Post Poland: A Snails Pace to Nowhere

 After each COP, everyone usually sighs in relief that the meeting wasn’t a total failure and grasps at the straw-like outcomes.

 The latest COP in Poland was no different.  Negotiators from 180 or so countries working through the night beyond the deadline came out with a very nuanced communication, postponing to the next COPs any tough decisions.  The most concrete outcome was pledged funding for the World Bank’s Bio-Carbon fund of $280 million, a drop in the REDD bucket.World Bank blog

 ROI has never been a great fan of the COP meetings except in the sense of meeting our great colleagues and going to the wild NGO party.  Let’s face it, international multilateral negotiations are going at a snails pace to nowhere.

 What the negotiators are trying to accomplish is come to an agreement on managing the atmospheric commons.  To stay under any manageable temperature rise, only so much GHGs can be in the atmosphere, currently the “acceptable” target being 450 ppm.  To stay below that amount, the remaining GHG capacity must be subdivided among 180 nations.  In other words, the struggle is over the atmospheric commons, just as villagers in feudal times fought over the commonly held fields for the grazing of their livestock, and mostly without success.

 Look at it this way – certainly in the medium term – fossil fuels and consequently more emissions are essential for growth.  Renewable energy just is not going to do it with populations hungry for prosperity founded on fuels and electricity.  Countries know they need as much of the commons as possible for growth, even rich ones know this as they struggle to create jobs.  True the growth path can be less GHG intensive, but so what, countries still want as much of the remaining atmospheric capacity as possible.  Fossil fuels remain the cheapest path forward and no nation wants to concede that path.

 Emerging market economies have a good argument for claiming this remaining capacity as the rich countries have used up so much of the available atmospheric slack.  Also even China as the largest annual emitter is at about a third of the per capita emissions of the United States. 

 Despite this let’s fantasize for a moment and assume at the next COP that an agreement is reached – hurray!  What are the chances it will be ratified by say the US Senate – about the same as getting struck by meteorite – near zero.  What is the chances all signatories of the agreement will abide by it – somewhat larger than zero but less than a chance Washington’s beloved Redskins going to the Super Bowl (they were eliminated on the weekend).

 Canada walked from their Kyoto commitments without retribution and no regrets.  The Australian government start canning their fledging ETS. Japan negated their pledge emission targets.  And most countries  emphasize all “contributions” to reducing climate change are voluntary.

 No COP agreement is binding, truly binding without economic sanctions.   And no country will willing give it that power. 

Are we then hopelessly lost in seeking a way to significantly reduce globally greenhouse emissions?  Stay tuned for the next episode where we will lay out a possible path to the global mitigation of GHGs – the snail can get legs.