Cancún half way

Cancún

That image is courtesy Climate Progress where Joe Romm points out that the beaches are washing away. One can also easily imagine why there may have been traffic problems. (See also here.)

While there is plenty of material around on the web, I have found Giles Parkinson at Climate Spectator particularly helpful. A pity, therefore, that he was sufficiently distracted on Friday not to do a post after the conference session. Nevertheless Thursday’s post provides a good summary of what is at play. He summarises progress on the so-called six-pack of issues thus:

Four of the so-called six-pack of agreements appear within reach – financing, adaptation, forests, and technology – although there are still hurdles to overcome, such as whether a green fund should be managed by the UN or an outside body. The two most difficult – mitigation (effectively locking in the pledges made since Copenhagen) and transparency – remain a challenge. The head of one of the key working groups told NGOs today that there remained “a big gap” on mitigation.

But here’s the problem:

the developed economies won’t agree to adaptation, forests and technology, unless one or both of the latter two are agreed to by developing economies. China won’t agree to anything unless it gets technology. The US appears to believe that it is all or nothing.

Then in terms of the science the vulnerable states want the temperature rise limited to 1.5C. Since we are currently around 0.8C above pre-industrial and there is probably 0.6C inertia in the system we need to get serious pronto. President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives understands that developing countries need to bypass fossil fuel-based development.

The UNEP has reminded the gathering about the need to remember the state of the oceans.

The EU has emphasised the emissions gap inherent in current commitments, as noted here. They say they are on track to exceed their Kyoto commitments.

Then you can read about the Fossil of the Day awards, which we figured in on Wednesday.

Peter Wood at Climate Dilemma details the establishment of a “contact group” (= working group) on the legal protocols for a new treaty, something that was rejected in Copenhagen. Perhaps of most interest was the attitude of China which accepted that the “final outcome should be a legally binding outcome”. Only they don’t seem to want it right now.

In fact China is moving towards a leadership position with direct action aplenty, but significantly now considering a carbon tax or a cap and trade system.

Climate Progress details how they are building a clean energy work force.

India is moving to be a bridge player between the developed and the developing world.

Peter Wood posted on Thursday also, but you can see how difficult the whole business of a legal agreement will be when Todd Stern of the US showed up early on Friday. The ministers are not due until Tuesday. Seems there is a Kyoto Protocol track of 193 countries and a UNFCCC track of 194 countries, the extra one being the US of A.

Essentially the developing countries don’t want to sign up to anything unless there is a legally binding Kyoto extension. The developed countries need to show good faith and accept their responsibility. The USA wants to replace Kyoto with the Copenhagen Accord, presumably because it would be less onerous to them. American climate deniers and the American fossil fuel industry cast a long shadow.

The EU is the biggest Kyoto champion and it seems the ALBA countries will absolutely insist on it. Plenty of work there for India.

The Guardian also picked up on the story with this pic:

Members of the Sierra Club in Cancún

Looks pretty neat. Wonder how many takes to get that shot.

Peter Wood expressed cautious optimism and I guess that’s still the go. No-one expected that little difference to be resolved any time soon.

Climate Progress has just put up two further posts on Cancun:

    In tears, Christiana Figueres tells youth that Cancun will be “insufficient” but a necessary step

Nothing [here] is going to be highly ambitious. Nothing. Everything here is going to be one step, and everything is going to be insufficient.

    Open Thread – What is the Call to Action on Climate?

The most recent thread specifically on Cancún is here.

46 thoughts on “Cancún half way”

  1. Great article again, Brian.

    I have a passion for the Maldives and like the external face of President Mohamed Nasheed. I did a little probing on the situation in the Maldives. All is not well. But leaving aside local disastisfaction I was surprised to find this snippet

    “Khaulath Mohamed (haumaldives) Maldives waters infested with Somali pirates: everyone knows the lawlessness in the country Maldives under the current Dictatorship, therefore it is fast becoming a hunting ground not only for somali priates but also imperialists like India…”

    which explains how the pirates can operate so far out to sea. They are working the area from both ends.

  2. Well done Brian – speaking truth to denial, as always.

    I for one am moved by a comment a friend made recently: at the end of the day we just need to produce electricity differently. We dont actually need some major social revolution to achieve that.

    That section of denialists who secretly know the science is completely right, but dont like the political implications (Id say approx 50% of them) should calm down.

    Its just a technical progression: like gas lighting to electricity; or steam engines to internal combustion. its not the end of capitalism dudes. Far from it.

  3. Agreed BilB
    The problem is that the rich may just have to contribute some of their well(he)earned and invested monies to make this happen and that would amount to ‘welfare’ for the undeserving masses. Can’t have that happening.

  4. Sorry, forgot to add, bugger the planet, they are so rich they can find somewhere else to live. 😉

  5. “That section of denialists who secretly know the science is completely right, but dont like the political implications (Id say approx 50% of them) should calm down.”

    If you say so.

  6. Perfect example, Id say JPZ: some cheesebag right-wing whacko who feverishly imagines climate action is all a great stalking horse for socialism, and therefore never really inquires into the science.

    Then inaccurately depicts self as a “climate skeptic”.

    He needs to calm down. Honestly, some of these guys imagine they’re ‘defending a way of life’, when really they’re just getting left behind on inevitable technological progress, like steam train enthusiasts, BETA video owners, vinyl LP exclusivists and the like.

  7. Great use of quotes in that link.

    Expert says “something fairly moderate” that has really extreme implications when they are twisted out of context.

  8. That link from JPZ was standard Fox fare from a standard fox link (Newsbusters).

    The mistakes were so cliched. There was no “climategate scandal” (sic) or “IPCC scandal” (sic) unless one thinks it scandalous to deliberately slander scientists and misrepresent the findings of committees.

  9. Me, Im wondering why there was no coal lobby style hue and cry when those nasty digital cameras destroyed the film processing industry and 1000s of stores with it.

    Since we apparently must defend antiquated technology in the names of “jobs” now, surely this was an OUTRAGE and attack on our WAY OF LIFE!!! etc

  10. Strangely Lefty E – film based photography doesn’t reach into almost every aspect of life or is one of the corner stones of our economic and social prosperity, unlike ubundant cheap electricity.

  11. With some simple paperwork adjustment to the law, to make it more user friend & not tie up so much of our resources, the nation would need far fewer practicioners of the law.

    Thus a vast chunk of lawyers, barristers, solicitors etc could retrain for some of the in demand occupations & use their energy more productively.

  12. at the end of the day we just need to produce electricity differently.

    Yes, LE, decarbonising the electricity grid would go a long way towards sorting this thing. And as John D would say, we don’t need cap and trade to do that.

  13. LE/FB: “glerbity glibberty cheesebag right-wing whacko… glabbety glibbety flubbety… standard Fox fare… cliched flabbety blibbety glubbety…”

    Yeah, fine, fer sure. But what I want to know is: did Herr Edenhofer say what he is alleged to have said, or not? Did he say it whilst backed by the full faith and credit of the IPCC, or not?

    No special pleading from the lot of you: facts only, please, leftists.

    I realize that’s just a joke: I’m only having fun with youse. What reasonable person would expect the truth from a bunch of leftists?

  14. “one of the corner stones of our economic and social prosperity”

    Right, much like steam power in the 19th century. Absolutely indispensable to progress.

    PS is electricity ‘cheap’ over your way?

  15. Brian said:

    Yes, LE, decarbonising the electricity grid would go a long way towards sorting this thing. And as John D would say, we don’t need cap and trade to do that.

    True. We don’t. It’s technologically feasible, especially if you have an authoritarian regime, to simply direct low carbon solutions, if one is willing to risk significant losses. Yet bearing in mind the operational feasibility constraints applying in most western countries, cap and trade, or something very much like it, is required if we are to strike an acceptable balance in risk, reward and speed of implementation.

  16. Fran, I’m going to have to disappear for the day soon, so I won’t be here arguing the toss, but I’d like to point out that a democratically elected, decisive government can do what needs to be done.

  17. Brian: and historically have done. The Snowy Mountains scheme wasn’t built because via a market-based mechanism, and I suspect if you look at the existing electricity system you’d find that only a minority of it was built by private owners. I know that’s true for NZ, I just haven’t got my boot on the neck of Australian industrial history yet.

  18. a democratically elected, decisive government can do what needs to be done

    I don’t dispute that Brian. In theory, it could be done. It might even turn out to be the best way. Certainly, if the government opted for such a course and developed a coherent, plausible and sufficiently ambitious implementation plan, you’d not hear me objecting.

    At the moment though one would have to say that even with the best will in the world and extraordinary political and organisational acumen, the prospect of coming up short or the government being turfed out at the key moment and having the whole thing fall in a heap with huge sunk cost losses would be high.

    And fairly obviously, neither of the major political parties comes close to the above specifications. Our principal feasibility constraint is not technical but operational and so our efforts need to be directed to nobbling opposition to action once and for all. Cap and trade can do that in ways that direct action cannot. Cap and trade caps economic and political risk.

    It is the way to go.

  19. Fran, my assumption about the practicality of the politics is that we are not going to do what’s necessary either way until we get serious about climate mitigation. By that I mean accepting that we have to cut by about 50% by 2020, hit zero by 2030 and go negative from there.

    Until we take the whole thing seriously I can’t get to exercised about which way we choose to stuff around.

  20. I very much agree Brian. The starting point for a coherent, plausible and sufficiently ambitious implementation plan would be a cut on 1990 emissions of 50% with the remainder to be achieved by 2030.

    Until we take the whole thing seriously I can’t get to exercised about which way we choose to stuff around.

    You put your finger on the problem here. The weakness of the direct action approach is the lack of political will. Direct action is the least committal of the possible strategies and allows a maximum of room for backpedalling at least political cost. It seems like things are being done and hardly anyone watches developments on a week by week basis. Most people just read the headlines, and political expediency can get programs deferred or timelines rewritten. We have seen that with hospitals, housing, GP super clinics and much else. Cash for clunkers is the model here.

    If the kind of organisational and political will required to make direct action the best strategy (your term: decisiveness) obtained, we’d have got a robust ETS back in August of 2009 (if not earlier) and wouldn’t now be “stuffing around”. Arguing for direct action now is simply letting the government of the day off and making it easier to stuff around. We need an adequately robust carbon price mechanism around which to build future action and to prevent backsliding.

  21. “If j_p_z is just having fun, I suggest people let him have fun with himself.”

    Ill heed your call for restraint Brian, though it goes against my instincts.

    I think we can all agree we need electricity: Im merely pointed out that fetishishing one mode or producing is really very odd, considering we’ve never previously given a crap when other industries have collapsed, or consiered it “a threat to out way of life”. Even in the case of major system-wide tecnology like steam power. Move on!

    The fact that this one is so damaging merely mean we have to hasten its demise – but that only an acceleration of the inevitable anyway. Oil, eg, is finite. This must happen anyway.

    As for “cheap” well, we all know the sunken costs now. With those factored in youd coal-fired power is easily the most expensive per unit.

    My pint is merely thios: when was capitalism ever sentimental about outdated technology? Lets not start now. its clear which way the wind is ultimately heading on this old school technology. Smart money will get ahead of the game, not behind it.

  22. Talking about revolutions and new social orders doesn’t do much good. The denialists have a point – no matter what Australia does our influence on the climate is at best marginal. Our only role is to be a positive force in world debates (oh well we could stop shipping coal to china, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves), I don’t think some radical restructure of the body politic is going to help that (apart from being fanciful).

    No, I can see a point where there is a massive upheaval in Aus politics towards a more sustainable, green paradigm, but I think that’ll be after the horse has truly bolted, after we’ve ground out quite a few more miserable years of climate inaction. Four degrees? Almost inevitable.

  23. It seems like things are being done and hardly anyone watches developments on a week by week basis.

    Make that year by year and no real cuts until 2030 and you have the CPRS. Both approaches can be limp or aggressively muscular.

    If I were in government I’d model all approaches and go through a public consultation mode, much like what is happening now. But the Gillard government has already chosen the cap and trade option and I understand anyone who thinks otherwise doesn’t get a gig at the table. So we’ll see what comes out of it.

    But I fear wilful may be close to the mark.

  24. “Talking about revolutions and new social orders doesn’t do much good”

    Couldnt agree more Wilful, and this is my point: I cant for the life of me see why producing electricity in a different way would be considered some sort of “revolution”. Its happened before when the steam age ended, and no one pretended that was a end to our way of life, and social order.

    I frankly this suspect its a rhetorical tool being employed by opponents of climate action.

  25. Make that year by year and no real cuts until 2030 and you have the CPRS.

    Indeed, which again attests to the state of mind of our political class.

    But the Gillard government has already chosen the cap and trade option and I understand anyone who thinks otherwise doesn’t get a gig at the table.

    Those who think otherwise include The Greens who do have a seat at the table and favour an interim carbon tax, and the opposition, who want only pretend “no regrets” action and who for partisan political reasons have chosen to self-exclude.

  26. That section of denialists who secretly know the science is completely right, but dont like the political implications (Id say approx 50% of them) should calm down.

    It appears that Paul Sheehan (who used to write some decent stuff on environmental issues) has joined this section of denialists and is not calming down.

  27. When did Sheehan do that Paul? Some years ago someone on usenet implied that he was some sort of lefty who had now seen the light on “TGGWS” but a search of his maunderrings offered only material that suggested he was right-of-centre and somewhat pro-FF and ON.

  28. “The denialists have a point – no matter what Australia does our influence on the climate is at best marginal.”

    Sure, its a point – its not a terribly good one though. You could say the same argument about, eg, adopting free trade policies. But no, there its all “gotta do our bit!”, for the exact same commentators usually.

    Of course, the fact that countries like us (with 1- 2% of global emissions) together consitute nearly half of global emissions makes the point especially daft in relation to this issue. Countries with “minor emissions on global scale” are at least half the global problem.

  29. Quite right Lefty.

    It is the classic collective action problem — every individual has an advantage in acting in a way that they hope nobody else will act.

  30. With 194 individual countries they could all say that “we have only a .5% responsibility for the future so why should we do anything?” With that equally plausible logic no-one has enough of a reason to act. Another argument would be that no-one knows where future populations will reside or how large they will be so why should countries that are going to become deserts or wastelands in the future take part now?

    There are a thousand ways to fiddle while your house burns down.

  31. Lefty E, I didn’t mean my point to be controversial, at least not here (I think you’re having a go at me based on a misreading of my stance on this matter – are you sure your preconceptions of me are correct?).

    My thoughts about political upheaval are responding to Fran’s and Brian’s musings.

    I’m not as sold as you are on the ease of “just changing the electricity generation source” but I agree that it’s something that could be done without radical politics. Whether or not it will be, given Australia’s current political landscape, is something I’m far more pessimistic about than you, but that’s not an ideological point.

    As for my other point (you @ 31 in response), what I’m trying to say is, a radical change in politics in Australia wouldn’t much further global climate action, I think we’d be more useful in the next decade staying within the script. Radical politics would marginalise us and wouldn’t help bring the US, China, etc etc towards a safe path for climate.

    More fundamentally I’m very chary of talking about new political approaches (revolutions etc) because the foolish right think that there’s some grand conspiracy already, and I don’t want to feed the trolls.

  32. Lefty E: I have been saying for some time that the great big lie on climate change is that doing anything about it will cost too much, destroy the economy and life as wee know it etc. To some extent this great big lie is supported by right wing politicians who haven’t done their homework properly and/or see it all as a way of attacking the green side of politics.
    However, a lot of the lie is driven by the statements of the supporters of climate action. For example, there are plenty of people in the climate action plan that see the end of capitalism as an important step towards saving the economy. There are plenty of people who go on and on about what needs to be achieved to reach zero net emissions using today’s technology (and bugger the costs and job losses.) There are plenty of people who insist that it all has to be done with renewables, public transport etc….. In my sourer moments I think some of these people actually enjoy telling us we will all have to go back to living in teepees without power, clean water and a working sewerage system. (OK, perhaps I exaggerate a little.)
    To some extent these people are right. Dramatic changes/significant costs to our way of life may be needed at some stage in the future years to get the necessary reductions in emissions, particularly if world population continues to grow and the necessary technical breakthroughs don’t happen.
    However, they are very wrong if we are talking about what Australia could do in the next 10 to 20 years. For example, if you do the sums, the cost of halving emissions would be less that one dollar/day per person unless we insist on doing it by putting a price on carbon.- Hardly a nation destroying price?
    There is also a problem with climate action supporters who want to do things like putting a price on carbon or moving to some form of ETS. They simply create an easy target for the Barnaby Joyces of the world.

  33. Wilful

    what I’m trying to say is, a radical change in politics in Australia wouldn’t much further global climate action, I think we’d be more useful in the next decade staying within the script.

    There are a couple of things wrong with this.

    1. There is no script for Australia to stay within. Right now it is still being designed and there are some arguing that it ought to amount to doing nothing much at all binding. Of course our script, or as it stands, our refusal to have one at all, is grist to the mill of every other movement in every other country making the same claim. As long as the business-as-usual crowd can point to the refusal of major emitters to act, they can argue that there either can’t really be a crisis, or that even if there is, nothing can be done about it.

    2. It’s not true that Australia can’t make much of a contribution to mitigating pCO2e. Apart from the obvious point that 1.5% of world emissions is actually quite a lot, if we managed to do that it would provide a technological model for others to follow as plausible. Others could stand on our technological and organisational shoulders, duplicating what we had done.

    The low-hanging fruit in this is in the developing world, and were Australia to aid high emitting developing countries (such as Indonesia, Nigeria, Mexico) directly in acquiring suitable low-emissions technologies, lowering the cost and risk to them, then our ability to impact world emissions would exceed the bounds of our own jurisdiction.

    Nigeria is a particularly good piece of low hanging fruit as the bulk of their emissions from electricity production is the result of running diesel generators, which are exceptionally CO2-intensive. It’s also dredful on air quality. The government can do this because it is a significant oil producer, but of course, if Nigeria could use less oil domestically, its balance of payments would improve, so this action, which AIUI, would fit within the clean development mechanism would tick a lot of boxes.

    Indonesia is keen on geothermal and given that that is also part of our longer term picture, it would be good to partner them in moving this technology along.

    Doubtless there would be many other places where Australia could make a difference, both to equity and GHG abatement so it is very short sighted to take this defensive posture.

  34. John D

    For example, if you do the sums, the cost of halving emissions would be less that one dollar/day per person unless we insist on doing it by putting a price on carbon.- Hardly a nation destroying price?

    I wouldn’t say it’s a nation-destroying price but that makes it about 12-15 times the cost of the NBN over 50 years.

    I would also say that putting a price on carbon, if done effectively and ubiquitously with scope to trade across jursidictions with complementary economies, would cost far less for an equal amount of structural change.

    What will force up the price will be excessive resort to renewable technology or excessive reliance on “efficiency” to achieve cuts.

    There is also a problem with climate action supporters who want to do things like putting a price on carbon or moving to some form of ETS. They simply create an easy target for the Barnaby Joyces of the world.

    Only someone who takes Barnaby Joyce and his ilk seriously can be bothered about that. To put it politely, the chap lacks anything more than the ability to provide amusement on slow news days. There is a an element out there in rural Australia who like the idea that their representatives have no more acumen than they have, but these people will never be a factor in any policy rational people could support.

  35. You call it short-sighted, others call it pessimistic, I call it realistic. But what I was reacting to originally was an inference by you upthread that radical politics were necessary or likely in the short or medium term. I don’t agree, I suspect radical politics will be entirely on the table sometime after 2030, I don’t think it’ll happen and I don’t think we should be talking about it in the next decade or so.

  36. And a quote from the reference included in Brians post:-
    “Japan says it makes no sense to extend the Kyoto agreement without the two biggest polluting nations subject to its terms.”

    Wouldn’t it be just logical for Australia to go nuclear and forget the sillyness of a carbon tax. Lets do something constructive rather than a destructive tax in the unlevel playing field.

    PS If the photo above in Bians article is where they decided to built a city and the beach washes away, that was their choice.

  37. LeftyE – We dont actually need some major social revolution to achieve that.

    In some ways I agree LE, in others not.
    The advent of industrial technologies did/has changeed humans way of life, and our environment. Maybe the actual knowledge was neutral, but the technological application of some knowledge definitely impacts on human cultures.

    For most of us that seems great, for now.

    Though I’m with Wade Davis on the importance of ancient wisdom as well, which has rapidly disappeared under the weight of industrial human culture.

    Culture is an ever moveable and changing feast as well, no matter what anyone says or does these days, but some technologies faciliate certain relationships with the earth and between humans more than others.
    I do think a major change in perspective is necessary. A revolution? Or simply the outcome of many small revolutions in our understanding of many things.

    I tend to think that renewables worry some because of their ability to operate in more distributed ways. Rather than tending toward monopolistic centralised systems requiring large scale industrial facilities. A wide range of potential technologies and many smaller players, potentially even individual households with PV, could all contribute.

    Similar for the net it seems, a distributed system of never ending blogs, insight and opinion that operates differently than centralised media (papers, TV). Some who we can see are having something of a hard time dealing with all the tweets. It’s out of any one’s control.
    It’s no longer a few lisenses available to be bartered over between the wealthy and their companies. Anyone can start their own channel or stream of consciousness if they really want. To leak secret government documents or discuss fashion tips. Or just comment on someone elses.

  38. Echoing BilB, lets not talk nukes yet again, not unless something significant has happened in the news directly relevant to Australia, OK? Everybody knows where everybody stands on this matter.

  39. Fran #30:

    When did Sheehan do that Paul? Some years ago someone on usenet implied that he was some sort of lefty who had now seen the light on “TGGWS” but a search of his maunderrings offered only material that suggested he was right-of-centre and somewhat pro-FF and ON.

    Fran, Sheehan has never been any sort of lefty, but until fairly recently he did recognise the reality of environmental problems and was full of praise for those right-of-centre politicians like Bill Heffernan who also “got it” on the environment. Sheehan started going into denial about the time Ian Plimer’s silly book came out and was warmly reviewed in Sheehan’s SMH column.

  40. LE @ 43, re your first link, it seems Combet is on a mission to retain the ‘Australia clause’ negotiated by Robert Hill in Kyoto. It’s part of the rorting going on at Cancun (see my new post.)

  41. JohnD: For example, there are plenty of people in the climate action plan that see the end of capitalism as an important step towards saving the economy.

    I think this is bullshit – at least the ‘plenty of’ bit. It’s part (most?) of the denialist spin. Climate action is mainstream, supported by at least 50% of the population – do you really think half the population want to destroy capitalism.

    And do you really mean ‘saving the economy’ – that would shrink your ‘plenty’ to truly miniscule numbers

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