A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Deconstructing Montreal.....

The Montreal conference on climate change has been an eye-opener. It has demonstrated a truth which for a long time has been only partially apparent: namely that, for many delegates and Green 'hangers on', punishing America for electing George W. Bush is far more rewarding and important than tackling climate change. Listening to the commentators on this morning's Today programme (BBC Radio 4), it was abundantly clear that their totally misplaced 'satisfaction' lay in humiliating America. Moreover, the Today programme itself appeared to be encouraging this agenda. By contrast, yesterday, I participated in two long and truly excellent discussions on BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio 5 Live, both of which were far more balanced and analytical than those on Radio 4. This surely tells us a great deal about the liberal elite agenda in the UK.

The obsession with America is ridiculous, and, as Margaret Beckett herself, the UK Secretary of State for the Environment, wisely commented yesterday: "... it is a big mistake for people to focus only on the United States as the obstacle in negotiations like this. There are plenty of other people around with their own particular concerns, not all of whom are as positive as one would like."

For anybody genuinely worried about climate change, Montreal is bleak.

First, many countries which take the 'moral high ground' in public are quietly the very worst offenders. Hypocritical Canada (Paul Martin was unbelievable in his attack on the US) has seen its emissions rise by 24% (on the Kyoto-base 1990-levels); Japan, which gave the name to the original Kyoto Protocol, by 18%; and the statistics for some of the ever-pious European countries take the breath away - Spain up by 42%, Portugal up by 37%, and merry Ireland and Greece up by 26%. In contrast, the US - the non-ratifier of Kyoto, note - has seen its emissions rise by only 13% (and they have fallen 2% under Bush!). So who is the bad boy? 'Talking-the-talk' is quite different from 'walking-the-walk', witness rock-n'-rollin' Bill Clinton - remember that, under Clinton and Gore, the Senate vote on Kyoto was 95 to 0 against, with five not voting [see: Byrd-Hagel (S. Res 98)].

Secondly, while everybody is snidely berating the US, Brazil, China and India, for example, can blithely state that there is no way they will accept binding targets, and the Australian Environment Minister declares unsullied: "The concept of binding targets and timetables is just about finished." Many less-developed countries also rightly argue that, for them, poverty alleviation comes first. And then there are those true rogue countries, like Saudi Arabia and Russia, whose tactics are completely opaque and sui generis.

Thirdly, the key to any future lies with the big countries of the developing world, especially China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, and their ilk. The peak demand in the UK is 65 GWe on a cold day in January between 5 and 7 pm. China alone is now adding 80 GWe per year to its energy arsenal, and this is primarily generated from coal-powered plants. China is already the second largest emitter in the world, and it will soon achieve the world premiership title.

The Montreal conference has thus been a remarkable exercise in post-modern politics, in which the death of the author has been starklingly demonstrated.

In the end, for those poor souls who are desperately worried about climate change, there can be only one measure of success - dramatically declining emissions. But there is no evidence whatsoever that this conference will lead to any such thing. Indeed, the myths of carbon trading are likely to increase overall emissions, while binding targets are now off the agenda.

Bashing America may be fun (for some), but it has nothing whatsoever to do with the deeper realities. Indeed, Mr. Bush may have done far better politically to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol - and then to ignore it, just like everyone else.

That would have been yet another triumph of PR over substance. 'Talking-the-talk' is cheap - in every sense.

In summary, the Montreal conference has been little more than a Carrollian 'Caucus-race', fascinating to observe, but largely pointless. We should all be drowned in tears. And, any euphoria felt by the delegates after they emerge from their late-night, two-week goldfish bowl of a 'fierce small world' existence will soon fade in the cold light of day. This manic-depressive pattern has repeated itself after every conference since 1997. And a 'Caucus-race'?
The Caucus-race
"'What is a Caucus-race?' said Alice; not that she wanted much to know, but the Dodo had paused as if it thought that somebody ought to speak, and no one else seemed inclined to say anything.

'Why,' said the Dodo, 'the best way to explain it is to do it.' (And, as you might like to try the thing yourself, some winter day, I will tell you how the Dodo managed it.)

First it marked out a race-course, in a sort of circle, ('the exact shape doesn't matter,' it said,) and then all the party were placed along the course, here and there. There was no 'One, two, three, and away,' but they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over. However, when they had been running half an hour or so, and were quite dry again, the Dodo suddenly called out 'The race is over!' and they all crowded round it, panting, and asking, 'But who has won?'" [Indeed,indeed!]

[Upper right: desperately trying to explain Montreal to journalists (with deep apologies to Tenniel): image appears to be in the public domain.]

[Added Sunday: the 'Rose-Tinted Prize' for the daftest report on the outcome at Montreal goes (inevitably) to The Independent on Sunday.]

Philip, needing a strong espresso doppio this morning. Hm! And a self-indulgent pastry? Maple-pecan all round.

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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