Leaders from different longitudes and latitudes will make the trip to Copenhagen for the climate change summit from December 7th through the 18th, but many of them are coming empty-handed. The latest comes from India’s Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh who won’t be bringing his treaty-signing pen, “There is no question of India accepting a legally binding emission reduction cut.”
This comes a day after Australia’s Senate rejected its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, its emissions trading program, for the second time. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had hoped to take this to the show-and-tell part of Copenhagen, but now it’s been defeated – twice. More analysis here. Geoffrey Lean of the Telegraph points out that “Gripped by a 13 year drought, [Australia] is thought to be the rich country most vulnerable to global warming. Its climate is already hot and dry. Agriculture, so badly hit by the drought, is central to the economy. And most people and industry are concentrated on coasts, vulnerable to the rising seas and fiercer storms expected to accompany a warming world. On the other side of the coin, it also emits more carbon per person than any other country on earth.”
With all those vulnerabilities, Australia’s failure to pass legislation should be a telling sign that cap and trade schemes are a futile, must too costly approach to addressing climate change.
The Chinese State Council said it would cut the country’s carbon intensity, its “carbon emissions relative to the size of its economy”, 45 percent by 2020, but this is what they’re on track for already. Senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations Michael Levi called the announcement disappointing, saying, “It does not move them beyond business as usual.” China has something for the Copenhagen show-and-tell but it’s like when the 3rd grader brings in fool’s gold and tells the class it’s real gold. China’s commitment is all show and no substance.
President Obama has his bags packed for Copenhagen, and will show up with a Nobel Peace Prize around his neck and a plan to commit the U.S. to near-term emissions cuts but he won’t be joining the other heads of states during the final three days when all the real wheeling and dealing takes place. He can snap some photos and collect the stamp on his passport, but any binding carbon agreement is unlikely. He had hoped to show off an outline of a Senate cap and trade bill but will likely also come empty-handed to show-and-tell. A draft bill written by Senators John Kerry (D-MA.) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has already been published and now Kerry along with Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) are using the rest of 2009 to shape the bill that can be offered in early 2010. They hoped to have their proposal ready in time to be presented at the Copenhagen climate summit, but like everything else in Washington, it’s taking longer than expected.
The reality is the economic consequences are too great and the environmental benefits are too small for any country’s leader to commit to a binding agreement. Copenhagen is going from being the next Kyoto, to a show-and-tell, to leaders just telling what they plan to accomplish. Whatever pre-Copenhagen pep rallies world leaders are holding to create the impetus for a multilateral emissions reduction treaty, they should quit wasting their energy. Show and tell is over.