Reflections on a hugely changed climate Accessibility - Richard Black’s Earth Watch

22/1/2010 BBC It’s hard to overstate how much the events of the last two months have altered
the global picture of climate politics.

Picture the scene you’d have found on any day towards the end of last year: more
prime ministers and presidents talking publicly about climate change than ever
before; the vast majority of the world’s governments apparently committed to
making some kind of agreement that would restrain the growth in greenhouse gas
emissions sufficiently to avoid “dangerous” climate change; the world’s two
biggest emitters - China and the US - announcing targets to take into the
maelstrom of Copenhagen; rafts of mayors and business leaders and activists
straining every sinew to encourage everyone across the finishing line.]

How different things look now.
Out of Copenhagen came a piece of paper agreeing that limiting the global
temperature rise to 2C was indicated by the science, but not agreeing to set 2C
or any other temperature figure as a firm target, and not containing anything
that would commit governments to policy measures that could achieve such a

Meanwhile, the prospective US climate legislation encounters new hurdles, the
latest being the election of Republican Scott Brown to succeed Democrat Edward
Kennedy as Massachusetts Senator.
That pushes the Democrats below the majority they need to prevent long
discussions on the healthcare bill that, it’s generally assumed, must go through
before the climate wrangles begin in earnest.
It also could be interpreted as indicating that Mr Obama’s raft of policies is
proving less palatable to the electorate - and with campaigning for mid-term
elections due to begin in just half a year’s time, one possible consequence
would be to push Democrats and Republicans alike away from the camp supporting
climate legislation.

Other interpretations and other projections of the US scene are possible, of
course. But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that passage of the American
legislation looks less likely than it did two months ago.
Internationally, this is hugely significant. If the big developing countries do
not see action from the US, they will be even more reluctant to curb their own
emissions - that’s abundantly clear.

Perhaps because the Copenhagen summit ended at a time when much of the world was
preparing for Christmas and New Year revelries, I’m not sure that news
organisations - including ourselves - have adequately reflected how momentous a
shift it signalled.
Before Copenhagen, most of the building blocks appeared to be in place for some
kind of global, negotiated, and possibly even effective deal - if not in
Copenhagen itself, then within a further year.

Would anyone now make that assessment?
The travails of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), too, may
be affecting politicians’ views - it’s impossible to make a broad judgement on
that, despite the protestations of many players in Copenhagen that the basics of
the IPCC’s scientific argument remained sound.
Anyway, we discussed at the tail end of last year some of the reasons why the
summit did not produce a solid deal, and the point of this post isn’t to
re-tread that ground.

It’s simply to reflect, with the benefit of a bit of distance, just how far the
world of climate politics has shifted.
Without US legislation, without a willing China and India, it is hard to see how
anything more significant than the Copenhagen Accord can come later this year or
in the next few years - despite continued European protestations of support,
despite the demands of small island states, and despite the judgement of many of
the accord’s architects (from Barack Obama to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh) that it falls short.

Depending on your views on man-made global warming, you might find the
mood-shift encouraging or disappointing. But it’s hard to argue, I think, that
it isn’t significant - perhaps the most significant change in international
environmental governance since the Rio Earth Summit.
And the question that not even the most clued-up observers know how to answer at
the moment is: “what happens next?”

Go to: