Thursday, December 8, 2011

Its not about climate

The COP/UNFCCC process has become a perpetual rerun of some kind of Jennifer Aniston movie: the dysfunction between the characters ends up not being about yogurt flavors - even though that's what they keep arguing about - but their insecure childhoods.

As we have often blogged about here, the ambassadors negotiating at COPs are doing so from positions of narrow, immediate economic and political self-interest, and seem increasingly divorced from the underlying reality of the climatic situation itself. Rajendra Pachauri, the chief scientific spokesman for the UNFCCC, makes this point in an interview yesterday with Amy Goodman - saying that there is "a complete absence of the discussion on scientific evidence," and that he would like each daily negotiating session to begin "with a very clear presentation on where we are going, what it’s going mean to different parts of the world, and what are the options available to us by which, at very low cost and, in some cases, negative cost, we can bring about a reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases."

Certainly the ambassadors have heard these presentations, but they don't really seem to have sunk in. One of the things that bothers me the most when ambassadors do speak directly to climate is that it almost always lacks any climatological nuance - most often they describe a goal like "keeping warming to 2 degrees Celsius" as if they could simply tell climatologists to turn the planet's thermostat dial once the bickering over the number had settled.

It's almost enough to make me long for the good old days of nuclear arms negotiations. At least in that case, the ambassadors had a black & white picture of the consequences of failure: planetary annihilation. That kind of scary vision does not seem to seriously hang over climate negotiations, even though that is exactly what the science points to. So perhaps Pachauri is right - for ambassadors to get serious, they have to constantly be presented with the gravity of their failure. We need something like cigarette packages with pictures of corroded lungs on them - something that will get into the political psyches and deter them from their short term fixes by making them face up to long term reality.

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