I’m here at the UN’s Cancun Climate Conference—or COP16 (Conference of the Parties) in the jargon. The last two COPs in Poznan (2008) and Copenhagen (2009) were (ironically) characterized by exceptionally cold weather. I can’t say that there’s December snow in Cancun, but locals tell me it’s exceptionally cool for the time of year. But then again, that’s Climate Change for you!
This is the world’s travelling circus; the moveable feast; the great eco-love-in. We have some 15,000 delegates (including me — I’m accredited for the EU which is a great irony since I am hugely skeptical of the EU as well as the myth of man-made climate change). Of course 99% of the delegates are paid-up true believers in Al Gore’s Great Climate Myth, so everyone here agrees with each other, reinforcing their opinion that Al Gore’s view is the only sane view to have. I take a profoundly different view though.
Copenhagen carried huge hopes and optimism, and ended in failure and recrimination. Cancun is the mirror image. Expectations have been managed down to zero though, so any tiny nugget of success will be hugely overhyped. And there will be nuggets—probably on forestry, on technology transfer, and on a “Cancun Fund” to combat climate change (watch out for that one, because you know who’ll be paying – you, the taxpayer). But the Holy Grail, of a legally binding emissions agreement, looks as far off as ever, and they’re already whistling in the wind and talking of “laying the stepping stones for COP17 in Durban in 2011”.
No fewer than 215 organizations took exhibition space here at the Cancun Messe (aptly named). There are government agencies, trade organizations, charities, lobbyists, campaign groups, miscellaneous small countries and groups of countries, like the Association of Small Island States, and a couple of big countries or proto-countries like the USA and the EU. And despite the 15,000 delegates (down by 10,000 on Copenhagen in 2009, by the way), there is an air or emptiness and waiting in the Exhibition Hall – some stands not manned at all, others with a few desultory staff chatting to each other or working their lap-tops.
I took a look around. The diversity of organizations was fascinating. We had WEDO, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, allied with the “Global Gender and Climate Alliance” (of course). The Woods Hole Research Centre, from Massachusetts. The WFP (World Food Programme). Even the WAGGGS — the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts.
Two exhibitors deserve to share the prize for the most bare-faced impudence in showing up at all. We had the University of East Anglia from the UK (remember the scandal of the leaked e-mails from their Climatic Research Unit?), and railway engineer Rajendra Pacuari’s TERI (The Energy & Research Institute). Remember that Pachauri is also Chairman of the IPCC, while earning a great deal of money from various advisory posts in the climate change industry. Given that they’ve both been wholly discredited in the last twelve months, it must have taken courage to show up — although they faced a less than hostile audience.
I have heard a couple of briefings from the EU’s Climate Change Commissioner (yes, I’m afraid we have one), Connie Hedegaard (who presided over the failed Copenhagen Conference last year). She reported that the EU had taken the high moral ground in the debate (unlike recalcitrant countries like the USA or China), and that at least the EU had a united position. But later in the day I met Czech Deputy Environment Minister Ivo Hlavac, who assured me that he and his government took a skeptical position (only to be expected from a country where the redoubtable Vaclav Klaus was President).
Tellingly, I also heard a reported comment from UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon. At a dinner for national delegations, he commended the EU for its strong commitment to climate mitigation, in a way that rather suggested that no one else quite felt the same.
I almost feel sorry for Todd Stern (no relative of the UK’s Lord Stern of Stern Report fame) who leads the American team at the event. So far as I can tell, he wants (however misguidedly) a binding set of emissions targets, as (I suspect) does President Obama. But Todd knows perfectly well that if he initials any agreement acceptable to the EU, Congress will chuck it out, while if he tries to put forward a compromise that Congress might just accept, his fellow negotiators in Cancun will have an apoplexy. I think he’s on a hiding to nothing.
Reports from the negotiating table confirm that agreement is a long way off. They simply can’t agree Kyoto 2. In a desperate attempt to stave off total failure, there’s talk of a two year extension on the existing Kyoto deal, but several countries look unlikely to accept that either. It also raises complex technical legal problems with the so-called Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and the uncertainty in the industry would be disastrous for that project.
At the end of the day, despite small nuggets of agreement, Cancun looks likely to end in disappointment just as Copenhagen did. But a successful, legally-binding emissions treaty would be a disaster for the world economy and would do huge damage to America’s interests (and to Europe’s, though they don’t seem to have noticed). So let me make an appeal to America’s climate realists and conservatives: if against all expectation a deal is agreed in Cancun, use any means you can to pressure Congress to reject it. That may not be too tough a task.
Roger Helmer Conservative Party Member of the European Parliament for the East Midlands region.
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