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A Fair COP15?

Written by: on January 29, 2010

I hope you have been following the course of COP15 meetings in December last year. This conference was supposed to be the most important climate change meeting in history. The expectations were set very high, but most people think they were not met. The conference produced a promising document, the Copenhagen Accord. Finally the USA joined the rest of the world in its efforts against global warming, as well as China, the biggest polluter in the world at the moment, and some other industrialized countries, apart from the US. However, the document has not been adopted yet. It has only been voted to “take note” of.

One of the main conclusions of the Copenhagen Accord is establishing a air temperature target; that much disputed figure that indicates a tipping point. This has been set to no more than 2C°, but the number may be lowered to 1.5C° in 2015, depending on how the world is coping with changing climate. These numbers are just an indicator of the “safe” level of global warming. Of course, this figure is very approximate and raises a lot of questions. For example, which methods were used to compute it and who did it and what their argument in favour of their method was.

The recent scandal at the University of East Anglia may exacerbate problems. Leaked emails suggested data manipulation regarding climate change figures. Perhaps the academics had the best intentions at heart when they used a little bit of innocent lies to scare the politicians and make them do something. On the other hand, the public simply does not like being lied to, and the credibility of the global warming argument has been somewhat damaged. Could it possibly make it more difficult to sign a solid agreement at COP15?

In doing so, it could undermined the impetus for developed nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Despite promising to report their plans of action to the UN by last Sunday, any practical project must be coordinated (and funded) internationally. Taking responsibility often incurs a financial obligations which is very unpalatable to domestic electorates – especially if they are footing the bill for developing nations as well. Developed nations have promised up to $30bn between by 2012 and $100bn by 2020 – to be distributed through the UN. This cost is further compounded by the establishment of the REDD and REDD-plus programs designed to provide financial incentives to the developing countries to stop deforestation.

I am still puzzled about what this is supposed to mean, “take note”. Neither does it legally oblige any of the countries to limit their CO2 emissions, nor promise to raise money to fight the consequences of global warming. Please, “take note” of it as it may save us all in the long run, but as John Meynard Keynes wittily noticed, in the long run we are all dead. Unless the Accord is signed and adopted, and an efficient incentives mechanism is designed to make everyone abide its positions, according to microeconomic theory no country will do anything recommended by the document.

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