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Copenhagen and the global commons « Previous | |Next »
December 3, 2009

The failure of the Australian political process to deliver a very mangled emission trading scheme, and the Australian's consumer's reluctance to pay more for the energy our lifestyles rely on, has shifted into the background. Despite the context of scientists behaving badly, the debate over the threat of climate change is over. What we have is the twisted disconnect between accepted “political reality” and scientific reality.

What lies in the foreground is the need to move forward with an agreement that will curb carbon pollution and move us to a clean energy future. Here we have the process of nation states once again grappling with the need to find a way to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases that scientists argue drive climate change, and will probably raise the Earth's temperature to higher levels within our lifetimes. 
Once again there is the gulf between the enormity of the climate crisis and the 
tepid political response to it.

The aim is to limit global warming to 2C above pre-industrial levels. For this to happen global carbon emissions must start to fall rapidly during the next decade.If countries did not manage to reach agreement, world temperatures could rise by five degrees Celsius by the end of the century, making many parts of the world uninhabitable. It is not likely that political efforts to restrict global warming to an additional 2C — the level will succeed.

Since the Kyoto protocol there has been a series of annual UN climate conferences Buenos Aires, Bonn, The Hague, Marrakech, New Delhi, Milan, Montreal, Nairobi, Bali and Poznan. Copenhagen---COP15 ---will host the highest profile, best attended, most widely publicised and closely scrutinised UN climate talks so far.

The path to a low-carbon economy is through a Copenhagen treaty, that would set new targets for overall pollution levels, and again rely on governments to meet them. The first step is a patch-up accord, or political agreement, then a treaty. The four essentials calling for an international agreement in Copenhagen are:

1. How much are the industrialized countries willing to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases?

2. How much are major developing countries such as China and India willing to do to limit the growth of their emissions?

3. How is the help needed by developing countries to engage in reducing their emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change going to be financed?

4. How is that money going to be managed?

These are big issues and big problems that indicate that climate change is the most complicated and complex issue the world has faced. Each nation's plausible choices will depend on what technologies will be available and when.

A lot is at stake for the global commons. The most realistic outcome is an average rise of 4-5C by the end of this century given soaring carbon emissions and political constraints. That means damage limitation.

The BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) are prepared to walk out of the Copenhagen Conference if they are forced to agree to developed nations terms according to the Times of India.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:47 AM | | Comments (8)


On the one hand, we have the developed countries who want to continue more or less business as usual; on the other hand, we have the developing countries who want money through the offsets.

If the world adopts tough emissions cuts then the demand for Australian coal will shrink and the country will face painful economic reforms to cut its soaring domestic emissions. If the world fails to come up with tough emissions cuts – then there is a real risk of the entire nation becoming much hotter, with parts of it uninhabitable.

Planet warms and cools. No evidence man or CO2 has any effect

I appreciate that the blackhat's in the denial lobby, who speak on behalf of the old fossil fuel industry, have no interest in the problem of crafting a new resource management regime that would result in the stablization of the amount of greenhouse gas emissions caused by human beings.

But that is what the world's nation states and the UN are doing at Copenhagen. The governments from around the world are coming together to agree to the structure of a global deal on climate change. The agreement is designed to lay the foundations for a future era of dynamic low-carbon growth that succeeds in both cutting emissions and sustaining the growth in developing countries which is necessary to reduce poverty.

The mainstream narrative on climate change says that if we can get the urgent political agreements in place, and produce enough turbines and electric cars quickly enough, then we can "stabilise the climate" and carry on as before. Its either saving the world, or Apocalypse Now.

It is a narrative built on an outdated faith in our technology, and it is rubbing up hard against ecological reality. That ecological reality is one of living with a changed climate, and hotter temperatures.

Australia remains the largest per-capita polluter in the developed world and it is offering only meagre cuts at Copenhagen.

nan, I see the per-capita fact about a bit, but I think that is a little unfair given the amounts we export- essentially production for the benefit of others without them being fully accountable.
Agriculture makes up a large amount of our emissions, but in my opinion thats because we feed so many outside our own borders. Our distances travelled and aversion to public transport affects transport emissions.
Where we do let ourselves down is that in a country with such superb solar power potential, we haven't gone anywhere near exploiting it.

re your comment: "Where we do let ourselves down is that in a country with such superb solar power potential, we haven't gone anywhere near exploiting it."

That's a core issue isn't it. This is where our political leaders have failed badly. Same with energy efficient buildings.