Last week, the 18th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Doha, Qatar went to an end. Similar to most of the COPs held since 1994, when the Kyoto Protocol was signed, it was not successful – unless you count as success the fact that it did not end in disaster. As a Polish commentator put it, the COP18 saved the international community’s honour, but it did not save the climate.
For years already there have been calls to abandon the whole Kyoto process as a waste of resources with no real prospects for meaningful success (i.e., any significant progress in tackling anthropogenic climate change). Indeed, 18 years of negotiations seem to have proved those critics right. While the messages provided by climate science have been ever less ambiguous (yes, we are those responsible for climate change) and ever more grieve in its predictions (see, e.g., here), and while politicians have kept talking and fighting, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have kept rising, largely unabated. This is not really a surprise given that, by now, even the sloppy Kyoto covers only 15% of global GHG emissions.
Once again, Doha has demonstrated that the international community is not able (not willing?) to pull on the same string, even if what is being negotiated is such minimal a standard as the Kyoto Protocol provides. Just think of Poland and then Russia and how the latter’s protest in Doha was dealt with.
Once again, it was scary to see that neither emerging economies nor the U.S. (or Canada), the key players in climate change negotiations, are unable to accept the fact that by defending their short-term economic interests they are putting themselves at risk of a literal breakdown in the longer run. It is understandable to some extent that China, Russia, Brazil and the others are wanting to keep growing – their populations are still relatively poor -, but they seem not to realize that unabated climate change will come with vengeance, sooner or later. Particularly since many of these emerging economies are quite vulnerable to climate shifts.
What can be learned from all that? Well, international climate talks are useless, at least in their current form. There is not a single reason to believe that Warsaw or any of the upcoming summits will bring around a breakthrough. Rather, we are going to keep talking, wasting time and resources (not to mention all the GHG emissions caused by delegates flying in, flying out, eating flown in foods etc.) and blaming each other for the mess we’ve created over the last generations.
It is time to at least take a break. Let’s not organise further summits for a few years. They won’t help, either. Instead, those willing (e.g., the EU) should take steps more or less unilaterally – creating new climate-friendly legislations, helping those developing countries who want to be helped, investing in clean energy R&D. And, above all, accepting that, in the short-run, this may be a comparative disadvantage against those who are not going to stop building more coal plants, cut down forests and subsidise private transportation systems.
It may well be that this course will not lead to salvation, that it is too late already. Even if China, the U.S., India or Brazil will jump on the climate protection bandwagon, it may be too late then. But doing nothing, or doing little because others don’t cooperate is not a solution either. There is still hope that, possibly in the aftermath of some further climate-related disasters (hurricanes, typhoons, droughts, floods, heat waves etc.), those not willing to cooperate will change their minds, and that they do this soon enough for really bad climate outcomes to be averted.
So, let us forget Kyoto for a while and instead focus on channelling resources toward clean energy systems, R&D in novel solutions (including some geo-engineering proposals), adjustment and improvement of the solutions we already have (such as solar, wind, biomass, nuclear power, CCS) and, very importantly, adaptation to changes that are already sure to come due to climate system inertia. All of this should be done both innernationally and in other, especially poor countries. The rest is hope.