Hope for climate deal melting away

Hope for climate deal melting away


THE visceral impact of Typhoon Haiyan should have provided impetus to the United Nations climate talks aimed at producing a framework on averting the catastrophic effects of a warming planet.

In the event it did not move delegates sufficiently to have substantively cleared the obstacles to crafting a successor to the Kyoto Protocol to enforce treaty obligations.

Developing nations' categorisation of loss and damage from extreme weather as "climate injustice" got much play, but it was misleadingly framed solely as a demand for reparations. Have nations got the fundamental message?

All must act now when substitute technologies are becoming available to reduce the harmful effects of fossil fuel use, or there will be hell to pay. Filipinos and Bangladeshis have paid regularly, Americans and Australians occasionally.

Who might be next?

The talks in Warsaw produced an undertaking to reduce gas emissions via imprecise "contributions" by nations.

It saved the conference from collapse but it is wrong to imagine the path to a binding treaty is any clearer. Climate talks are vying with the Doha Round of trade negotiations for obduracy and preservation of self-interest among big economies.

As with the interminable trade talks, which have stalled on a divergence of core interests between the richer and developing nations, the stalemate in climate diplomacy is a reflection of the changing power balance between the new rich of the East and the old money of the West.

One side is brimming with confidence that its stand on proportionality will prevail as it will soon pass the West in economic leadership.

The other has seen better days, but demands its due for being the progenitors of industrial progress.

China, India and Brazil have taken a consistent position that America and Europe, being legacy polluters that started it all, should bear the load of keeping planetary temperatures at a safe level.

Undue impositions would stifle growth in catch-up economies, it is argued. The West in retort points to China and India as modern polluters on a scale bigger than it ever was.

And so, round and round they go. But they inhabit the same planet: This is an intrinsic contradiction that will have the climate-change issue tied up in knots.

One should also consider the power of corporate interests lobbying for a status quo. The oil and gas industry, coal mining companies and carmakers have a vested interest in defeating attempts that will erode their market dominance.

One report circulated in Warsaw said just 90 conglomerates accounted for two-thirds of the heat-trapping build-up in the atmosphere in the past two centuries. Odds against reaching an agreement, to go into force by 2020, are getting longer.

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