28 November 2005

A Party in Montreal: Hot Air or Fresh Air?

The UN Climate Change Conference got underway today in Montreal with many people talking and praising each other's participation, statements, and proposals. Those of us on the sidelines hope there is more fresh air than hot air at this conference, but don't count on it.

The US government has, according to some, declined to participate but there they are, making a nuisance of themselves, saying how they are doing more than any other country to reduce pollution in the air, yadda yadda yadda...until they are virtually shouted down and then critics like Sierra Club Canada jump all over them and try to shame them for not participating in the Kyoto Protocol.

As my childhood friends back in Rhode Island might say, "Fuhgetaboutit." They will never change their minds on this one so give it up, folks, and move on. Don't invite 'em to your party, or boycott the country if you want (as Mark Lynas suggested in the Independent today), but why bother worrying about them anymore?

On the other hand, you could listen to them, because maybe some of the ideas are not that off base after all. In fact, as Iain Murray suggested in an Op-Ed on the Competitive Enterprise Institute web site last week, even "Tony Blair, for all his faults, has recognized that the approach is fundamentally at odds with securing economic growth," and who among you out there is going to trade economic growth for potentially unreachable targets at this point? Stalemate is always a no-win situation.

Meanwhile, according to The Guardian the small island nation of the Carterets became the first to be officially evacuated because of climate change. The authorities will move 10 families at a time to Bougainville, an island 62 miles away. Within two years, the six Carterets will be uninhabited and undefended. By 2012 or 2015, they are likely to be completely submerged. So what are we waiting for? In management and art, you try a bunch of things and keep what sticks. Maybe it's time to try a few new things.

But in more hopeful news, a new report from the Pew Center for Global Climate Change offers some useful suggestions for what to do beyond Kyoto. It calls for a "more flexible international framework that can engage the world's major economies." Some of that flexibility would be in the manner in which countries achieve their target reductions, such as having groups of countries coming together to explore like-minded tracks. For example, steel-producing countries could hammer out a sector agreement. This would provide a voluntary approach, which is something both industry and the Bush administration have been asking for.

As Linda Fisher from Dupont, one of five corporations engaged in the study, noted, "one of the things I found unique about is that [this report] recognized that there might not be one common end, but you can still make a lot of progress in the ultimate goal, which is reducing these emissions."

The report also calls for a high-level political dialogue outside the UN process, which demonstrates a lack of confidence that the UNFCCC can deliver. But more to the point, the Pew report calls for adaptation strategies to complement any mitigation strategies, a more robust carbon trading market, including "no-regret" conditional targets, as well as greater investments in new technologies.

Another important point the Pew study suggests is to integrate climate and development projects in a way that is fair and consistent with economic development. This is important because many view climate mitigation as an impediment to achieving the already hard to achieve millennium development objectives of developing nations.

One hopes the Pew suggestions get an airing at this forum. We'll see. I'll be monitoring the progress of the talks over the next two weeks.

You can listen in at: Live Webcast


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