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Diplomacy at Copenhagen – behind the scenes

Two amazing accounts about the Copenhagen negotiations.

Update: James Fallows rounds up the reaction to the Mark Lynas article, including this insightful comment from an unnamed non-Chinese reader:

"I think what China is really wrecking, if this account is true, is the unwieldy system where all 192 members of the United Nations are involved in cutting what are essentially big-power deals; too many cooks in the kitchen and all that. I don’t think China is that resentful of cutting compromises with the West (it has done so pretty competently since probably the 1860’s, despite the anti-colonial resentment being instilled in Chinese schoolchildren), as much as having to involve every single developing and Third World country in such compromises as well, making the deals that much crummier for both China and the West. To cut a climate deal, you only really need the following: the United States, China, India, Europe, Australia-Canada, and Japan. South Korea usually follows (by necessity) what China-Japan does, and South Africa and Brazil, being on the receiving end, usually can be brought in at the later part of the process. If you think the West is tired of negotiating with the melodrama of some Third World leaders, it’s useful to keep in mind that the Chinese shares none of the West’s colonial guilt and would absolutely not stand for people like Chavez taking over the floor on something they actually want to do, as opposed to something they want to prevent (in this case they sought to prevent a climate deal through the Copenhagen process).

"For about the last half-century, China has found the kabuki theatre of things like the G77 pretty useful sort of as a bludgeon against the West. It still is, as shown at Copenhagen. But it would serve us well to understand that China doesn’t actually seek to accomplish anything positive through such a system, much less be a part of it. When and if China seeks to accomplish a positive result, it will be through Congress of Berlin-style great power negotiations. Of course, given that Western diplomats still retain the uninformed habit of agglomerating China with other developing countries, China will keep acting that way (it is noticeable how the politicians have responded to the reality of China much more deftly than the diplomats, who, after all, quite foolishly still convene such doomed-to-fail monstrosities as the Copenhagen conference, and mouth tiredly about multilateralism)."

Suzanne Goldberg reports on rumors that leaders in  Copenhagen  were settling for a 3 degree centigrade rise.

The most interesting aspect to me  came from Al Gore’s speech. He addresses not the basic science (that’s settled) or even the political dynamics but the frustration that negotiators must feel.  Here’s Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6.  (Pay no attention to the mini-scandal about Gore’s misstatement about the Arctic ice melt. It’s already been addressed).

By the way, I have to say that the Youtube commenters on the Al Gore speech were among the rudest I’ve seen.

I remember two things in particular from the speech. We don’t have the luxury of time. “Because the length of time between the causes and the consequences is longer than we are used to dealing with, it presents the illusion that we have the luxury of time. Both of these perceptions need to be challenged. It is concrete, real, present and ominous. We don’t have the luxury of time.”

And this:

I wish that I had the words to transfer directly from my heart to yours the passion that I feel for this issue. For me, it raises a fundamental question: Who are we as human beings?

Who are we?

If at some future date, the next generation faces the prospect of living in a world with steadily deteriorating prospects and no chance to reclaim the glories of this beautiful earth that we have enjoyed — if they look back at Copenhagen and ask, “Why didn’t you act? Why did you let this process fall into paralysis, and neither succeed or fail but become a symbol of futility? What were the arguments were again? You didn’t realize that we were at stake?”

If their conclusion was that the generation of human beings alive in the first years of the 21st century gathered together in Copenhagen with the leaders of virtually every nation in the world and instead of forthrightly addressing a mortal threat to the future of civilization, instead decided that the arguments were more important than the solution, that the compromises were just too difficult and allowed the process to fall into paralysis, thus condemning them to a life completely unlike what they deserve, they would be justified in asking of us:

“Who are you?

Didn’t you care?

Did you not feel any connection to us?”

The real source of the passion and the feelings that I have for this issue is a simple conviction: I don’t believe that’s who we are.

Here’s a fascinating video by Richard Alley  on C02 and the earth’s climate history.  Probably too technical for me, but it reinforces the conclusion that despite the scientific uncertainties, C02 is probably the most credible explanation for most temperature rises in the past.

Alex Higgins explains how denialist memes never go away:

When Martin Durkin’s film The Great Global Warming Swindle was broadcast on the UK’s Channel 4, there it was. Complete with a little cartoon of a volcano belching out CO2. In one of many edits for errors and distortions, the volcano claim was removed prior to the film’s DVD release.Now Ian Plimer has written a book, Heaven and Earth, getting a lot of people very excited, and guess what? The volcano factoid is back! Back from the dead, volcanoes are celebrated by deniers one again.

The process goes like this:

1. Global Warming Denier makes claim
2. Claim is comprehensively, indisputably debunked
3. Claim is withdrawn, while Denier publicly continues to assert they are the new Galileo and their critics are religious fanatics with no regard for facts
4. New Global Warming Denier makes exactly the same claim as if previous debate never happened

Chris Mooney summarizes:

This is how it begins: Proponents of a fringe or non-mainstream scientific viewpoint seek added credibility. They’re sick of being taunted for having few (if any) peer reviewed publications in their favor. Fed up, they decide to do something about it.

These “skeptics” find what they consider to be a weak point in the mainstream theory and critique it. Not by conducting original research; they simply review previous work. Then they find a little-known, not particularly influential journal where an editor sympathetic to their viewpoint hangs his hat.

They get their paper through the peer review process and into print. They publicize the hell out of it. Activists get excited by the study, which has considerable political implications.

Before long, mainstream scientists catch on to what’s happening. They shake their heads. Some slam the article and the journal that published it, questioning the review process and the editor’s ideological leanings. In published critiques, they tear the paper to scientific shreds.

Embarrassed, the journal’s publisher backs away from the work. But it’s too late for that. The press has gotten involved, and though the work in question has been discredited in the world of science, partisans who favor its conclusions for ideological reasons will champion it for years to come.

The scientific waters are muddied. The damage is done.

John Vidal reports on the potential harm to India/Nepal and Bangladesh from climate change. It seems that India will not only become the most populous nation on earth pretty soon but will also suffer the most from global warming.

Here’s per capita statistics on carbon footprint by country. In 2006, US had 18.6 metric tons per person, China had 4.6, EU nations had 7.8, Russia had 11, Australia had 18.7 and India had 1.29. These statistic are several years old. We are badly in need of more up-to-date information (but I can’t find it).

I read somewhere (can’t find it) about an important difference between carbon footprints of China and US. Most of China’s carbon is emitted at factories (90%?), while in the US, only about 1/3 are emitted at factories, 1/3 at residencies and 1/3 at transportation. My percentages could be way off here, but the general point remains. If most of China’s carbon footprint comes from factories, then it is Western multinational companies which are contributing heavily to the total. That’s one reason why the most important and effective pressure can be applied to Western companies which produce things in China. That includes Walmart, Dell, etc..

It also makes it clear that the Western lifestyle (not business) accounts for a large portion of the US carbon footprint. In other words, things which can be altered with the proper social incentives.

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