Multiple agendas at Cancún, not all benign

Saudi Arabia has complained that Cancún was lousy with NGO representatives and hence they had to waste time talking to them. The Saudis, of course, aim to see that Cancún does not result in any diminution of the use of oil.

The place is also lousy with representatives of fossil fuel and forestry industries, who aim to make a buck out of the whole thing.

Giles Parkinson’s latest report tells of wholesale rorting at Cancún in how emissions and carbon credits are counted.

The UN Environment Program issued a detailed report last week that said accounting rorts from “hot air” from eastern Europe and land use rules could add up to more than two billion tonnes by 2020. The EU has complained they could undermine the entirety of their emission reductions since 1990.

A study by Simon Terry, the executive director of the New Zealand Sustainability Council, goes further. Terry says that by adding in aviation and shipping – which are not accounted for under the Copenhagen Accord – the pledges may turn out to produce an increase in global emissions of 3 per cent from 1990 levels, rather than an advertised fall of up to 18 per cent.

The UN has been concerned that the Copenhagen Accord commitments will yield an “emissions gap” against what is needed to remain within a 2C temperature rise. This gaps means we could be headed for 3-4C instead of 2C. Factor in the latest games being played and we are heading for 6-7C. That is ‘end of civilisation as we know it’ territory.

The article is worth reading in full to ascertain the full calumny of what is being gamed. One of the bottom lines is that these games are being allowed in order to preserve the hope of concluding an agreement in Durban next year.

Our Greg Combet, it seems, will bravely fight to retain the ‘Australia clause’ on tree clearing negotiated by Robert Hill in Kyoto, even though that makes a mockery of our measly targets.

Larger rorts include the counting of so-called ‘hot air’ from the rust belt industries that were belching out carbon in Eastern Europe and Russia, which later collapsed. Palm oil plantations are counted as forest. Logging countries are being allowed to set their own baselines so that they can claim credits for not doing logging they never intended to do. Air travel and shipping are not counted, nor, apparently, the draining of peat lands.

There was a little rort about HFCs used in refrigeration plant in developing countries. Some shysters were producing plans to manufacture HCFs for no other reason than that they could be paid under the CDM not to go ahead. This rort was suspended for a while, but unaccountably seems back in vogue.

Simon Terry says that only a very few people, and only a handful of negotiators, fully understand issues relating to land use and forestry emissions. Number me among them. A new study finds that forestry may only account for 15% of emissions as compared to 20% recently. But there are problems in the counting, surprise, surprise. I would point out two things. First, the 15% is of a higher number. Secondly, Stern pointed out that forestry must decline proportionately over time as the world’s forests are cleared. You can’t knock a forest down twice. But you might be able to save it twice, or more.

I complained in my last post that Giles Parkinson did not file a report after last Friday. In fact he did, but it wasn’t included in the feed until after the weekend. It starts with:

The veneer of an entente-cordiale that has been carefully cultured in the first week of talks in Cancun, Mexico, is showing signs of strain, with the EU lashing out at countries for showing a lack of ambition and engagement, and appearing to not understand the science.

I wonder how our Mr Combet would go on a test in the science.

22 thoughts on “Multiple agendas at Cancún, not all benign”

  1. When do we start plan B ?
    It is now totally clear that emissions trading schemes and all that market based bullshit will not work to reduce in any way the CO2 emissions. In fact it is emerging that the “market” makes things worse, or at the very least serves to obscure the reality we face.
    It is interesting that some of the most transformative events in our recent history were not driven by “markets”; sewerage, piped water,roads and railway, heavier than air flight, the list goes on and on. Oh sure markets were grafted onto these things after they were established but the “market” was not the driver.
    So pervasive has been this “market” mantra that we are totally paralyzed and unable to do any-thing at all unless we can find a way to graft a “market ” onto it.

  2. Another consequence of Combet’s involvement in the rorting is that all this “creative accounting” will make it possible for Federal Labor to commit to a nominally much more ambitious target than the current 5 per cent in negotiations with the Greens, and paint the Greens as unreasonable for walking away from a Labor target of (say) 25 per cent reductions by 2020 which would be nothing of the sort in reality, for reasons which it would be difficult to explain in an 8 second soundbite.

  3. Agree Huggy – in the 1970s the US Clean Air Act simply banned certain types and levels of pollution.

    There’s really no logic for compensating people for ceasing to commit harmful acts.

  4. I’m sorry Brian, lefty E, that avaaz link doesn’t actually say anything.

    I think there’s a lot of confusion in here between the terms of art used in LULUCF. It all gets bundled up in ‘forestry’ which is highly misleading.

    Robert Hill’s grand rort (apart from the 8% target) was dodgy accounting over permanent clearing in the brigalow belt of Queensland.

    “Forestry” in LDCs is basically uncontrolled land clearing, it’s what’s responsible for the ~15% of world emissions (and historically much more). It’s better called deforestation.

    “Forestry” as conducted in Australia’s native forests and plantations is carbon neutral, since it involves regeneration back to the original forest structure. Losses do occur at time of harvest, but these are recouped within 25 – 90 years (except old-growth forests, which take longer, up to 200 years which is too long for our purposes). While carbon accounting is difficult, and contested, that’s on both sides of the equation. For example, we have Mackey et al.s Green Carbon (pdf), but we also have UNFCC accounting for harvested wood products, but Kyoto protocol not recognising them. The less timber used in housing, the more concrete, steel and aluminium, which is just obvious.

  5. Paul Norton: a lot of the rorts are easy to explain in 8 seconds each, it’s just that there are a lot of reasons. Unfortunately some of them are of the form “group with a bad record will self-regulate”, which means that people committed to those groups have all the excuse they need. Also, any one or two of the rorts that get traction Labour can just say “oh, that’s only 1% of the expected cuts, nothing to worry about”. It’s the climate change problem writ small.

  6. The REC credit price has now dropped to $28.75 from about $35 a few months ago. It is simply not enough to give any investor in clean electricity confidence.
    As Huggy says, can we stop going on as though the REC scheme is working and start calling ofr tenders for the supply of cleaner electricity. (Or reduction in emissions?)

  7. If thats so Wilful, I look forward to Combet’s explanation of the Australian government’s position, currently being advanced on our behalf with no publicly available information to those they represent.

    Or will we have to wait for a leak?

  8. How so Wilful? The negotiations are happening now.

    Shouldn’t we question and find out our own govt’s position *before* its too late?

  9. Lefty, but if they told you that you’d just be angry now. If they tell you afterwards they can also say “we’re committed, it’s too late to change so back in your box”.

  10. The link suggests that there is skulduggery and murky business afoot. Not saying there isn’t, just saying that I need more information, some actual evidence of something being proposed before I get too angry.

    The first and simplest thing would be for the Australian mission to explain what their position is.

  11. Lefty E said:

    There’s really no logic for compensating people for ceasing to commit harmful acts.

    That’s true, in principle, but in practice it is often in the grey area. People in the developing world who strip the vegetation in an area so as to keep warm at night are committing harmful acts. Ironically, the longterm harm will redound on them in many cases, but of course, if you die in the short term, the fact that you’d have been better off in the long run is moot.

    You also need to look at the transaction costs of restraining people from committing harmful acts.

    So as much as it often grates to compensate, the least of all harms principle applies. One must determine what is best not by mechanically applying a general principle but looking at the feasibilty of all the possible responses to harm abatement and choosing the least sub-optimal one.

  12. According to a chronicle I found;Hundreds of thousands of years ago a really bright woman had this great idea. How about we strap our babies on to our backs and go about gathering stuff to eat? Great enthusiasm ensued.
    Double the productivity of the clan almost overnight for virtually no expenditure – wow. So they went at it immediately.
    The clan across the river saw this and marvelled, why do we not do the same? they asked.
    Well first we must do the power point presentation then prepare the business case, said the chief. Unfortunately we do not know the rest of the story because that clan is now totally extinct.

  13. RetroAnubis
    Yes it will, but we will stuff that up too. Big time, because it will be seen as a marketable product and the gig will go to the most persuasive snake oil salesman who has bought the most politicians.
    “Injections into the stratosphere of sulphate or other manufactured particles have the greatest potential to cool the climate back to pre-industrial temperatures by 2050.

    However, they also carry the most risk because they would have to be continually replenished and if deployment was suddenly stopped, extremely rapid warming could ensue.”


  14. Yes, thanks, Dave McRae.

    Huggy @ 4, I think the problem with some of these market type solutions is that you can’t really tell what’s happening, if anything. Whereas if you converted a coal-fired power station to gas, everyone could see.

    Our problem is in large part that we have an environment minister in a coal-mining electorate, a resources minister who is a denialist and an opposition, well…

  15. wilful @ 7, I agree that deforestation is the problem rather than forestry, but the confusion around it all is allowing the rorts.

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