Economics, Energy and the Environment

Durban sprawl

Those who can pry their eyes away from Climategate 2.0 long enough to care about international climate negotiations will be breathless with anticipation of what will come out of this year’s meeting of the United Nations Conference of the Parties, which is being held in Durban, South Africa. This is the group of grandees that gave the world the Kyoto Protocol, a economic destruction pact greenhouse gas reduction pact among developing countries that expires in 2012.

Or perhaps they won’t be breathless, since these meetings become more and more farcically formulaic year after year. All that really changes is the nature of the street theater attending the conferences, and with all the Occupy stuff, I’m guessing we all have street-theater fatigue.

The Durban negotiations (as virtually all other negotiations before this) will come down to three key points of contention:

1) Whether to re-affirm or strengthen hard greenhouse gas reduction targets agreed upon in the Kyoto Protocol;

2) Whether developing countries should accept such targets themselves; and

3) Whether the developed countries will buy off the developing countries with lots of cash transfers.

The answers are likely to be “No, no, and no,” though they’ll undoubtedly be dressed up in diplomatic language and pledges of ongoing cooperation. The Europeans (and the Canadians, and Japanese) seem to have had enough of the “binding targets” approach after realizing that a) it was expensive, and b) unless the rest of the world went along, it would offer no environmental benefit whatsoever. This was blindingly obvious from the beginning of the process, but it wasn’t convenient to admit it before. Now, with Europe facing the euro-pocalypse, the UK facing skyrocketing energy prices, Canada under siege for its oil-sand greenhouse gas emissions, and Japan phasing out nuclear power, things have changed a bit. The developing countries are no more willing to accept binding reduction targets now than they have ever been, despite China’s ascent to the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter. And, if anything, the probability of bulk-wealth transfers from developed countries to their economic competitors in the developing world looks even less likely than usual.

One can expect the Durban negotiators to agree on one thing, however: that the international junket process must go on. Since the last major meeting in Copenhagen 2009, workshops and meetings have been held in Bonn (repeatedly), Cancun, Bangkok, Panama City, and Tianjin, China.

Gotta keep those flyer mile accounts growing!

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