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Two tracks to mitigation

January 18, 2010

Post COP15, and after a few countries announced their own plans to deal with climate change, it occurred to me that, while regrettably divisive, at least some progress was being made. The lack of coordination is shameful, but there is at least some movement:

There are, broadly, two separate issues here. One is the challenge of reducing CO2 output by the industrialised nations, the other is how to address the inequalities between the west and developing nations.

It seems that of the two issues, the reduction of CO2 is being addressed first. Although I would like, in an ideal world, to see all nations working together, I don’t realistically expect this to happen very quickly (and in doomy moments, I don’t expect it at all). But for the industrialised nations to continue to work on the problem of their own use of fossil fuels is, at least, a positive goal. How to balance the needs of developing countries is certainly a most difficult problem to overcome because a certain amount of altruism is required, and this is not a quality we have in abundance, it seems.

Yet this is a step in the right direction. COP15 was only the start of the process, the first step in a far longer journey. Our expectations, given the sheer enormity of the problem, were unreasonable – mine included. I now see that the efforts will be patchy, diverse, acrimonious and sometimes rather counter-productive. But the efforts will continue none the less, for climate change isn’t going away, and if the industrialised nations – for it is those nations who are creating and exacerbating the problem – can bring themselves to work together, starting with a meaningful declaration of intent against which we can all measure their actions, this is progress of sorts.

I do think it unfortunate that the US – as it has always done – is trying to marginalise the UN, although I appreciate the argument that to get things done, a smaller group of important players has more chance of making meaningful progress. The sticking point in this scenario however is the disparity between the US commitment and that which it needs to make in order to lead by example. It will be interesting to see how BRIC-aligned countries respond to attempts by the US to ‘hijack’ the agenda, which appears to me rather like a move to control the pace in order to assuage domestic concerns.

If the outcome of this new alliance is merely convenient – in tacit support of business as usual with only minor mitigation adjustments to ‘ease the pain’, any accord will be a waste of time, just more procrastination by administrations unable or unwilling to embrace change at a scale that will make a difference. What bothers me is that this a strategy that China may well go along with, since its aims and that of the US are quite similar: continued growth subservient to climate change mitigation, enshrined in meaningless or unenforcible targets and commitments that can be brushed aside when it suits.

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