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Benny Peiser: Copenhagen And The Demise Of Green Utopia

Benny Peiser, Die Weltwoche 23 December 2009

Die Weltwoche, 23 Dezember 2009: The failure of the UN climate summit in Copenhagen is a historical watershed that marks the beginning of the end of climate hysteria. Not only does it epitomise the failure of the EU’s environmental policy, it also symbolises the loss of Western dominance. The failure of the climate summit was not only predictable – it was inevitable.


There was no way out from the cul-de-sac into which the international community has manoeuvred itself. The global deadlock simply reflects the contrasting, and in the final analysis irreconcilable interests of the West and the rest of the world. The result is likely to be an indefinite moratorium on international climate legislation. After Copenhagen, the chances for a binding successor of the Kyoto Protocol are as good as zero.

The extent of the debacle and the shift in the balance of geopolitical power was demonstrated by the fact that the final accord was made without the participation of the European Union. The exclusion of Europe is a remarkable symbol of the EU’s growing loss of influence,  a green bureaucracy that was not even asked whether they agreed with the non-binding declaration of China, India and the USA. Although the Copenhagen conference was held in a European capital, the negotiations and the final result of the conference were totally outside European involvement.

Climate poker

The visibly shaken EU leaders had to admit that they were taken by surprise and had been outmanoeuvred by China, India and the USA. US President Obama and the leaders of India and China had left Copenhagen long before the European heads of state were forced to agree with an accord which had been reached without their input. A rejection of the Asian-American Copenhagen Accord would have been an option, were it not that it would have pushed the EU into the extremist corner of Hugo Chavez  and Robert Mugabe.

The failed climate summit caused a tectonic shift in international relations and left behind a new political landscape. After Copenhagen, green Europe looks rather antiquated and the rest of the world looks totally different. The principles on which Europe’s climate policies were founded and which formed the basis of the Kyoto Protocol have lost their power while the EU itself lost authority and influence.

True-blooded advocates of Realpolitik who hardly exist in the climate policy debate, had warned for a long time that Copenhagen would fail to bridge the divergent interests of the West and the developing countries. For political realists, it is no surprise whatever that all key decisions were postponed indefinitely. What is more, there is little doubt that China and India are the big winners of the Copenhagen climate poker. The two emerging superpowers managed to win new strategic allies, even among Western nations. China’s and India’s strategy to align themselves with other developing countries in opposition to protectionist threats by the U.S. and the EU proved itself as very successful. In the end, their persistent No even forced the Obama administration to join the anti-green alliance.

The Asian-American Accord connotes a categorical No to legally binding emission targets.  This means that a concrete timescale for the curtailing of global CO2 emissions, not to mention the reduction of the CO2 emissions, has been kicked into the long grass. The green dream of industrial de-carbonisation has been postponed indefinitely.

The NO is non-negotiable

The imminent danger of a legally binding climate treaty that would force developing nations to impose extremely costly restrictions on cheap energy and thus their economic growth and development was quashed. ‘Business as usual ‘  seems to be the veritable motto of international climate policy for years to come, if not for decades.

Despite the manifest fiasco, considerable resistance to admit defeat and to accept the new reality still exists in many European capitals. Thus, we hear the usual post-conference mantra: but at the next climate conference we will be successful. The decisions which were postponed in Copenhagen will be agreed to at the next summit Mexico later this year.

This green rhetoric has no basis in reality. It’s a green fata morgana. After all, the rejection by the developing world to commit to legally binding emission targets is not a tactical negotiation ploy. The categorical NO is absolute and non-negotiable. Due to the evident lack of realistic energy substitutes, developing countries have no choice but to continue to rely on the cheapest form of energy, i.e. fossil fuels – for the foreseeable future.

The European rejection of reality is particularly silly as absolutely nothing was decided in Copenhagen. Even the promised $100 billion climate fund are not binding and are unlikely to materialise in any case. Of course, these figures are pure fantasy because both the EU and the US have made these sums conditional on the signatures of China and India under the climate treaty, a proviso that is not going to happen in the foreseeable future.

The developing nations are not stupid. They have ensnared the West in a climate trap that green politicians set for themselves. To meet the growing pressure by the West, developing countries are demanding $200- 400 billion dollars – per annum – for so-called climate compensation and adaptation measures, together with billions worth of technology transfers. It is difficult to see how the West, already heavily curtailed as a result of the economic crisis, would be prepared to transfer such an astronomical amount of money. Even in good times it would have been a foolish idea.

For too long, West leaders have been convinced that they are pursuing a clever strategy. The EU promised, in principle, a financial transfer of $30 billion in the next three years to poor countries. However, Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, made perfectly clear that the climate billions are conditional on an international agreement with binding emission limits.

The Copenhagen fiasco will undoubtedly trigger a rethinking of the European climate policy. Especially East European member states – but probably also the Italian and German governments – will be demanding a drastic reassessment of unilateral climate targets which are turning into an economic liability and a  political risk. They are already putting a heavy burden on European economies as well as driving ever higher the costs for energy, industrial output and the general public.

Most likely, all efforts of reaching a binding climate agreement will fail in coming years. The pressure of lowering expectations of a green utopia will therefore increase. The developing countries can not afford to slow, let alone reduce their dependence on cheap energy and economic development as any significant curtailment would undermine their social and risk political stability.

Even in the Western world, the general climate hysteria shows a marked cooling. If recent opinion polls are to be believed, the obsession with climate change, which was a common feature during much of the 1980s and 90s no longer exists. In its place, climate fatigue is spreading. The novelty of climate change and the habitual alarms have lost their original shock value. Instead, the public seems to be warming to the idea of gradual and inevitable climate change.

International climate politics face a profound crisis. Green taxes and climate levies in whatever form and shape have become political liabilities. Revolts among eastern European countries, in Australia and even among Obama’s Blue Dog Democrats are forcing law-makers to renounce support for unilateral climate policies. In the UK, the party-political consensus on climate change is unlikely to survive the general elections as both Labour and the Tories are confronted by a growing public backlash against green taxes and rising fuel bills.

However, the biggest losers of the Copenhagen fiasco appear to be climate science and the scientific establishment who, with a very few distinguished exceptions, have promoted unmitigated climate alarm and hysteria. It confirms beyond doubt that most governments have lost trust in the advice given by climate alarmists and the IPCC. The Copenhagen accord symbolises the loss of political power by Europe whose climate policies have been rendered obsolete.

Loss of credibility

Climate science too is facing a crisis of credibility. It is confronted by growing doubt and criticism, not in the least as a result of the so-called Climategate scandal, the revelations about the behind-the-scene shenanigans by leading climate researchers. Moreover, the unforeseen arrest of the global warming trend has only increased the credibility crisis and has led to growing and deepening scepticism among wide sectors of the public. The standstill global warming, as well as the global economic crisis have greatly dampened the enthusiasm for expensive climate policies as well as for green taxes and exorbitant subsidies.

Above all, the debacle of Copenhagen shows that conventional climate policies have no future. What is necessary now is the development of alternative approaches that are politically realistic and economically feasible. In order for a new climate realism to be successful, governments and government agencies should start, at last, to engage and involve critics of conventional climate politics. Instead of continuing to follow the futile approaches and failed policies promoted by climate alarmists for far too long, governments would be well advised to be introduce more balanced and more transparent assessments of climate science and policy research.

It is quite possible that global temperatures might start rising again in the foreseeable future. Admittedly, no one knows exactly if and when this will happen – and if, whether the renewed warming trend will be pronounced, moderate or insignificant. In all likelihood, we will not know for the next twenty or thirty years who will be right or wrong – the climate sceptics or the alarmists. Nevertheless, as long as the global warming standstill continues, more or less, and as long as the political deadlock between the West and the rest of the world lingers, international climate politics will remain firmly on ice.

Dr Benny Peiser is the director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation and the editor of the climate policy network CCNet.

Translated by Marianne and Gerrit van der Lingen from the original article in the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche, 20. December 2009