Will Durban end the fight against climate change?

Updated: 2011-11-26 08:00

By OP Rana (China Daily)

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Will Durban end the fight against climate change?

Greenpeace International released a report on Nov 22, saying a handful of multinational corporations are "exerting undue influence" on the political process in the United States and Canada and other pivotal countries to delay global action on climate change.

The report, "Who's holding us back? How carbon intensive industry is preventing effective climate legislation", says that major corporations and industry associations representing oil and gas companies and other high-polluting sectors in the US, Canada and Europe are leading the lobbying and marketing efforts. Corporations and industry associations even in South Africa, which will host the UN climate change conference from Nov 28 to Dec 9, are part of the lobbying efforts.

In the US alone, industry stakeholders spend about $3.5 billion a year to lobby the government and finance American politicians "who deny" scientific evidence linking human activities to global warming, the Greenpeace report says.

But the Greenpeace report was drowned in the wave generated by "Climategate 2.0", that is, a fresh batch of hacked e-mails on climate change written by scientists of the University of East Anglia in Britain. The leak made climate change skeptics jump to the conclusion that climate scientists were involved in a conspiracy to give a misleading assessment of global warming and reverse the wheels of their countries' economies.

Since University of East Anglia scientists are on the board of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change contrarians have renewed their attack on the IPCC. Agreed, a couple of IPCC's assessments, such as the rate of melting of Himalayan glaciers, were wrong. But an independent review by leading scientists proved that thousands of its other findings were correct. So is the leak of climate scientists' e-mails aimed at disrupting the Durban climate change conference, just as the first leak did in Copenhagen two years ago?

The answer is obvious, especially when we consider the Greenpeace report. In fact, Canada has indicated that it plans to walk away from the Kyoto Protocol, which set targets for developed nations to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2012 as the first step in the fight against global warming. Japan and Russia, too, have indicated they would do likewise.

Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent told the House of Commons on Tuesday: "Canada goes to Durban with a number of countries sharing the same objectives and that is to put Kyoto behind us and to encourage all nations and all major emitting countries to embrace a new agreement to reduce GHG in a material way."

Appeals to get policies that cap and tax carbon emissions cancelled have been submitted to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the European Union and other government bodies.

In the US, James Inhofe, chairman of Senate committee on environment and public works, said IPCC findings should not be trusted and "Climategate 2.0 e-mails are just one more reason to halt the (Barack) Obama-EPA's job-killing global warming agenda".

Lending Inhofe support was Myron Ebell, director of Washington-based think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute. Ebell said: " the UN (IPCC) is an organized conspiracy dedicated to tricking the world into believing that global warming is a crisis that requires a drastic response."

Lost in the din created by climate change skeptics and their lobbyists is what the University of East Anglia said about the leaked e-mails. The university said: "While we have had only a limited opportunity to look at this latest post of 5,000 e-mails, we have no evidence of a recent breach of our systems. As in 2009, extracts from e-mails have been taken completely out of context Following the previous release of e-mails scientists highlighted by the controversy have been vindicated by independent review, and claims that their science cannot or should not be trusted are entirely unsupported."

That Durban would go the Copenhagen way was already feared. Now the fear is that the developed countries will "veto" any attempt to extend or expand the Kyoto Protocol, which expires next year and which is biding upon developed countries to reduce their GHG emissions. The world will be left without a multilateral agreement to fight climate change, for indications are that the developed countries will press for agreements that will make it compulsory for developing countries like China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa to cut their emissions.

And since developing nations will insist on the measures set by the Kyoto Protocol, there will be no deal. No deal means business as usual for the multinationals. And that is exactly what the game plan of the lobbyists is. The challenge for developing nations in Durban is to prevent the lobbyists from succeeding.

The author is a senior writer with China Daily. E-mail: oprana@hotmail.com.

(China Daily 11/26/2011 page5)