Thursday, December 10, 2009

Catching up: global warming - Copenhagen

Updated I'm not even going to try to cover all the bits and pieces of news coming out of the Copenhagen talks. There's too much going on and besides, probably everything you need to know can be summed up in the fact that the logo for the summit has the Siemens logo on it and the whole event is sponsored by Coke.

In any event, the day-to-day conference news is largely irrelevant except for the way it illustrates the various divisions that can advance or more likely impede efforts at some kind of binding agreement to attack global warming. But because that - a binding agreement - was the idea, what ultimately comes out of Copenhagen will be important no matter how much or little it accomplishes.

Suffice it for the moment to say that the day before the conference opened, there was a bit of unexpected optimism. Admittedly it was given the expected political spin, but still the source itself was cause for some small hope. Specifically,
[a] study released by the U.N. Environment Programs indicated that pledges by industrial countries and major emerging nations fall just short of greenhouse gas reductions that scientists have called for – and the gap is narrower than previously believed.

"For those who claim a deal in Copenhagen is impossible, they are simply wrong," said UNEP director Achim Steiner, releasing the report compiled by British economist Lord Nicholas Stern. ...

The UNEP report said all countries together should emit no more than 44 billion tons of carbon dioxide by 2020 to avoid the worst consequences of a warming world.

Computing all commitments publicly announced so far, the report said emissions will total some 46 billion tons annually in 2020. Emissions today are about 47 billion tons.

"The gap has narrowed significantly," Steiner said. "People overestimate the possibility of closing that gap." He cautioned that the figures included many variables, and assumed that all countries would carry out the maximum they had promised so far.
Yeah, well that last part - assuming countries would actually do what they pledged - is the real snag. It hasn't worked that way to date. There's been some progress toward meeting previously-pledged goals by European Union states, but I don't think any nation has completely fulfilled its promises, certainly not among the major industrialized nations. Even the EU, in the face of a 2007 recommendation that industrialized countries should reduce emissions to a level 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020, has pledged only a cut to 20% below that level.

The big surprise, the big hope, comes from the industrializing nations, the very ones the right wingers held up as getting a free ride on greenhouse gas cuts. Those nations were urged to cut their emissions by 15% below "business as usual" levels, that it, below what they otherwise would have been. India is now pledging a 20-25% slowdown and China is promising a hefty 40-45% cut from expectations.
[Yvo] de Boer[, the UN's top climate official,] said China's commitment alone amounted to about one-fourth of the action needed to meet scientific predictions that the Earth's average temperature would increase no more than 2 degrees Centigrade (3.6F) above preindustrial levels.
Disappointingly but hardly surprisingly, the US, dominated by "I got mine, Jack!" and "We're so special" thinking, is way behind.
Awaiting U.S. congressional action, however, the Obama administration could make only a provisional offer of a 17 percent reduction by 2020 from 2005 levels. Against 1990, that represents only a 3 to 4 percent cut, experts say.
Lacking Congressional action, it's hard to say where that 17% cut will come from, but one possibility is using the authority of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. Which the Obama administration appears to be attempting to do:
The Obama administration took a major step Monday[, December 7,] toward imposing the first federal limits on climate-changing pollution from cars, power plants and factories, declaring there was compelling scientific evidence that global warming from manmade greenhouse gases endangers Americans' health. ...

It signaled the administration was prepared to push ahead for significant controls in the U.S. if Congress doesn't act first on its own. ...

No analysis has been conducted by the EPA on costs of such broad regulations, although the agency put the price tag of its proposed climate-related car rules at $60 billion, with an estimated benefit of $250 billion. ...

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said Monday, "There are no more excuses for delaying," adding that the so-called endangerment analysis from global warming had been under consideration at the agency for three years. After the official finding, she said the agency is now "obligated to make reasonable efforts to reduce greenhouse pollutants under the Clean Air Act."
Business groups raised the same objections they raise to every single bit of environmental (or health, or worker safety, or whatever) regulation: It'll kill jobs, raise prices, stifle innovation, cause earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and plagues of locusts. Seriously, don't people ever get tired of hearing the exact same complaints - often enough in almost exactly the same words - to every single blessed proposal to benefit the general public? And doesn't anyone in the media get tired of repeating the same old word-for-word complaints as if they were serious considerations of the particular issue at hand? Seriously.

Getting back to the Copenhagen meeting, to I expect no one's surprise even the very prospect of a binding international agreement of any sort has got the black helicopter crowd in a tizzy. Rep. Dana Rhorabacher (R-Area 51), for one example cited by Digby, went on about a "global elite," a "globalist alliance," and a "globalist clique" trying to "shackle generations of Americans" under a "global government."

I recently crossed rhetorical swords with another conspiraphile who insisted that global warming was a conspiracy to impose "global taxes." I raise it here just so we remind ourselves of some of what we're up against.
First[, I wrote,] just consider how the conspiracy keeps expanding. Global warming, it seems, is a myth pushed by (gasp) a cabal of thousands of scientists and dozens if not hundreds of scientific organizations, all somehow coordinated by (gasp!) the IPCC, which was founded not only by the World Meteorological Organization but by an agency of (GASP!) the United Nations! Omigod omigod omigod! And it's all for the purpose of a "redistributionist, western-punishing, economy-breaking, global-taxation agenda!" OMIGOD!

Um, there is no "global tax" here, real or proposed. The only thing being proposed [in a working draft of an agreement] is a call for the rich industrialized nations to agree to devote some small part of their GDPs (up to 0.7%) to assist poor nations in dealing with and adapting to climate change and to establish a mechanism to insure that monies intended for that purpose actually go to that purpose. There is no collection mechanism, no way to enforce any sanctions, and as a practical, living-in-the-real-world matter it comes down to voluntary actions by individual nations. A "redistributionist, western-punishing, economy-breaking, global-taxation agenda?" Baloney. Actually, let me change that 'cause I actually like baloney. How about, maybe, cooked (not raw) spinach?
That, of course, didn't satisfy him, I knew it before I started because facts never satisfy such people, and my real audience was anyone else reading the thread. He was, after all, the same person who in a previous thread referred to the Global Poverty Act, a one-page bill sponsored by Barack Obama when he was in the Senate, which would require the White House "to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to further the United States foreign policy objective of promoting the reduction of global poverty" - and labeled it a move to impose "socialism." "Paranoid? Or awake?" he asked. ("What a hoot!" was my answer.)

On the other hand, there are people pushing from the other side, people who are saying - accurately - that the best hopes for Copenhagen aren't good enough, that it won't go far enough. And it seems Danish officials aren't all that thrilled about having them there.
Copenhagen is being turned into a fortress - and authorities are warning that protesters may face swift and severe penalties.

According to the New York Times, a host of measures have been put in place to ensure that protesters can be swiftly rounded up. These include new laws rushed through parliament that stiffen penalties for protest-related offenses, including large fines and extended jail stays. The government has also acquired new "anti-riot equipment."

Law enforcement officials proudly showed the media three dozen cages built in an abandoned Carlsberg beer depot - they will serve as temporary jails for as many as 350 protesters at a time. Some 1,000 people can be arrested and processed at the facility during a 24-hour period, authorities boasted to the media.

Such plans are - according to Per Larsen, the chief coordinating officer for the Copenhagen police force - part of the "biggest police action we have ever had in Danish history." In all, Larson told the New York Times, some $122 million has been spent to "secure the city and to fortify the Bella Center," where leaders are scheduled to meet. ...

Although police say they will allow several permitted actions, including a demonstration this Saturday from the city's center to the location of the UN meeting, officials have issued an order banning open-air meetings that "may constitute a danger to the public order" - a definition so vaguely worded that it gives police leeway to preemptively crack down on protesters.
(All praise to Green Left Global News & Info for the link.)

Police have already launched a raid against a building set up to house demonstrators.
About 200 police arrived at the shelter ... at 2.30am. They locked activists into the building for two hours,
while they searched for and confiscated materials they claimed were meant to "be used to cause trouble" during a large-scale march on Saturday.

That Saturday march is apparently intended to be the big one during the conference, with as many as 30,000 expected to participate, but there will be other actions. Some groups plan various "disruptions" on Friday to protest the corporate presence, one group has called for a breakaway march on Saturday, again to concentrate on corporate presence, and there are apparently plans for civil disobedience actions on Sunday and Wednesday. The CD actions are being put together by Climate Justice Action.

What's more, there is a significant counter-event called the "Klimaforum09," or the "Peoples Climate Summit," with a program of speakers, films, and more that is expected to draw 10,000 people a day.

Last for now, a transnational coalition called TckTckTck, a global alliance of international, national, and local organizations, is calling for a "Global Day of Action" this weekend. Over 2900 events in 136 countries are now planned; check the link for information. It's short notice, but take part if you can.

Updated with some news about the Saturday march. It drew somewhere between 25,000 and 100,000, depending on if you ask the police or the organizers. (In my experience based on the US, that would make a reasonable estimate something over 65,000, a figure arrived at by averaging the two numbers and shading the result towards the organizers, who tended to overestimate somewhat less than police tended to underestimate.) It was in any event likely the largest environmental demonstration in history.

Some of the mainstream coverage, of course, had to focus on reports of nearly 1,000 arrests of brick-throwing youths, mentioning the overall size of the protest and that it was overwhelmingly peaceful pretty much in passing. However and happily, that was not true of all the coverage.

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