Beyond Cancún

It is almost obvious that the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancún, with all its meetings, won’t bring much change. The US are considered incapable of action. To hope that the Chinese will take over the leadership is somewhat… naive. Perhaps they will do it rhetorically – but that is not enough. Unfortunately, the Chinese mentality seems to hinder them from engaging in anything that is really global (if there are any Sinologists out there who know better – correct me). In China, they are building up a world leading “green industry”, with all its wind mills, solar power stations and so on. But, unlike many environmentalists hope, it is not the same as wanting to build up a comprehensive framework for fighting the climate change. Do they avoid commitment? Don’t they understand that global warming is a global challenge? Do they just want to have leading role in another area of the global economy (viz., green technology)? I don’t know. But there is something that hinders them from taking over the leadership from the US and the EU.

So, do we really need a binding global framework? Unfortunately: yes. Perhaps not necessarily one that aims at a concrete temperature target. But since the problem is global warming, the response must be global as well.

There are many impediments that have made it impossible so far to reach an agreement:

  • We haven’t been able to agree on whether anthropogenic climate change is real or not. In spite of plentiful evidence that it is, there are many people who don’t (want to) accept that. For many reasons. Some seem to fear losses in power, wealth, whatever (I wrote about this here). Many are skeptical about the credibility of climate science after the so called Climategate and other (mostly exaggerated) “scandals“. Others are skeptical because they see all the corporations and politicians trying to use the global warming “panic” to widen their power, or because they are sickened by the admittedly sometimes exaggerated doom scenarios evoked by environmentalists. And so on, and so on. Whatever their reasons: it is very hard to convince the people that global warming is a real treat because climate science is a very complex one. You cannot explain everything in such a way that everybody can understand you. There always remains some room for trust. Either one trusts the scientists to some extent, or he doesn’t.
  • Even when people accept the fact that there is anthropogenic climate change, there is the problem of it being psychologically perfectly “prepared” to be ignored: the science of it is highly complicated; additionally, the whole thing is associated with a lot of uncertainty (just consider the language of the IPCC’s Reports with all its “likely’s”, “unlikely’s”, “uncertain’s” etc.) – there is nothing certain there and it doesn’t matter that it is a fully normal in nature sciences; the problem is a long term one – the consequences, severe as they may be, won’t hit us, maybe they’ll be perceivable for our children… So why care? Or, at least, why care as much as environmentalists, scientists and so on claim it has to be cared? Why sacrifice own living standard?
  • Many politicians, especially in the Western countries and in the emerging nations are claiming, on the one hand, that they understand the severity of the treat of global warming. But, at the same time, they fear the power of corporations as well as voters who don’t want to accept the fact that you cannot fight global warming without sacrificing something from our beloved economic growth. So they rhetorically are ready to combat climate change. But they don’t do anything.
  • Experts still cannot agree on what kind of framework we do need. Shall it target a highest acceptable temperature rise above the preindustrial level (2° C is the goal mostly called for)? Or is it better to just agree on what consequences of global warming we want to avoid, without a binding temperature target? If the first possibility is chosen (and it is the most popular one): do we want a global cap and trade scheme? Or a carbon tax? Or another measure aiming at lowering CO2-emissions? And why only CO2? Or should we just invest in carbon-free technologies? Or is better geo-engineering a better way? But the problem is: politicians need a ready concept. They mostly are not experts in the areas of climatology, economics or engineering. So when they meet they should have a few ready concepts (not too many) so they can choose the best one.

With such many impediments, I am afraid the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancún won’t deliver any positive outcomes. We actually should first solve the problems listed above before trying to find agreement on a global framework against climate change. Actually. The problem is that we at the same time should start now with consequently combating the causes and consequences of global warming. Before it is too late.

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