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     Volume 4 Issue 77 | December 30, 2005 |

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Food For Thought

Getting Priorities Right

Climate Change vs. Regime Change

Farah Ghuznavi

Over the 11-day duration of the recent UN climate conference in Montréal - where representatives of 189 countries participated - the seas rose by 0.077mm, 1,176 million barrels of oil were pumped, 280,000 hectares of forest were destroyed, and 907 million tonnes of greenhouse gases were discharged.

Much of the attention at the conference focused on the US, notorious for its opposition to making any greater commitment to prevent climate change. Not that it has shown much commitment to date! It has refused to adopt legally binding targets to cut the emission of greenhouse gases, and insisted it will not agree to any binding commitments for the post-2012 periods. It also earlier stated it would not agree to "negotiations" on such an issue and refused to get involved in such a "process".

Sometimes, the semantic tongue-twisting employed to avoid any meaningful commitment is priceless. Paula Dobriansky, the undersecretary of state for global affairs, had the nerve to say that the US was acting as a beacon to the rest of the planet, because "we lead the world in climate change science" - not to mention, one feels bound to add, in reckless emission rates!

She added, "We firmly believe negotiations will not reap progress ... We have concerns about formalised discussions that provide a basis for negotiations. We believe progress cannot be made that way" (UK Independent). It may come as a surprise to some, that negotiations are not considered a means of achieving progress - perhaps then, the rest of the world just needs to take "pre-emptive action" in the face of such a "clear and present threat" to the survival of our race!

The US attitude has provoked criticism from others, not least the Canadian Prime Minister, who said: "To the reluctant countries, including the US, I said this: there is such a thing as a global conscience and this is the time to listen to it. There is absolutely no excuse for any more delay for action."

The Bush administration claims new technology - rather than legally binding targets - is the way to tackle climate change. Of course, to many of us concerned with climate change, it is not clear why the situation should be an "either/or" between developing new technology and agreeing to legally binding targets! Surely a rational approach would involve a combination of the two?

In contrast to its hostility to the UN climate conference, the US seems far more amenable about participating early next year in the Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate (alongside Australia, China, India, Japan, and South Korea). It has even indicated that the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, will participate in the talks - in sharp contrast to the undersecretary of state sent to the UN meeting. The UK environment Secretary, Margaret Beckett, who represented the presidency of the EU at the UN meeting, suggested that reporters should use their own judgement to consider what signal this sends, regarding which meeting the US considers to be the most important (or perhaps one should say, at all important!)

For the Americans, the talks in Australia scheduled for January offer what is clearly a "soft option". After all, apart from the discussions about new technology, it requires no commitment from participants. It would involve, at most, an agreement for yet more talks - all of which invites an irresistible comparison with Nero fiddling while Rome burns!

To make things worse, a recent strategy document revealing an extraordinary American plan to destroy Europe's support for the Kyoto treaty on climate change was leaked to the Independent newspaper in the UK. The strategy was developed by a lobbyist, Chris Horner, and pitched to companies such as Ford Europe, Lufthansa and the German utility giant RWE, with the aim of building a coalition to influence European governments against taking action on climate change.

The plan seeks to draw together major international companies, academics, think-tanks, commentators, journalists and lobbyists from across Europe into a powerful grouping to destroy further EU support for the treaty. It details just how the so-called "European Sound Climate Policy Coalition", based in Brussels, would work, by having anti-Kyoto position papers, expert spokesmen, detailed advice and networking instantly available to any politician or company who wanted to question the wisdom of proceeding with Kyoto and its demanding cuts in carbon dioxide emissions!

Horner represents a Washington-based organisation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), which has received almost $1.5m from ExxonMobil - the world's biggest oil company and a fierce opponent of measures against global warming. He is convinced that Europe too could be influenced by an active and aggressive policy coalition, as the US government has been. As he puts it, "In the US an informal coalition has helped successfully to avert adoption of a Kyoto-style programme by maintaining a rational voice for civil society and ensuring a legitimate debate over climate economics, science and politics. This model should be emulated...to guide similar efforts in Europe"!!

The persuasive logic behind his argument is that Europe's weaker economies are likely to be challenged by the costs of meeting the Kyoto targets. Furthermore, under the terms of the treaty, countries will also incur large fines for failing to meet their targets for the reduction of carbon emissions - all of which is likely to be politically unpopular.

While his actions are not illegal, many consider them far from ethical, and Horner and his allies have been described by Greenpeace as "the hitmen for the Bush administration and the likes of Exxon…behind the scenes doing the dirty work. They are extending efforts to Europe where they are trying to undermine the momentum to solve global warming."

But Horner's earlier claim that companies such as Lufthansa and Ford had already indicated interest in the strategy remains doubtful. Ford and RWE acknowledged meeting with CEI representatives, but RWE stated that they had not approached them since, and a spokesman for Ford insisted that the company did not support Mr Horner's opinions. Exxon Mobil, however, took a more aggressive approach, stating that "The notion adopted by some groups ... that only their views and only their funding and lobbying are acceptable is, in our opinion, not helpful to the debates vital to developing good public policy"!

While Horner insists that there is nothing surprising about his approaches to European companies, that he is just doing his job, he does confess to being surprised at "why it's not working". The rest of us can just be grateful if that is indeed the case!

Severe weather around the world has made 2005 the most costly year on record in terms of property damage (according to the United Nations Environment Programme) not least because this year has seen the highest number of hurricanes and tropical storms since records began over 150 years ago. In the Atlantic, Hurricane Wilma was the strongest storm ever recorded, and there were so many tropical storms that the US National Hurricane Centre exhausted its list of 21 alphabetically ordered names!

You might think that all this would make the sceptics and obstructionists around climate change think twice. But then, it's hard to see clearly, when dollar signs are obstructing your vision…

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