ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Fiddling While Rome Burns

The global powers that be fiddle even as Cancun takes the mitigation of climate change backwards.

Bolivia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Pablo Solón Romero, who has been a social activist, must have, in his youth, absorbed Hans Christian Andersen’s short tale of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. Like the child in the crowd who cries out that the emperor “isn’t wearing anything at all”, Solón displayed the courage of his government’s convictions when, at the concluding plenary of the 16th Conference of the Parties (COP 16) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Cancún, Mexico, he declared: “I cannot in all consciousness sign such a document as millions of people will die as a result”. In the Andersen tale, the child’s cry is taken up by others in the crowd and the king cringes, but continues on his onward march nevertheless. Will some other countries among the 191 “parties” to the UNFCCC now join Bolivia to declare that the “Empire” is “naked” in preventing catastrophic climate change?

The Cancun Agreements, as they are called, have virtually killed the Kyoto Protocol (KP) which, despite its negatives, had binding targets for the developed countries for their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, arrived at on the basis of climate science. The KP also made a distinction between the developed and developing countries, which is crucial, for the developed countries have already “used up” the carbon absorptive capacity of the biosphere with a disproportionate amount of GHG emissions, and are thus largely responsible for climate change. But now, the way, which was created at the COP 15 at Copenhagen last year, seems to be set for voluntary pledges to reduce GHG emissions, with more than a little bit of help from “offsets”, payments for reduced deforestation in places like the Brazilian Amazon through the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) scheme, the older Clean Development Mechanism projects, “cap-and-trade” market mechanisms for the buying out of the emissions reductions, and so on.

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