Saturday, December 19, 2009

Copenhagen: the Economy Über Alles or How Føcked Are We?

For the first time in history, all major economies have come together to accept their responsibility to take action to confront the threat of climate change.

The quotation above from Barak Obama pretty well sums up the Copenhagen summit for me. The Copenhagen Accord advances the desires of the world’s leading economies and not the people who actually live on the planet. It’s a huge step backwards from Kyoto.

In the Kyoto Accord, the vast majority of the world’s nations ratified a legally binding treaty the spelled out the amount of GHGs to be reduced by each signatory and set out a time table for the reductions to take place. Certainly, not having the two biggest emitters, the US and China, included in the agreement reduced its value as an effective means of addressing the problem of climate change. Yet, the document spells out what are the expected results.

The Copenhagen Accord, however, is a fill in the blank document, where states fill in their names and the reductions they are willing to commit to. Moreover, the agreement is not legally binding, so any nation can pick whatever target figure it pleases, knowing full well that there are no penalties for failing to meet the target. Essentially, Canada’s environmental policy has now been ratified by the world’s leading economies.

It should be obvious that economies are not legal entities that have any responsibilities whatsoever. Failure to increase a nation’s GDP is not an indictable offence. As a result, the so-called deal that emerged was by and large an agreement between the stewards of the largest economies not to allow a legally binding agreement between nation states arise that would place unwanted constraints on future economic growth.

So, in response to the question, how føcked are we, I would say that we the people got pretty well føcked over. Let me explain.

With regard to climate change, the nightmare scenario that is emerging is that as we run out of conventional oil to motor our economies, states will turn to other fossil fuels, namely coal and tar sands oil, to keep their economies running. Renewable energy sources as a replacement for conventional oil cannot fuel economic growth. Therefore, faced with the prospect of either a steady state, low-carbon economy or one that maintains present rates of growth but at the cost of increased GHGs due to the utilization of dirtier forms of fossil fuels, the Copenhagen Accord paves the way for the latter.

There is no way of getting around it. The choice is between a liveable planet over the long-term or unsustainable economic growth over the short-term. Left to the stewards of the economy, scorched-earth policies will be put into place. Left to the stewards of the planet, a low carbon economy will emerge.

Unfortunately, watching the Copenhagen summit unfold was like watching a disaster movie in slow motion.

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