard call

The current Climate Change conference in Bali would test anyone's mettle.

This year's IPCC reports demonstrate the problem is more urgent than previously acknowledged, and carbon emission targets need to be more stringent.

The developed world has four big issues that sound simple, yet are nigh on intractable politically.

First, agreement on targets for developed countries. The European Union recognises the need for greater urgency, and is aiming for 25% to 40% emission reductions by 2020. New Zealand is in line, but the US, Canada, and Japan are likely holdouts. Australia's delegation signalled that it supported that goal. However, PM Kevin Rudd subsequently hedged, saying he will "take advice on whether the targets are workable".

Second, the industrial world has a clear responsibility to support the developing world in meeting targets. The current problem is almost entirely due to the rich nations, both in their industrialisation, and in their decimation of their own wilderness. And from a letter in today's Herald:
"Appealing to self-interest alone will fail as the countries with the best capacity to bring about change face proportionately fewer effects from climate change and have greater capacity to adapt than the countries that are the smallest polluters." - Simon Biddle

So, the challenge lies specifically with the rich countries: in industrial restructuring, and in supporting others with technology and money. I am quite confident political will is going to be thin on the ground. Except with the EU and New Zealand.

Third, China. China has to agree to real emission goals, and this is going to be hard. To make any sense at all, they need to cut emissions, however they can cogently argue that they are not properly industrialised yet, and so should not cut, or should be treated as a developing country. The pragmatic solution lies in treating them as a special case, with a bit of both in the mix.

Fourth, the US. Bush will absolutely remain a holdout, and will only agree to tokenism. That is, aspirational but not real goals. Two of Bush's delegates to the conference (mentioned here) are James Connaughton, one-time energy-sector lobbyist, and current stooge in the Council on Environmental Quality, and Paula Dobriansky, neo-conservative Under Secretary of State and staunch defender of the US's refusal to ratify Kyoto.

What chance do we have? What will Australia do, now that we are no longer as firmly glued to US policy as we were under John Howard?

Rudd is caught in a bind. His election campaign presented two principles that are apparently diametrically opposed: commitment to climate change, and economic [fiscal] conservatism. Quite a big test so soon after taking the reins.

There is one clear answer to that, as demonstrated by the Stern Review: the cost of action is far less than the cost of inaction.

I'm quite pessimistic about seeing an appropriate outcome. It is clear that Stern will be treated as a Cassandra - correct but unheeded. But... there remains hope. We still have the leadership of the EU to look to: I believe they are capable of forging ahead, and waiting for the world to catch up.

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