Ivo Vegter: Lima May Spell The Beginning Of The End Of The Climate Movement

  • Date: 15/12/14
  • Ivo Vegter, Daily Maverick

The agreement reached deep in overtime at the recent Lima climate conference was pitched as having saved the summit from disaster. But if every country agrees, you can be sure whatever they agree on is watery gruel. As the questions mount over the validity of climate models, the utility of global warming mitigation policies, and the cost of renewable energy, Lima may spell the beginning of the end of the climate change movement.

Every year, almost ten thousand professional vacationeers gather in some exotic holiday location, like Cancún, Buenos Aires, Bali, Durban or, most recently,Lima, Peru. They do so at the expense of the taxpayers and the people who donate their hard-earned income to supposedly worthy environmental lobby groups like Greenpeace, the Worldwatch Institute, 350.org, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the National Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club.

The stated intention, besides partying, sightseeing and random acts of archaeological vandalism, is to get the 195 participating countries to agree to sharply reduce carbon dioxide emissions, in the hope that this will limit climate warming by 2100 to less than 2°C.

The conference had to be extended in order to reach a deal, and the agreement that was ultimately reached glossed over the long-standing disputes that had pitched the rich world against their developing counterparts. The Lima Call for Climate Action essentially says, “We’ll try. Maybe.”

Under the agreement, every country gets to set its own voluntary carbon emission targets, between nothing and a lot. If they don’t meet those targets, they’ll be “named and shamed”. Judging by the casual way in which Canada withdrew from the binding Kyoto Protocol in 2011, missing some voluntary targets should not present insurmountable political obstacles.

The skeptical Global Warming Policy Forum welcomed the deal. Its director, Dr Benny Peiser, said: “The Lima agreement is another acknowledgement of international reality. … In contrast to the Kyoto Protocol, the Lima deal opens the way for a new climate agreement in 2015 [in gay Paris] which will remove legal obligations for governments to cap or reduce CO2 emissions. A voluntary agreement would also remove the mad rush into unrealistic decarbonisation policies that are both economically and politically unsustainable.”

The lack of meaningful targets reflects a new era in which global warming simply does not make it high on the world’s priority list. Countries, especially in the developing world, attach far more importance to matters such as poverty alleviation, developing industrial infrastructure, combating the toll taken by preventable diseases and malnutrition, creating employment, and improving the quality of life of their poor population.

This agreement leaves countries free to individually address problems such as pollution caused by rapid growth in fossil-fuelled electricity generation, without committing them to compulsory, expensive and risky green energy projects.

There is important context for the new lack of urgency in global climate talks. One factor is the realisation that not even cheap oil is running out. Ten years ago, nobody would have believed that the US would be the world’s biggest oil producer by today, yet it is. Ten years ago, nobody would have believed that we’d ever see sub-$60 oil again, and yet, here we are.

The OPEC nations intend to keep the oil price low, hurting other competing producers like Nigeria and Venezuela, but also putting the squeeze on American shale oil and gas, and Canadian oil sands. Cheap oil also dramatically weakens the investment case for renewables, which make economic sense only if oil remains expensive.

However this power struggle plays out, and however bad the news is for shale or green developers, an oil price war is great news for energy consumers. It is especially good for poor countries that cannot afford expensive energy on which to build an industrial base. Even rich countriesare being urged to exploit cheap energy to invest in their infrastructure. […]

The global warming bandwagon will trundle on for years, fuelled by vested interests in green technology and global climate change funding, not to mention the desire to protect scientific and bureaucratic reputations. However, the Lima conference demonstrates that the world is no longer trundling quietly along.

As a threat to prosperity and poverty alleviation, climate change catastrophism looks even more toothless now than the pitiful Lima “deal”.

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