Can’t we just skip ahead to the end of this U.N. climate conference already?

Nov 27, 2012 Posted by

GRIST

26 Nov 2012 3:59 PM

By Philip Bump


jikatu
Doha, Qatar.

I wonder whether more Americans know what Qatar is or know that the U.N. has an annual convening to discuss climate change. Neither has much of an impact on our lives.

And so it is with trepidation that I bother to relay that the aforementioned U.N. gathering is just getting underway in Doha, Qatar — a whole entirely equivalent to the sum of its parts. Here is an AP article about the meeting; here is one from the International Herald Tribune. The basic theme so far has been hope that the U.S. will actually step into a leadership role following Sandy and the reelection of Obama. If you’re wondering how likely that is, you can see this thing I wrote last week or you can note that the U.S. is already defending how much progress it has made. Which it has, but that’s like saying that when I jump up in the air, I’m making progress toward a moon landing.

There’s a bit of excitement to report. On day one (today), there is already a dispute over whether or not developed countries upheld a commitment to provide $30 billion in assistance to developing countries to aid climate change efforts. From Bloomberg:

The question over how much finance was provided under the “fast-start” program has the potential to undermine trust between donor and recipient nations during two weeks of United Nations talks on a treaty to curb global warming. Aid is the linchpin of the talks starting today in Doha after industrial nations pledged in 2009 to channel $100 billion a year for climate projects by 2020. …

The European Union, U.S., Japan and other developed nations paid out $23.6 billion of assistance to poorer countries during the three years through 2012, falling short of the $30 billion promised in 2009, the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development said today. An estimate today from the World Resources Institute in Washington put the total paid at almost $34 billion.

Here’s how ridiculous this squabble is. Earlier today (as I mentioned), the New York City mayor’s office announced that it expected the economic damage from Sandy to total some $19 billion. Independently calculated damage to the city’s transit system, meanwhile, nears $5 billion. The cost to the state on the whole could top $42 billion. That’s $12 billion more than the entire amount of money being grudgingly supplied (maybe) to countries that will be disproportionately affected by climate change, just to clean up a climate-change-worsened mess in one state.

Similar financial obligations are part of the reason that developed countries (a term one should use with all due sense of irony) are reluctant to participate in the U.N. gathering. As difficult as it is to get those countries (primarily the United States) to deal with their own pollution, it’s that much harder to get them to contribute to less-wealthy countries — despite the obvious correlation between the growth of wealth and decades of greenhouse gas emissions.

So, anyway, for the next two weeks various representatives of various countries will meet in Qatar and discuss how to curb emissions that The Economist today noted are already 11 percent higher than the best-case scenario for 2020. I’ll just fast-forward to the end for you, quoting an article that might as well be written today to save everyone some time.

After two weeks of fraught negotiations, participants in the United Nations’ Convention on Climate Change arrived at a last-minute agreement on a plan to curb carbon dioxide emissions. While not binding and not approaching the level of cuts suggested by the expiring Kyoto Protocol, attendees seemed confident that the agreement provided a strong framework for next year’s negotiations.

“We’re pleased with the agreement discussed,” said some dude representing the United States. Despite the lack of any actual controls on his country’s pollution, “the United States is strongly committed to international action to slow global warming, and we feel confident that this is a great step forward.” The official then jumped in the air and asked to be identified in this article as an astronaut.

 

Philip Bump writes about the news for Gristmill. He also uses Twitter a whole lot.

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