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Climate Change Summit long on rhetoric, short on action

December 21, 2009 Leave a comment

By Gary Rotto

SAN DIEGO–The Guardian of Great Britain called the recently completed Copenhagen Climate Change Summit, “the biggest environmental meeting in history.”  But the final result is an agreement that calls for monitoring emissions but neither sets a target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and no deadline for reaching a formal international climate treaty.  The agreement also provides for an aid fund, estimated to reach $100 billion by 2020, to help poor nations adapt to changing climate and increase the use of low-emissions fuels.   

The Washington Post quoted Ian Fry, a climate-change representative for Tuvalu, as responding, “To use a Biblical allusion, it looks like we’re being offered 30 pieces of silver to bargain away our future. Mr. President, our future is not for sale.” Tuvalu is midway between Hawaii and Australia and may be submerged by rising seas in a matter of decades.  But no matter how imperfect, an agreement was reached despite opposition.

As widely reported, one key focus is on the new economic dynamos of India and China, two countries whose greenhouse gas emissions have risen as dramatically as their economies have boomed.  Their concerns are that the newly developing world would be held to similar standards of the maturing economies of Europe and the US.  It’s about the money and the economic power that their countries exert by virtue of their new position in the world economy. 

And one player with money is Saudi Arabia. As reported by the Associated Press back in October “Saudi Arabia has led a quiet campaign during these and other negotiations — demanding behind closed doors that oil-producing nations get special financial assistance if a new climate pact calls for substantial reductions in the use of fossil fuels.  That campaign comes despite an International Energy Agency report released this week showing that OPEC revenues would still increase $23 trillion between 2008 and 2030 — a fourfold increase compared to the period from 1985 to 2007 — if countries agree to significantly slash emissions and thereby cut their use of oil.”

 Maybe it was the Saudis who came up with the definition Chutzpah and not our Eastern European ancestors?  And it may be that the average Saudi has much to lose economically, but why doesn’t the monarchy redistribute more of its oil-produced wealth to its own people?   Could it be that the Saudi government is more willing to spend its petro-dollars as “foreign aid” to undeveloped countries that are willing to play an obstructionist role to any accord?

The British government has called the Saudis and others out on the subject.  On the eve of the conference, Prime Minister Gordon Brown stated in an interview with The Guardian, “With only days to go before Copenhagen we mustn’t be distracted by the behind-the-times, anti-science, flat-earth climate skeptics.  We know the science. We know what we must do. We must now act and close the 5bn-tonne gap. That will seal the deal.”

By contrast, Israel fully accepts the concept of climate change.  But according to a governmental report issued days before the Copenhagen Summit, is not prepared to properly track its emissions.  As reported by Haaretz, Israel has not implemented the basic actions necessary for dealing with climate change and lacks the professional capability to monitor climate change, according to a State Comptroller’s report released Sunday ahead of the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen. According to a report Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, the meteorological service responsible for observing climate change is not equipped for long-term monitoring, due to a lack of professional manpower and challenges in maintaining the network of meteorological centers.”  The Netanyahu Government has work to do in order to implement even the basic, compromise language of the new accord.  But at least it acknowledges a role in tracking and reducing emissions.

Rotto is a freelance writer based in San Diego