COP21 – Doing the climate can-can in Paris.
It’s that time of year again. The annual climate conference is nearly upon us. As is by now customary, I’ll try and write something about it from an aspect that hasn’t been well covered by other commentators in the skeptic blogosphere; the dreaded new angle if you wish. As ever, that’s a tough ask. Over the years and in order to give you some fresh insight into the then current shenanigans, the flavour of my articles have evolved and dare I say it, closely tracked the Zeitgeist of the event.
Looking back over the previous five years, I went from serious political analysis, to even deeper political analysis, then to outright comedy as the event itself descended into vaudeville via some pretty good fan dancing burlesque concealing nothing much of note, and then back to a parable about greed and most recently and most probably out of sheer boredom with the whole damn subject, to the shortest blog piece I’ll ever write.
I’ll give you a couple of predictions about COP21 that I already know will come to pass.
The first is it’ll be hailed as a great success.
Okay, I’ll admit that’s a cheap one. One way or another, it always is, no matter how much of a bloody disaster it’s been. All the heavily invested organs of the mainstream media cannot do otherwise. They have a certain type of audience sector they’ve managed to dangle on the climate high anxiety leash since well before the Copenhagen disaster of 2009, and as they didn’t disabuse them at the time of how forlorn any prospect of deindustrialising the world was, why should they start now?
We’re talking dumb brand loyalty here, and managing some sincerely held but massively unrealistic expectations.
Essentially, they know when they’ve got a long-term fashion victim by the short and curlies of their sense of self-righteous and permanently offended sensitivity, and that’s a nice cushy gig you don’t disturb with a lot of grubby Realpolitik analysis. The poor little darlings wouldn’t know what to make of it anyway.
Circulation is important, especially if you’re someone like the Guardian hanging over the precipice of a £25 million annual running deficit by your fingernails and being bankrolled by nothing more than moneyed friends of the big green machine. To hell with any reality check about saving the frigging Earth, my comfy reporting job is actually quite important to me, so thank you very much but no thank you.
A month or so after the whole circus has departed Paris and it becomes obvious to even an attention deficit, fifth generation, knuckle dragging, Ozark mountain hillbilly inbred that every significant target was missed, you start to run the if only they’d have listened to us sort of pieces.
You go full on lament, beat your breast, pull out some hair, rend some slightly dated designer garments you’re not too particularly bothered about nowadays and yet again start the whine about the preventable death of the planet. They’ll all weep bitter but righteous tears of frustration in the comments under your piece, a few skeptics will attempt to crow, get banned as usual, Ford will be in his flivver and all again will be well with the world.
With that bitter coda, the annual climate catharsis in the media will be complete.
That’s your cue to fuck off down to the pub with your mates from the office and get totally bladdered at another job well done. Roll on next year, and the next absolutely last last last and a bit more last last and very very definitely the last (and I mean it most most sincerely this time around folks) last best chance to save the planet and the same ole same ole bollocks that’s been running quite successfully for years. Hey, don’t you start getting all sneery at me, it’s a bloody living.
The second prediction is that nothing of any real consequence will be agreed.
Sure, agreements will be made, papers will be signed, people will look suitably serious for the media photo shoot, but if you can actually be bothered to burrow into exactly what everyone is signing up to, and that won’t be much, there won’t be a single binding clause in the whole damn mountain of paperwork.
It’ll all be best effort, contingent, subject to current commitments and dependent on exigent developments. Yap, yap, yap. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Badda bing, badda boom, but as Sam Goldwyn observed, while a verbal contract may only be worth the paper it’s written on, any agreement they sign up to in Paris will be worth considerably less.
That second prediction didn’t exactly need a crystal ball, since most observers and all but the most climatically deluded attendees expect little of any consequence to be agreed in Paris. After all, the pattern over the last six years of conferences has been for less and less common ground to be found between the participants and more and more finger jabbing and infighting going on behind the scenes.
However, prediction is very difficult, especially about the future as Neils Bohr observed, and we’ve all seen the favourite horse go arse over tit in sight of the finishing line. Fortunately, there’s a way of getting a measure of confidence in the end result, or non-result to be more precise, of the Paris talks.
When you get approximately 140 countries meeting up over two weeks to thrash out a global policy about any issue, then realistically you know it isn’t going to happen unless the viable set of options open for discussion have been winnowed down and agreed well beforehand. All that pre-Paris discussion has been happening in a post-war fifteen minutes of fame place called Bonn, since would you believe it as far back as August of this year. The point of the Bonn talks was to produce a list of realistic options, with anything else excluded from the Paris talks.
Instead of holding my breath and keeping a beady eye on events in Paris as they unfold, I’ve been watching the input decisions to the big climate clambake coming out of Bonn and unless there’s some massive bloody miracle, what’ll happen in Paris is already a foregone conclusion, and the handful of important decision makers amongst the estimated 40,000 attendees already know that.
Looking at the proposals on the table open for discussion in Paris, there’s not really much meat on any of them, and absolutely no hope of car crashing the agreed agenda with new more substantial ones, or the whole thing will spiral back into the four-month long morass of trench warfare that happened in Bonn.
There is another crucial factor. Since there probably won’t be any world leaders of note attending, they’ll all be represented by delegates, none of whom will be plenipotentiary. What’s invaluable about a delegate from a political perspective, is that they’re like disposable shields protecting their boss. They can be instructed to agree to something nice but outrageous to make the boss look good, knowing that months later it’ll never stand a snowflake’s chance of being ratified by the elected government.
That’s what Bush did with Kyoto – the delegates, acting on instructions, accepted proposals that were so ludicrous, Congress refused ratification by ninety-four votes to zero. Half of any delegate’s time is spent haggling, and the rest trying to second guess what the opposing delegate’s instructions were.
The big point is, even if stuff is agreed, it doesn’t mean it’ll get ratified. We’re again heading in that direction I feel with America and Obama’s enthusiasm to pledge billions of dollars to fight global warming rather than Islamic terrorism, and Congress just recently warning him they’ll block every red cent. He’ll look good for a while, safely adding to his decidedly meagre presidential legacy thing, and a few months later Congress will flush any agreement down the john. Both sides end up with a big win – all a bit cynical, innit?
That reference to money segues nicely into what’s actually up for agreement. The proposals as such are what you’d expect after four months of apparatchik negotiation behind closed doors on what might possibly be agreeable to 140 countries and then hammering out the exact wording in excruciating detail. In trying to describe them, I’d lose the will to live and you’d fall asleep, but suffice to say they’re nominally all about saving the planet but the grubby reality is they’re all about money.
Some people want other people to give them money. Other people don’t feel like giving them money. In summary, that was four months of negotiations in Bonn, and Paris won’t be any different.
Essentially, it’s what’s termed aggressive begging, aided and abetted by a liberal media overplaying a white guilt card that only exists in their head and the more fashionable parts of medialand. The bottom line is electorates haven’t given a flying fart about their emissions for years, methane or otherwise, and every politician worth his salt knows that.
On a more practical consideration, throwing money at a delusional problem like global warming comes with the political double curse – you won’t gain any votes by doing it and you’ll certainly lose some. It won’t seduce people away from voting for fringe parties like the Greens since stupidity lasts for life, and in an age when Islamic terrorism is slaughtering innocents across the world, you’ll lose votes and get a kicking from your own bedrock supporters for not spending the money on their security.
If you’re some weak sister, you give into it. Unfortunately, the leaders of the developed world know their electorates wouldn’t stand for that and are already subtracting monies from third world poverty relief donations and are renaming them as sorta climate change mitigation funds, while at the same time admitting absolutely no liability. So money that used to actually go to save a few lives of the desperately poor is now redirected into saving the planet from nothing.
Most of it will still end up as usual in some Swiss numbered accounts, so what’s the difference? It’s an acceptable level of domestic political cover and the usual endemic third world corruption. Realistically, even if the developed world was going to be crazy enough to throw the rest a mooted 100 billion USD climate bung every year, the recipients wouldn’t be able to sort out the resultant bun fight over their fair share of the booty anyway.
There was a morbid feeling floating around Bonn that Paris might just be the last of the great massed climate conferences. This was understandable. We’ve had years of the media hyping each one up, years of politicians avoiding going there because they knew it was futile and years of politicians getting a bollocking in the media anyway for not agreeing global treaties to save the Earth that nobody in their right mind would touch with a barge pole.
People at the top weren’t happy.
For bureaucrats who’ve made a twenty year career out of global warming and conferences in nice locations, all the distress rockets were being shot up into the night sky as the good ship Climatanic looked to be foundering. In an effort to make some progress after six or seven years of going backward, certain people hit on the idea of excluding what’s called civil society from the Bonn talks. If you haven’t heard the term civil society before, it’s a collective noun used in climate industry circles covering all the NGO’s, pressure groups, fringe maniacs and even more disturbed organisations like Greenpeace.
In one sense, this was merely recognising their fading political influence, but the more practical reason was the theory that by removing the bickering fanatics from around the negotiation table, the professional bureaucrats from each country could roll up their sleeves, talk some real turkey to each other without the constant and contradictory interjections of the enthusiastic amateurs, and perhaps something albeit modest but actually substantive could be agreed for a change.
At face value, this was a sound stratagem which had been dictated by the major principals to their delegates prior to Bonn but alas it overlooked the fact that most of the habitual delegates had already gone native years ago, and the distinction between them and civil society was by now a nice one, in the subtle Shakespearean sense of the word nice.
For both of them, global warming was by now a career, but only for as long as it remained an open wound that hadn’t been sutured closed once and for all. Consciously or unconsciously, whether they know it or not, too many of the professional conference attendees are not actually invested in making any final binding agreement in Paris.
That and the natural tendency of the climate fanatics to always demand the impossible, no matter what might have already been conceded, is our ace in the hole when it comes to the chances of any big agreement ever being made at any of these gigunda climate conferences.
You do have to ask yourself why these annual gatherings of thousands of people keep happening. Nothing substantive has been agreed at them for nearly a decade and with each passing year, the prospects of reaching any agreement become slimmer and slimmer as concerns about global warming have already slid to the bottom of most people’s worry list years ago.
Money of course is an answer, but it must be obvious by now to even the most greedy delegate that no matter how hard they rattle it, the begging bowl is just not going to get filled.
It seems to me it’s degenerated down to nothing more than a climate trade convention, a work’s outing, a jolly, an annual occasion to meet like-minded people and feel good at doing something noble, and best of all, someone else is picking up the tab for your trips to exotic places like Cancun, Durban, Doha, Warsaw, New York and now Paris.
I can’t help but think that if you added up all the money it takes to assemble forty thousand people from all around the world in one city for two weeks, house them, feed them and entertain them, never mind provide conference facilities, how much real poverty relief that money could do.
The thing I’ve found about all those beautiful people primping and preening their egos because they’re saving the Earth, is that they simply won’t see what’s under their nose, or maybe they just don’t want to deal with it. Like all poverty, it’s dirty, unkempt, ugly, distasteful and definitely in your world right here and now, not safely tucked away a hundred years hence.
It’s invisible to them.
Related articles by Pointman: