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Durban Diary: Notes from the UN's climate change jamboree
Liberty Institute, India Sunday, December 11, 2011

United Nation's Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is holding its annual Conference of Parties (CoP) in Durban South Africa, from Nov 28 to Dec 9, 2011. This is the 17th CoP, where countries are expected to discuss life after the Kyoto Protocol, which will come to an end in 2012.

December 11, 2011: Assessing the outcome in Durban

In this final installment of these diary entries, we look at the "Durban Platform for Enhanced Action", that came out of the extra time the delegates spent in negotiating the deal. India has been a key player in the discussions, but why did India opt for the status quo, rather than change the climate of the deliberations. What are the implications of formally including agriculture in the climate negotiations. Finally, we look at the geopolitical fall out from Durban which saw the revival of EU as a leading player, after it was completely sidelined in Copenhagen in 2009.

We enjoyed preparing these brief news and comments from the sidelines of Durban, where Hardev Sanotra spent the last two weeks, running from one event to another. While Barun Mitra, chewed on the inputs provided by Hardev, and prepared the commentary from the perspective of individual liberty and economic freedom.

We hope you found these interventions useful, and we welcome your comments and criticisms. Please write to us at, and

Durban Platform: Much ado about nothing

The Durban Platform agreed to by over 190 nations at the annual UNFCCC jamboree is a classic illustration of how such UN sponsored events take the whole world for a ride, by promising more of the same, actually performing little, yet proclaiming a grand success.

Kyoto protocol, which was to end in 2012, has been extended to 2017. The US had not ratified the protocol, and developing economies like China and India have exemptions. So like the past decade, there is unlikely to be much impact on global greenhouse gas emissions in this decade. In addition, Canada has decided to withdrawn from Kyoto Protocol, and even Japan and Russia has expressed their intent not to be part of any extension of the protocol. And the only way the EU countries could reduce their emission significantly, is if their economies collapsed, as it happened with the collapse of the Communist block. This may very well happen again given the sovereign debt crisis looming in Europe. But no thanks to Durban!

At Durban delegates agreed to a write a new legally binding commitment for all countries, by 2015, and which is to come in to effect in 2020. With all its treaties, institutions, and finances, the current crisis in Europe shows the poor capacity to actually monitor, assess and enforce the rules. To believe that the UN institution would change, and perform, is to ignore the political realities of the world today.

In Cancun in 2010, the UNFCCC delegates had made a commitment to raise $100 billion a year by 2020. Nothing much has materialized. Yet, the negotiators in Durban agreed to create a mechanism to manage the green fund that is still missing.

So, the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action”, promises yet more action some time in the ‘future’. As for the present, that was not under discussion in Durban.

India opted for status quo

Many in the media have credited India for the leadership role in Durban, in rallying the developing countries and withstanding the pressure from Europe. India adopted a defensive strategy by hugging to historical responsibilities of the developed countries in contributing to the largest accumulated share of greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere.

While past is important, there are many questions of equity from the present as well. For instance, nearly 20% of Indians today, have hardly any access to electricity. Millions of others cannot rely on the supply of electricity. One estimate of the burden of lack of clean and safe sources of energy is the annual death toll in India of about half a million from indoor air pollution caused mainly by fire wood, and agricultural and animal waste, as fuel for cooking in unventilated huts.

Supply of electricity has emerged at the top of the political agenda in India today. The per capita availability of electricity in India is less than 1,000 kwh, which is one-tenth to one-twentieth of many developed countries. Therefore, any restriction of energy supply will be political suicide for the leadership at home, quite irrespective of any commitment made at the international level.

On the other hand, there have been dramatic improvement in energy efficiency, and consequent carbon intensity (amount of carbon emitted per unit of GDP), over the past two decades. India has improved it carbon intensity by 32% in the past 15 years. As their economies reformed and opened up to world, companies began to adopt better and more efficient technologies and practices in order to compete with the world.

Yet, today, India’s carbon intensity is still seven times higher than Japan’s. This indicates that there are still huge structural and policy challenges, which are preventing India from adopting the best technologies and practices currently available in the world.

India may have won a tactical battle in Durban, and won a reprieve for a few more years, but the lack of strategic vision, has caused a loss of a great opportunity to really reshape the climate of debate in the future.

Agriculture adds to uncertainty

The uncertain future of UNFCCC is best exemplified by the inclusion of agriculture in the climate negotiations. Over the past ten years, negotiations at World Trade Organisation, one of the most effective multi-lateral institutions, have stalled primarily because of the question of agriculture subsidies on one side, and need to restrict agricultural trade on the other side.

As for the possible impact of climate change on agriculture is concerned. So far there is a positive correlation between higher CO2 in the atmosphere, and increased agriculture production around the world in the past 50 years. Of course, correlation is not causation! Yet, one can’t ignore the fact, that India was seen as a basket case in the 1960s. In the past 50 years, India’s food grain production has increased over three fold. While India is not yet a bread basket, but there can’t be any denying that periodic droughts and inevitable famines, which used to haunt the sub-continent for centuries, have become history.

There are parts of the world that are still suffering from droughts and famines, but if India’s experience is anything to go by, then that suffering is more man-made, rather than induced by changes in the climate.

By formally including impact of climate change on global food production, an excuse has been offered to despots and dictators that it is not their fault if drought turns in to famine in their domains. The poor may pay a heavy  price, not because the weather is changing, but because the political climate may not change for them.

Geopolitics at Durban

One who pays the piper calls the tune. But in Durban, mere promise of funding from the developed countries made the poor and small island nations become the piper for the rich world. It is amazing that no one is bothered about the possible vulnerabilities of the most developed sea fronts in the world – Florida pan handle, or Honolulu, or Holland. These are all rich areas, and economic development provides the best protection against natural hazards. Many leaders of the small island nations seem willing to ignore the plight of their poor citizens today, in return for the promised lucre tomorrow.

The question of equity entered the climate discourse once again in Durban. India and some other developing countries, stressed the fact that the responsibility for the largest share of man-made GHGs accumulated in the atmosphere lay with the developed countries of today. In their process of development, they have emitted these gases over the past two centuries, far in excess of anything from the developing countries today.

Unfortunately, India went to Durban, with a very defensive strategy, carrying the historical baggage of equity. India failed to seize the initiative by ignoring her own track record. India lost an opportunity to build on the BASIC, as Barzil and South Africa drifted, and China preferred to dribble solo.

On the other hand, Durban witnessed the revival of EU on a global platform. Engulfed by economic crisis at home, EU perhaps needed this UNFCCC meet to underscore their continued relevance. EU pulled out all the old tricks of diplomacy–carrot and stick, as well as divide and rule–to shape an agreement in Durban. But the old Emperor has no new clothes!

Day 11: December 10, 2011

UNFCCC goes in to extra time

The Durban climate conference went into extra day, with a strong appeal by the Conference of Parties or CoP17 president, Maite Nkoana Mashabane, who urged ministers and officials from 194 countries who have been meeting in Durban for almost two weeks to agree on action to be taken on climate change. "The world is looking at you. The world awaits," she told the delegates.

The delegates, meeting overnight and then again in the morning did not seem to be agreeing to something strong on Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period or financing of the green fund with $100 billion every year from 2020. The Kyoto protocol comes to an end in December 2012, and its extension or a second commitment has been a major bone of contention at Durban. Canada, Russia and Japan have said they will not sign on to the second commitment, while the US and the European Union have wanted the major developing countries like India, China, Brazil and Indonesia to sign up, without any pre-conditions.

Holding up the issue was an effort to get the developing countries to agree to a binding commitment to cut greenhouse gases after 2020, and to bring about an agreement to this effect by 2015.

Ministers and bureaucrats from met in Indabas, a Zulu word for 'meeting of the elders,' to prepare a final text for the concluding plenary session. India, China, the US, EU, Brazil and Mexico were the countries that held discussions with each other several times in the day, as the chair of Indaba circulated a draft text. The delegates earnestly debated the difference in meaning between wordings like "legal instrument", "legal framework" and "legal outcome."

The circulated draft noted with “grave concern the significant gap between the aggregated effect of Parties mitigation pledges in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020.” It also states that action was sought on the “"ikely chance of holding average global warming below 2 degree centigrade or 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels."

The EU has said that even if a binding agreement is not signed, a clear “road map” should be agreed to by all members to come to an agreement by 2015 for a 2020 commitment. India and other developing countries have said that the members should wait for the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, expected to be out in 2013 and other scientific reviews, before taking a decision on an agreement to cut emissions.
The challenge before the climate negotiators is threefold. One, the “historical responsibilities” of developed countries in taking up the environmental space of the planet; two, the needs and aspirations of the present generation in developing countries, and assess and alleviate the possible impact of climate change in the future amid great scientific uncertainties. Such a tight-rope walk, is almost impossible to sustain.

Green economy stares at the red light

Green jobs have been one of the biggest buzz words in Durban. South Africa is the latest country to make a major announcement on green jobs. It is ironic that thousands of green bureaucrats, with a job to save the planet, at the UNFCCC annual gathering in Durban, struggled to bridge the gulf between nations, and find some kind of a an face saving agreement. In a way, this truly reflects the real gulf between the promise of the economic dividend and the performance of the green economy, across the world.

The South Africa’s Green Economy Accord was launched by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe who said one million solar water-heating systems would be installed in South Africa by 2014. The Accord aims to create 300 000 new jobs by 2020, in economic activities such as renewable energy, manufacturing of products that reduce carbon emissions, farming activities to provide feedstock for biofuels, soil and environmental management and eco tourism. President Jacob Zuma said the Accord was a key example of the steps being taken locally to address the global challenge of climate change. South African Minister of Economic Development, Ebrahim Patel, said, COP 17 was an opportunity for the country to learn, from the rest of the world, about successful examples of using new technologies and new ways of engineering the workplaces, homes and transport systems "to ensure that we make a positive contribution to climate change goals."

But green jobs, as several countries have learnt, are costly to create. The often distort economic activity, adds to inefficiency, and typically fall far short of the promise. As the Solyndra example proved in the United States, subsidies may not help. The California-based company was a manufacturer of thin-film solar cells and was touted for its unusual technology. It had gobbled up almost half a billion dollars in subsidies. Yet, with falling silicon prices the company became economically unviable to compete with convention solar panels. In September 2011, it filed for bankruptcy, and laid-off all its workers.

In Spain, the solar sector was projected as a panacea for all energy needs. The government put in $24 billion into the sector, while droving up the energy costs in pursuit of the green economy. But, in 2009, the reality began to hit with the looming financial crisis and ballooning public debt. According to Dr Gabriel Calzada Alvarez, who carried out a study on the green jobs in Spain, for every job created in renewable energy industry, 2.2 jobs were lost elsewhere. Dr Alvarez believes the United States which plans to create 3.5 million "green jobs" as planned by the Obama administration, can expected to lose at lease 6 million jobs as a direct consequence of this action.

President Obama proposed in early 2011, that the US be the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles by 2015. According to the Washington Post, despite pouring in $5 billion in subsidies, the electric car industry is nowhere near its promised targets. In 2011, sales of the electric vehicles stood at 16,800 or roughly two-tenths of one per cent of the total domestic vehicle sale of around 8 million units, during the year. Facing declining orders, one of the battery makers, A123 Systems, which received $380 million in government support, had been forced to lay off people. Instead of 3,000 promised jobs, it had only 680 employees now.

The red light before such green pursuits is getting brighter.

The lesson to learn: Subsidies may sustain an uneconomic industry, but at the cost of more productive investments, competitive products and better jobs somewhere else. Subsidizing an uneconomic industry always come at a cost to the tax-payer, and at a loss to the consumer.

Day 10: December 9, 2011

More of the same in Durban

The final day of conference at the Durban conference saw the European Union Commissioner for Climate Change, Connie Hedegaard deliver a jolt to the major players at the conference, the US, China and India. She said in the morning that the three were standing in the way of an agreement, and that they need to be brought on board as only a few hours remained for the conference. Jayanthi Natarajan, India’s environment minister immediately took umbrage at her EU colleague, and retorted that she thought the EU was against the Bali Action Plan, but now she knew that they were against even the Cancun agreement.

The Bali Action Plan had agreed on verifiable mitigation commitments by all developed countries and “nationally appropriate” mitigation actions by developing countries. It promised transfer of technology and to build the capacity of developing countries. The Cancun agreement last year in Mexico, made a commitment to financing the necessary measures.

But there were few believers that the COP 17 meeting in Durban would achieve anything beyond an agreement to agree in the future. Some more good words, additional vague intentions, but little concrete action, and even less finance. The Bali Action Plan, provided the plan, but saw no action. The Copenhagen Accord was a primarily a deal between the US and China, to allow a common statement of intent to save the face of participating heads of states. The Commitment at Cancun promised many goodies, to get most countries on board, but hardly any of the goods were ever delivered because of the growing financial crunch. Durban seems destined to slide down the same slope from the peak of climate inaction in Copenhagen two years ago.

Faithfuls keep up the vigil

The worst affected by the lack of any clear agreement in Durban are the global warming alarmists, the NGOs who believe in man-made climate change. They have been going around worried that nothing concrete will emerge out of this meeting. As they heard that the leaders will be holding their talks at night, perhaps going into the wee hours, they have got together to hold a vigil near the International Convention Centre where the climate change conference is being held. “We will talk as long as they talk, along with speeches, music, poetry and performance,” said Kevin Buckland of, the organizers of the vigil to keep a close watch on what’s going on inside the halls. They also call it #OccupyCOP17 site taking a cue from the OccupyWallStreet movement in New York which saw copycat demonstrations in several countries. But the alarmists are in for disappointment, as the differences between the delegates are too wide to lend itself to solution in discussion for a few hours.

The outcome of UNFCCC in Durban is not likely to depend on the late night negotiations, but by the absence of the world leaders. After the fiasco at the much touted CoP 15 in Copenhagen, the prime ministers and presidents are increasingly wary of climate change, but even more importantly of the economic climate. It is the economy stupid!

Day 9: December 8, 2011

Failure at Durban, interest in climate change wanes

Durban seems to have killed any hopes of Kyoto Protocol extension being approved by the 194 members gathered here to discuss climate change. On the penultimate day of the UNFCCC's CoP 17, people were pessimistic that anything concrete could be achieved in less than 18 hours left for the conference to go. People had spent hours taking on how to bring about a consensus, but such meeting of the minds eluded them. “I am less optimistic than I was before,” about an outcome, said Jayanthi Natarajan, although she tried still to appear positive that something may emerge in the next few hours left before leaders, delegates and the media go back.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked member states to go back to their countries and forge their own legislation and strategies on climate change.  “Don’t wait for a binding agreement. It could take years,” he said, clearly indicating that nothing much was possible now. Even the green fund, supposed to have garnered commitments, remained a non-starter. “It is still an empty shell,” said Natarajan.  The fund is supposed to collect at least $100 billion every year to be disbursed to developing countries to help them mitigate the feared impact of climate change. Till 2012 it was supposed to get $10 billion a year to be ramped up till 2019.

So, on the two major counts — on which all eyes were on Durban – the climate meet seems to be headed for a failure, unless there last minute miraculous recovery.

The whole atmosphere at the conference on the penultimate day was more subdued. If there was a give and take at the negotiations, it was false diplomacy at work, such as China’s acceptance of legally binding commitment, but with impossible five conditions. The waning interest on climate among world leaders, who failed to turn up at Durban and the United States Senate to unwillingness to pass the cap & trade legislation have all had a dampening effect on the meeting of 194 nations.

Kyoto protocol may die, but there is no reason to mourn. The change in the climate of opinion may carry the seed of freedom that will empower people to deal with any change in climate.

REDD alert: More money for forestation may prolong poverty

With the help of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Indonesia got $1bn on Thursday at the Durban climate conference from Norway under what is called REDD—reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner said that in the same way that the green economy promotes sustainable, low carbon and resource-efficient economic growth, REDD+ also explicitly addresses the need for a balance between income growth, jobs and social equity.

Alan Oxley of World Growth, who has just finished a project on forestry in Indonesia, says that the emphasis placed by wealthy countries upon deforestation emissions, will undermine economic development in developing countries and provide only a fraction of the emissions cuts promised. This, he said, had been backed up by new research from Winrock International that effectively halve the percentage of emissions from deforestation from around 17 per cent to 8 per cent.

“The research confirms what World Growth has contended for years: deforestation emissions are overstated,” said Oxley, who’s in Durban to release his report on Indonesia’s forests. Oxley poses a question for groups like Greenpeace: if deforestation is caused by agriculture -- particularly in poor countries -- will Greenpeace campaign for less food production in poor countries? Perhaps Greenpeace will change course on this issue.

Small islands drowning fears: Are they real?

At the Durban conference, as at previous climate meets organized by the United Nations, the small island nations pull more clout them some of the bigger ones. They regularly hold briefings, calling upon big nations to help. Their pleas are always tinged with desperation: we are at the forefront of climate change, they claim, saying people come to their islands for a few days and then go home, but they have to live with the consequences of climate change. According to Environment Minister of Granada, Karl Hood, who is also the Chair of the Association of Small Island States, they have witnessed at first hand the impact of climate change in their small countries. “Cyclones have become erratic, and droughts have increased affecting our fragile economies,” he said at a briefing on Thursday.

He said the big powers were not serious about putting together a deal and only want to postpone any discussion on immediate action. “We don’t want COP17 to be Corpse17, resulting in a burial,” Hood said. Fiji Environment Minsiter Samuela Saumatua asked rhetorically whether the big nations want to wait till “the point of no return.” He said they had to relocate several villages on the coast because of rising sea level which was the direct effect of climate change

But is the sea level changing that much? No, says one of the leading experts on sea level rise. Nils Axel Morner, former Head of Paleogeophysics & Geodynamics at the Stockholm University and past president of INQUA Commission on Sea Level Changes and Coastal Evolution, says the sea is not rising. In an open letter to the President of Maldives he said that scientific observational facts clearly indicate that the sea level is not rising at all in the Maldives or elsewhere in the Indian Ocean. Morner says clear field evidence now exists not only in the Maldives but also in Bangladesh,  Minicoy, Goa, and Mumbai, based on long term record of tide-gauges .

Clearly, small islands are protesting too much and the guilt-ridden West is playing along. Or is the the other way round? The promise of manna from the West, is making some of the small island nations play the tune. It must not be forgotten that he who pays, or even promises to pay, the piper calls the tune!


Day 8: December 7, 2011

India disposes climate change "panacea" proposed by developed countries

While maintaining an "open mind" policy, India has demanded more reassurances from developed countries at the climate change conference in Durban.

Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan refuted accusation of India becoming a deal-breaker in Durban. She said that she was looking for clarifications and reassurances before taking a stand on a new legally binding agreement proposed at the Durban conference . This agreement, proposed by the European Union, Japan and other developed countries as a "panacea" for climate change, is focused entirely on reducing emissions, specifically targetting all major emittors. However, Natarajan asked, "could we reassure each other against unilateral actions in such a treaty. How will the ratification process of Kyoto Protocol be resolved and most importantly we, at this time of our development, need to keep the imperatives of a developing country in mind and the need to grow".

A definitive position by India on the agreement is only possible once it is known "whether it would be binding only for mitigation and whether it will be same for Annex-1 and non-Annex1 countries", said the minister.

Mrs Natarajan wanted certain "fundamental objectives" to be fulfilled before India can consider being part of such a treaty. These include rapid action by developed countries on carbon emissions reduction, finance and technology as well as addressing India's concern of intellectual property rights, unilateral trade measures and equity. Talking about these, Natarajan added, "The recent announcement by EU to impose unilaterally carbon tax on civil aviation emissions under their Emissions Trading Scheme is a clear reminder of such measures. These actions are disguised trade actions taken in the name of climate."
Later, intervening at the High-Level segment of the climate conference, Natarajan said that India was conscious of its responsibilities and had, in that spirit, taken new and additional mitigation actions in a regime of international transparency. She said that for the majority of the poor in the developing world, the world has not changed. They cannot be expected to be legally bound reduce their emissions whey they have practically no emissions.

What ever may be the outcome in Durban, there is no doubt that there are dark clouds in the horizon that may impact global trade. The planet's climate may or may not change in the distant future, but restricting trade will surely seal the fate of millions in poverty today.


Day 7: December 6, 2011

China and US engage, India missing in action

A tussle is on between China and the US in Durban, as is usual at climate change conferences. The US thinks that what the Chinese delegation had offered as binding commitment to reduce emissions was no commitment at all. Todd Stern, US Chief Negotiator on Climate Change had a morning meeting with Xie Zhenhua, China’s chief negotiator, but he came away with the impression that the Middle Kingdom had not offered anything new. “A binding commitment has to be without conditions,” Stern told reporters in Durban.

China had announced on Monday that it would accept legally binding commitment, but with five conditions. Those conditions include second part of the Kyoto Protocol going through where developed countries would accept their responsibilities about cutting man-made greenhouse gases, which is said to be raising Earth’s temperature, a contention criticised by many scientists. Xie reiterated his stand at a press conference in Durban held by Brazil, South Africa, India and China, the BASIC countries as they are known, and repeated what he had stated yesterday, about its binding commitment, but with conditions.

India, which has categorically ruled out any binding commitment may be getting more isolated in its stand, as Brazil too came out in support of legally binding commitments. South Africa is more circumspect, for the moment. Jayanthi Natarajan, minister of state for environment, reading out from a written paper, said India will never accept a legally binding agreement since that was for the developed countries, who were “historical polluters.” She wanted to know what was being done on the Green Fund, which seeks to raise $100 billion every year to help the developing world mitigate impact of climate change.

But Kirit Parikh, an economist, who heads a Planning Commission group on low carbon strategy for inclusive growth, said that India should have followed China’s path. The five conditions that China has put are impossible ones. He said Indian negotiators could also have given such impossible conditions and then said that it accepts binding commitments. “That way India would have stopped the criticism that it’s standing in the way of an agreement in Durban.” Parikh also said that India was missing in action. While china was leading the show, holding high-profile meetings, conferences, events and side-events on a regular basis, India was nowhere to be seen. The country does not need to keep such a low profile since it has done a lot on climate change, Parikh says.

Indian industry not too hopeful on carbon trading

India’s negotiating stance with European Union is not leading anywhere, it would seem.

According to Artur Runge-Metzger, EU’s chief negotiator on climate change, the developing countries have to get out of their “business as usual” mold to be able to achieve something concrete. “They claim they have done more than developed countries, but I have seen studies showing otherwise,” Runge-Metzger told a small group of reporters. That would mean that India is not pushing the EU on carbon trading, as is being claimed. “Where is India?” asks Dr Axel Michaelowa, senior founding partner at Zurich-based Perspectives on Climate Change. “It should be out there pushing the EU to extend the carbon trading under the Clean Development Mechanism, even if Kyoto Protocol II does not come through.” Michaelowa, an expert on carbon trading, said India stands to lose the most if Kyoto Protocol is not extended. China, he says, will absorb the trading certificates issued to its companies and is planning to set up a national mechanism to continue with it. “But India is not doing anything on it.”

Similar is the sentiment expressed by past president of Confederation of Indian Industries and Chairman of SRF who is in Durban. The company is a leader in India on carbon certificate trading. “We are standing behind India, but there is no alternative strategy in place in case Kyoto Protocol II fails. We have no contingency plan.” He said the whole industry wants India to push the EU, and there had to be some give and take on negotiations, but “we will have to wait till Friday or Saturday for the outcome.” He was not very hopeful, though.

Carbon price had fallen below Euro 7 per tonne, on December 6, 2011, that was a drop of 60% from the high in June 2011. With no end in sight for the European debt crisis, one can't really be too optimistic to bet on carbon. The irony is that the much touted carbon trading scheme is faltering, precisely when global emissions have increased again in 2010, after a two year slump due to global economic slowdown. The lesson from this attempt to create a market mechanism to rein in carbon emission is that markets can't be created by government fiats.

Day 6: December 5, 2011

China offers a climate deal

At press conference on Monday, Xie Zhenhua, China’s top climate negotiator, announced that China would accept a legally binding agreement on emissions after 2020, with some pre-conditions.
These conditions, according to Xie, are (i) that the principle of equity should be upheld (meaning that developing countries have a right to compensation for historical “pollution” by Western nation); (ii) that ‘common but differentiated’ responsibilities underlines any deal, which means that not everyone should be asked to make commitments in the same manner, (iii) that each country’s capacity should be taken into account, (iv) that the Kyoto Protocol should be renewed by developed nations and that hundreds of billions of dollars in short and long-term financing should be available for developing nations.
Given the current financial health of many developed countries, and the growing political turmoil, most of them neither have the money available to compensate for the historical pollution, nor can they contemplate helping the developing nations with short-term or long-term finance. So the only items on offer from the rich world are scarier computer simulations in an attempt to coerce the poor countries to adopt higher cost of energy, and accept trade barriers to reduce competition.
Unfortunately, this is a recipe for status quo that China, with 128 million people spending less than $1 a day and per capita income still around $4,300, can ill afford.

Stern at Durban

Remember Nicholas Stern, UK’s Head of Government Economic Service, UK’s Head of the Government Economic Service and chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics? The writer of the famous or infamous Stern Report where he advocated environment taxes and mentioned that early action to mitigate action of climate change would cost one per cent of the global GDP every year (later revised to 2 per cent). Well, he’s here in Durban at the UN conference to advocate “raising living standards” by taking timely action to tackle climate change.
The Stern report was widely criticized, with several economists and scientists taking up issues with him. Ian Byatt (Byatt et al, 2006) called it a “deeply flawed” report. Most pointed to the low estimates given for mitigation action, calling the discount rate used by Stern to arrive at his figures as unusually low. Bjorn Lomborg author of the Skeptical Environmentalist and adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School estimated that any affective action would need money several times the GDP, making the remedy worse than the disease.
When asked about the criticism on discount rate, Stern said the people are wrongly criticizing him for this. What they have to see is what impact unrelenting climate change would have on the poor of the world. “They will not be able to cope with the change if we don’t do anything.” He said Lomborg was nice man, but he was wrong in his estimates. “And he is not an economists,” he said.
Fortunately, the common man, particularly in poor country, is not an economist either. He is very unlikely to discount his present, for the sake of the distant future. Stern has had his day of fame, but the man on the street has the last laugh.

Hoping for renewables to take off

The aviation industry may be reeling under high fossil fuel prices. But the green industry groups want to impose an even costlier fuel on airlines. This is the biofuel mix for aviation, which is still in the testing stage. Since 2008, test flights have taken with a 30 per cent mix of biofuel produced from what the Richard Branson founded Carbon War Room officials say is natural waste, sugar, vegetable oil, and algae. The War Room unveiled a website on renewable fuels in Durban.

According to Susan Hunt, Senior Adviser to the War Room they would expect the airline industry to use up to 50 per cent mix in airplanes without modifying the engines with efficiency as good as 100 per cent fossil fuels, “though there are many variables, and more tests need to be done.”

The chairman of the War Room is Jose Maria Figueres, ex-president of Costa Rica. Mr Figueres, who was perhaps the first one to launch carbon tax anywhere, said that neither the government nor the private sector could do this alone. They both needed each other to make renewable fuel a success. He did not want renewable or biofuel to compete with land which was growing food.
But compete it will. Several studies have said that any big push for biofuels which eventually reduce the land for food, and would increase food prices everywhere. The advocates of biofuel say that unused or fallow land can be used for producing the raw material, including Jatropha plant. But such a hope is largely misplaced. To make a success of any crop, it has to be grown in the best possible situation, diverting prime agricultural land.
According to Hunt, biofuels would be around one dollar a gallon more expensive than existing fuel, or about 25 per cent more expensive. But that appears to be an underestimate. Alaska Airline said last month that it had paid $16 a gallon for renewable fuel, instead of $3.15 for regular aviation fuel.
Julian Morris, President of International Policy Network and Vice-President of Research at the Reason Foundation, says that the most economically efficient way to produce jet fuel is to use oil extracted from subsurface reserves. “Alternatives require much larger energy inputs and necessitate the use of large tracts of land; producing fuel in this way diverts land from other productive uses, such as the production of crops for food, which in turn drives up the price of food.” He says that it is possible that more efficient biofuels would be developed in the future, but mandating or subsidising existing biofuels may discourage the development of such efficient biofuels.

Day 5: December 2, 2011

The clean dozen: Waning interest of heads of states

As the UN climate conference in Durban moves into the high-delegation negotiation week from Monday, the numbers are telling a big story about how very little is expected from the seventeenth Conference of Parties or COP17. Copenhagen, Denmark meeting in 2009 was the high water mark of UN climate conferences with over 100 heads of State or governments turning up, including President Barack Obama of the US and Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh to negotiate a deal, which, though, in the end eluded them. At COP 16 in Cancun, Mexico, over 20 such leaders came hoping to salvage the fast dwindling interest in a “climate deal”, while in Durban the count is still below 12, almost all of them from the African continent. European recession, skepticism about man-made climate change and scientific studies which pointed to nature being largely responsible for Earth’s warming have all taken a toll on the alarmist view about the runaway effects of greenhouse gases.

Hitting the streets in Durban

On Saturday, activists, non-governmental organisations, organised labour, faith-based organisations and some  artists and musicians took to the streets of Durban, seeking “climate justice” from the high-level delegates that would be meeting next week at the ongoing UN organised climate change conference. The numbers that turned up downtown and then marched to the International Convention Centre, though, were lower than earlier estimates of at least 20,000 people. According to a police officer near the conference centre, the number would be around 7,000. The march was escorted by police in full-armour and a water canon. The crowd was chanting “Amandla”, the apartheid-era rallying cry which means power in Zulu, implying power to the people. Some carried banner saying “Stop Killing Earth,” while others sought “Justice.” Still others said “No to Nuclear Energy.” An activists at the march said it’s people’s power that will bring about change, not government officials. Several people were playing the Vuvuzela, made famous by the World Cup in South Africa last year. NGOs like Green Peace and Canadians for Climate Justice were actively keeping up the rhetoric. It was more of an effort by the activists to keep their own faith and flock together, rather than actually making an impact on the climate of negotiations.

Day 4: December 1, 2011

Just wind, no power

The wind energy industry fighting back against detractors that this renewable source is highly unreliable and costly. The European Wind Energy Association has re-released its report in Durban at the climate conference on how the industry can help European union achieve 30 per cent lower emissions by 2020. The Association is a representative body of the whole supply chain leading up to wind power. The report says that wind power could meet up to 70 per cent of pledges made at Copenhagen (COP15, 2009) for emissions reduction. Steve Sawyer, Secretary General of Global Wind Energy Council, another industry body, said that the particular example of Denmark could be adopted by all European countries—in fact by all countries. He said Denmark could end up producing all the power it needs through wind within forty years. He disagreed with a question that wind energy could be unreliable and back up provisions have to be made through coal-fired or other power plants to support continuity and this would lead to more emissions. He said this was a “myth perpetuated by detractors of the wind industry.” He said, power plants are managing through a number of strategies to ensure that there is continuity of available. “If Denmark can do it, there’s no reason why any other country can’t,” highly praising the Danish effort.

But reality may be different. A 2009 report by the Center for Political Studies (CEPOS), a Danish think tank which “promotes a society based on freedom and limited government” shows how wind has not really helped the danes. The country generates over around 20 per cent of its electricity demand from wind turbines, but it consumes much less. Being “highly intermittent, wind power has met as little as 5% of Denmark’s annual electricity consumption with an average over the last five years of 9.7%,” the report said. And it’s highly subsidized.

Denmark exports over half of its wind power to Norway and Sweden, thus depriving the danes of the benefit of subsidized power, because of the erratic nature of the product and lack of storage capabilities. It brings cheap power and deferment of investment in new equipment for Sweden and Norway. Added to that are the highest level of taxes and charges (in the European Union) that Danish household consumers pay. And to add insult to injury, wind power save neither fossil fuel consumtion no CO2 emissions in Denmark, the report says. They are also are burdened under the world’s high taxes. By 2013, Denmark is expected to increase its wind power capacity by 2.7 terra watt-hour, but almost all of it will be exported.

Bjørn Lomborg, head of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and adjunct professor at Copenhagen Business School says the fundamental problem is that green-energy technologies are still very inefficient and expensive compared to fossil fuels. Writing earlier this year for Project Syndicate, Lomborg said that “deploying less efficient, more expensive alternative-energy sources will hurt businesses and consumers, not help them,.”

Day 3: November 30, 2011

Have IPAD3; will save the world

There are daily strong discussions on technology transfer. That is transfer of technology from the developed countries to the developing ones so that they can mitigate and adapt to climate change which is supposed to be threatening the future of humanity. But not any technology will do, mind it. They want hi-tech which is the latest, and in some cases what is on the drawing board of the developed world's company's. "We just don't want to be given any old, useless technology. We want IPAD3," said South African minister for Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor,  at a press conference here. Since technology is never free, its again back to talk about how much money the developed world can give. The minister hoped that green fund commitment would be made in Durban soon, though actual impementation can start in the next Climate Conference in Qatar. The developing world expects the fund to  touch $100 billion every year by 2020, with $10 billion coming in the next three years and then being ramped up every year to the end of the decade. The European Union is reluctant to commit anything in a recessionary environment back home. Arthur Runge-Metzger, the EU representative at the conference said there were too many diverse reports saying what the developing world was doing to mitigate climate change. Some were just doing business as usual, and this will not work. He said they needed "solid figures" after a comprehensive study on what the developing world was doing, before the EU can provide any large funds or commit to changes. Canada too is not playing ball. It has already said it will not be part of the next Kyoto Protocol in reducing green house gas emission and it has committed only $400 million as money for climate change, far less than demanded by the developing countries. The activists don't like this. Canada was given a Fossil of the Year award by Climate Action Network, an non-governmental organisation which is perhaps the most active in demanding money and action from the West. The demands seem to be hitting a wall, for a change.
Tweet, Tweet we are modern

The UN system is not know for keep pace with the modern times. Its social media initiative is slow and not up to mark.But now it is making an effort to reach out to the young in the world. There's live streaming, and as a first perhaps at any UN event, the press conference held by COP17 president, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the organisers of the climate conference saw a question asked through twitter. An official was present with a lap top to wait for a question from people who may be watching the live stream. One question was asked, and that too about why Canada has not committed to Kyoto Protocol 2. Well, you don't expect the official to read out critical questions from twitter, which is sometimes scathing on the UN system. Did we say it was stage managed. No, not at all.


Day 2: November 29, 2011

Money drying up in Durban

The annual conference on climate change is usually about money. How much money the developing countries can wrangle out of the guilt-conscious West. Durban this year is no different. At the COP17 meeting organised by UN Framework Convention on Climate Change the strongest voices are heard on the so-called 'green fund' -- a fund with contributions of $100 billion every year from the developed countries from 2020 to help developing countries mitigate the impact of climate change. It doesn't matter whether the impact is highly controversial. At Durban, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, called ALBA countries got together to denounce, as usual, the United States and other Western nations for not coming out with enough money for the green fund. Bolivia's head of delgation, Rene Orellana told reporters that they did not want the same problem with the fund that was afflicting technology transfer issues (which are stuck).

Others said the US was the main roadblock to the quick setting up of such a fund. The group also comprises Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador and some smaller states, mostly aligned against the US and West. They are also against free market policies. Venezuela's head of delegation, Claudia Salerno said that in contributing to the fund, any mechanism that depended on the private sector should be kept out.

But the US is facing the prospect of sliding back in to recession, and the ability of the government to offer another stimulus or another bailout is shrinking rapidly. The Euro zone economies are facing their most serious challenge with sovereign debt crisis threatening to beyond Greece, and the need for a hundreds of billions of Euro for possible rescue package to help Italy or Spain. United Kingdom has initiated steps to reduce government expenditure, and has sharply reduced the growth projection. With such severe financial constraints, the demand for the green fund to deal with climate change is unlikely to find any generous sponsors any time soon. While one may continue to debate whether the planet's climate is changing or not, or whether it is part of the natural processes or man-made, there is no scope for debate that the economic climate around the world has changed dramatically in the past few years.


Day 1: November 28, 2011

Extreme weather events leveraged by the activists for their own agenda

Activists often take extreme positions and paint themselves into a corner. This is particularly true for alarmists. Take for example the press conference organised by Climate Action Network International in Durban on Monday. Tim Gore of Oxfam, the charity/NGO which says it does work on poverty in over 90 countries, said that extreme events like floods and droughts are likely to become more severe in their intensity and more frequent, as stated by the  IPCC in their report on extreme weather conditions. He said that floods in Thailand and Vietnam were an indication that such weather conditions were becoming worse. "And if any evidence was needed, last night it rained very heavily in Durban and 8 people are said to have died in the floods because of it." They only took three questions. But later when asked whether the rains in Durban were because of climate change and whether it was really a scientific statement to make, Gore just smiled. Obviously science has got nothing to do with it.

Madhav Khandekar, former meteorologist with Environment Canada, and one of the lead authors on extreme weather events for the second report (2013) of the Non-governmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC),  remembers the drought in India in the mid-1960s, with the resulting famine that killed perhaps 500,000 people over a two year period. The tropical cyclone that struck Bangladesh on November 13, 1970, and the associated flood, led to the death of an estimated 250,000 people. Thankfully, the world has moved beyond such unfathomable tragedies, but the tragedy today is that people seem to have forgotten these calamities, Khandekar noted ruefully, who had been a reviewer of the UN's IPCC Assessment Report 4 (2007).

This article was published in the Liberty Institute on Sunday, December 11, 2011.
Tags- Find more articles on - climate negotiations | climate policies | climate politics | climate science | green jobs | UNFCCC CoP 17 | UNFCCC Durban

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