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The power of the spotlight

Gavin Hewitt | 10:32 UK time, Monday, 7 December 2009

bellacentre_afp.jpgPolitical leaders like success. It can rub off on them. They are drawn to the spotlight, to the banks of cameras that circle international events. They want to be in the "family photo" that shows the people back home that they were there when history was made.

It follows that they do not want to turn up and leave empty-handed. They do not want to be associated with failure. It makes for bad headlines. As more leaders have committed to attending the climate change talks in Copenhagen, so hopes of a deal have risen too. As more heads of government promise to attend, others are drawn in. We are reaching the point where few will want to stay away.

US President Obama has changed his schedule. He was to have dropped-by this week en route to receiving the peace prize in Oslo. It would have amounted to a warm embrace and little more. He realised there was a danger that the US, the world's largest carbon emitter, would have been isolated. By attending the final two days, all the pressure will be on to sign the strongest deal.

The shape of the agreement is already clear. The world will commit itself to reducing greenhouse gases to prevent global temperatures rising two degrees which many scientists believe would be catastrophic. There will be pledges-a-plenty to cut emissions by 2050 and before but, at this stage, they are likely to be non-binding.

The second part of the deal will be to agree that these cuts are only possible if the rich countries give aid to the developing countries to help them reduce emissions even as they expand their industries.

What almost certainly will not happen is for an internationally legally binding treaty, one of the original hopes for the Copenhagen summit. Some, like British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, hope that such an agreement will follow within six months.

Even as the curtain is raised on Copenhagen one can sense the pattern of things. The pledges are coming in. President Zuma of South Africa said he would cut emissions by 42% by 2025. It was unclear what the baseline for those cuts would be, but the offer was conditional on support from the international community and "in particular, money". It comes down to: "You pay, we cut."

Then listen to President Lula de Silva from Brazil. Yes, he says, we can protect the rain forests if rich countries pay the price. The developing world sees in Copenhagen an opportunity for a transfer of funds and technology, so they want a legally-binding agreement and money on the table.

The pledges may be easier than the money. Even the EU, which has prided itself on being at the forefront of fighting climate change, has struggled to agree figures. It has stated that by 2020 100bn euros will be needed to help the developing world adapt. There is a promise that the EU "will assume its share" but there is no agreement as to what tax-payers will end up funding. There is the suggestion of somewhere between 22bn and 50bn euros. That is a wide gap. And then it has finally to be agreed who pays what and on what basis.

Some eastern European countries like Poland argue that they are struggling to reduce their emissions as it is and that they should be helped as much as the poorer countries.

Politicians find it easy to make financial pledges that extend in to the long-term future when, most likely, they'll no longer be in power. The reality is that many economies are heavily in debt and need to reduce public spending. It will be a tough sell to tell tax-payers the true costs of fighting climate change. However most environmentalists will argue that there can be no agreement without money.

Copenhagen also cannot be a success without the United States. President Obama has put a target on the table, of cutting emissions by 17% over the next 10 years. The international community will be looking for him to do more, yet he faces a sceptical Congress back home and a business community most reluctant to take on further costs as they struggle to emerge from the recession.

Chancellor Merkel of Germany compared the importance of climate change to that of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Other leaders have invested heavily in getting agreement. Copenhagen will surely deliver a world-wide commitment to fight global warming but the hard part, the money, the targets and how it all will be enforced may lie in the future.


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  • 1. At 11:39am on 07 Dec 2009, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    First get the facts right Mr. Hewitt;

    "He realised there was a danger that the US, the world's largest carbon emitter..."

    NO! The distinction of being the largest producer of CO2 from burning fossil fuels now goes to China. What's more, due in part to the economic slowdown the US has been reducing CO2 output for the last 2 or 3 years while China's output has been rising. According to BBC, China has been and will continue into the indefinite future to bring on two new coal fired power plants a week, every week. Perhaps that is why talk about America and global warming has diminished somewhat in the last couple of years.

    "...EU, which has prided itself on being at the forefront of fighting climate change.."

    It can pride itself on whatever it imagines but in truth it is only in the forefront of talking about climate change, not actually doing anything about it. Fact; the US now produces more energy from alternative sources than anyone else but it is only a miniscule fraction of the energy it needs, about 1%. Not only has Europe for the most part missed it committments under Kyoto, it was revealed about three years ago that the EUs leaders drove the most CO2 producing, most gas guzzling, least efficient vehicles available. When confronted with this fact, they told the press these were private matters, none of their concern. Their attitude was "Do as we say, not as we do." Perhaps these are additional reasons why Europe's America bashing over climate change has diminished somewhat during the last few years.

    "Then listen to President Lula de Silva from Brazil. Yes, he says, we can protect the rain forests if rich countries pay the price. The developing world sees in Copenhagen an opportunity for a transfer of funds.."

    You and they can put your label on it, the label I choose to put on it is "extortion." A relative handful of farmers make a meager profit from this poor quality soil working it for a few years and then moving on to slash and burn more of it as the previous acerage can no longer produce crops.

    What difference does it make what anyone agrees to in the way of targets 10, 20, 30, or 40 years down the road when there is not even a hint of a coherent plan to meet those targets and those who commit to them won't be around to answer for it when they aren't met? Any agreement or plan that does not include severe reductions in the earth's human population will result in permanent worldwide economic depression and widespread famine if it is even attempted to be implimented. It would also return the more developed economies to pre-industrial levels of living standards. Without an major change in technology that actually matters and that does not include science fair projects like solar panels that would have to cover the entire state of Arizona or solar boilers that would have to cover half the Sahara Desert, be transmitted halfway across Africa and then across the Mediterranean to be of any value to Europe, if the so called carbon footprint of humanity is to go down and the so called developing world's is going to continue to go up, then an unfair sacrifice on the part of those who live at standards the world's poorer people aspire to live at will be necessary. In other words, my living standard has to go down so that someone in India or China can have their standard of living go up.

    President Obama can agree to whatever he likes in Copenhagen next week at the photo op but the American People and the United States Senate will reject it just the way the Senate rejected Kyoto 95-0. Come up with a plan that is fair and equitable with shared sacrifice all over the world, a plan that will work because it combines major research into new technologies with population reduction, or just forget it, the final communique' will be just so many more empty words just like Kyoto was.

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  • 2. At 1:37pm on 07 Dec 2009, democracythreat wrote:

    Not a bad article, Hewitt. Not bad at all. Very measured and, dare I say, shrewd.

    To paraphrase your summation and prediction, we are going to be treated to a showcase of photo opportunities, many fine words, and a truckload of promises that will not be kept because nobody has the money and anyway these are politicians for heavens sakes. Did someone suggest promises would be kept? Surely not!

    I would say you hit the head squarely on the head.

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  • 3. At 2:15pm on 07 Dec 2009, EuroSider wrote:

    Let's be honest amongst ourselves here.
    The politicians attending the Copenhagen conference want good headlines in their local media.
    There is pressure amongst other lobbyists, and environmentalists.
    Every country wants to be seen by the international press as the 'good guys'.
    I know....that you know...that they know...that it doesn't mean anything unless there is a global agreement.
    So let's stop fooling ourselves.
    There will be words; press conferences; agreements; meetings to arrange other meetings etc.
    After a few weeks it will all be forgotten, and the world will continue as before!

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  • 4. At 3:23pm on 07 Dec 2009, rg wrote:

    2. democracythreat

    "...we are going to be treated to a showcase of photo opportunities, many fine words, and a truckload of promises..."

    Lisbon confirmed the trend of setting up protocols with completion dates set, just far enough, in the future by which time the current crop of politicians will be safely drawing our pensions. Failure will be someone else's fault.

    The photo opportunities are for savouring and milking today.

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  • 5. At 3:36pm on 07 Dec 2009, Jan_Keeskop wrote:

    Gavin: It might be interesting to show where participants in the Kyoto Protocol are at, in their quest for their 2012 goals. I’d imagine that some are on track (e.g. UK, Germany, Denmark), and some aren’t (e.g. Canada, Spain, New Zealand). Comparing the sources of their progress (making emissions cuts, buying emissions credits, reforestation, &c.) could be illuminating as well, for informing the debate on any successor to Kyoto.

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  • 6. At 3:46pm on 07 Dec 2009, CComment wrote:

    I can see Gordon Brown returning from Copenhagen, fresh from yet another photo opportunity with Barack Obama, armed with yet another raft of green taxes. Caledonian Comment

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  • 7. At 6:36pm on 07 Dec 2009, frenchderek wrote:

    I agree with everything said about photo-opps, etc.

    However, on the real issues that Gavin discusses, one of the most interesting ideas I've read is for "poorer nations" (ie those looking for handouts - sorry, financial support in meeting targets) should, in return sign a "forward commitment" to their carbon reduction targets. So, if they reckon that, by 2020, given - err - financial support they will reduce carbon emissions (or whatever) by X%, then they should be made to sign up to that.

    But - whilst I never make a promise I truly believe I can deliver, I'm not sure governments operate by such ethics.

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  • 8. At 8:01pm on 07 Dec 2009, Jukka Rohila wrote:

    To frenchderek (7):

    I have to say that I'm at least little opposed on just giving money to poor and developing countries. If we just give them money, the money will be with a large probability be wasted.

    Instead I would support for giving investment aid for infrastructure and environmental projects in poor and developing countries that would assist them to decrease or at least stagnate the growth of their co2 emissions. For example, the EU states could pay from 25% to even 50% of the investment costs for building a new nuclear power plant or a wind power plant or a solar energy plant. To make this lucrative for the member states, we could stipulate that either all or some of the money used for investment has to be used to buy products and services originating from Europe.

    In this model, the countries receiving the aid would have to come up with some of the money by themselves and thus evaluate on is the project economically feasible or not. Also by circulating the money back to donor countries it would help and support the local economy.

    Now it isn't perfect, but it could be nice compromise that everybody could be willing to take.

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  • 9. At 11:05pm on 07 Dec 2009, WebAliceinwonderland wrote:

    Jukka, very reasonable.

    Do you know that Latvia thinks in parallel? They've just approved their budget (after IMF had a go at it) and allocated their one line that got very popular with Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus.
    The Latvia budget line is called "Help to under-developed countries of Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus - total amount - $1,500."


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  • 10. At 00:51am on 08 Dec 2009, Maria Ashot wrote:

    Watching, waiting, listening, hoping...

    Alice: guess who I met this evening? Your friends, L-R.

    So cheers!

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  • 11. At 00:53am on 08 Dec 2009, Gheryando wrote:

    Oh wow...#1 is a troll

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  • 12. At 00:55am on 08 Dec 2009, DiscoStu_d wrote:

    I oftentimes like the photos you (presumably) select for your blogs. Indeed, they add some understated humor/irony to the story. In this case, an article about photo-ops coupled with a photo showing empty chairs sends my imagination off. Are the politicians predictably falling over themselves to get the best photo-op? Is it cocktail hour? Have the hookers just arrived? More likely the empty chairs reflect the empty promises likely to be the grand result.


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  • 13. At 00:58am on 08 Dec 2009, David wrote:

    He is as good as M. Mardell, definitely :) :)

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  • 14. At 06:21am on 08 Dec 2009, james5000 wrote:

    It would probably help the cause of the environmentalists who have run to this their next cause if Anthropogenic Warming was actually occuring.

    I suggest that people consult the paintings of the Flemish artists who were painting what they were seeing in their part of the rise in temperature from the Maunder Minimum. We've been rising in temperature for a long time and people seemed to have "weathered" the cold(pun intended) relatively well given the technology they had available...huts.... sticks to burn...

    And one might also consult the number of ships that have navigated the Northwest Passage.... and the number of nuclear submarines which were photographed at "90 north" during the early days of the nuclear subs.... and the population of polar bears has increased so much since then that they are now canabilizing themselves because of they have eaten all their prey.....I mean just WHERE is the love for all that prey that's been eaten!

    The media is doing everything it can to deflect from the jiggying of the data from HADCRUT, and the simple evidence of it is that the reportage is CRU which is not where one will find the really incriminating GRAPHS of what has being occurring with the temperature "anomalies"....go ahead....don't believe me....type in HADCRUT and temperature into GOOGLE images and just look at all those glorious graphs that just blow "global warming" out of the.....wait for it....water(cold water)...

    Try also that NASA has removed a LOT of information that was there just a few weeks's a good thing that there are now people copying and saving like mad because this "stuff" is disappearing from the net like stuff at a .....wait for it... FIRE sale!(warming, hot, you get it..right...oh well)....

    Lets see,,,,, a consensus..... 2000 scientists wrote a letter to President Bush saying Anthropogenic warming was occuring....and there were SO MANY....that they HAD to be right....right? 200 scientists went to a little time...but... at a news conference with Pres. Obama's liason guy and this happened:

    Nov 30, 2009 ... GIBBS: I'll let the President make a little news tomorrow, .....Detroit news guy holds up a published list of 31000 scientists who oppose this idea of global warming? ...6000 of them PhDs and....Gibbs..........DISMISSES IT...says that....the scientific community has decided....oh yeah....

    When there are the likes of Tim Coleman a pretty prominent atmospheric scientist publishing article after article actually describing how the atmosphere works and including real temperature is probably going to sink into the minds of the citizens who are going to be forced to finance this scam to begin thinking that something isn't quite right...

    I would suggest that folks take a look at the EPA site(sub site) about climate.... the words global warming used to be front and center....then they decreased in size....and now they are in a little box down at the bottom right where it is kind of sheepishly mentioned that the now preferred term is....climate change....and...soon the little box will disappear....BUT......not before TODAY when the EPA published it's "finding" that CO2 is dangerous to human health....the folks who like to play games with plastic bags over their heads should be the FIRST people fined by the EPA.....but....just as with the Spotted Owl which is now THRIVING by living in old growth but feeding in CUTOVER forests.... turns out that if you force a spotted owl to live in nothing but old growth there aren't many of them because the little mouse they like to eat lives in........gee.....cut over new growth timber! But.....that's ok for the anti logging crowd. The regulations are in place, the people have ALREADY been put out of business....even as the EPA is....what is their term....hmm....oh yeah...."adjusting" their regulations....

    But........the U.S. taxpayer is going to transfer cash to people so they have a fish in stead of learning how to fish and they will be no better off... a sugar high is just that..... a sugar high......and the libs in the U.S. want to bankrupt the U.S by turning it into a sugar daddy because they would really rather not be living in the U.S. at all....even though they mostly get their income from the...taxpayer that they detest so mightily....

    I think......the climate surrounding this whole scam is beginning to change....pun intended of good cheer rest of the world.....the libs are going to soon be turning on the U.S. money spigot.....(to increase the water supply...pun...oh well).


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  • 15. At 09:13am on 08 Dec 2009, Benefactor wrote:


    Yeah, I say we risk it. Whats the worst that could happen ... /sarcasm

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  • 16. At 11:30am on 08 Dec 2009, Benefactor wrote:


    The petition is flawed for two major reasons. First of all, the signatories are NOT practicing scientists, FAR LESS practicing climate scientists. In fact, the only requirement for appending your name to the petition is that you hold a degree - batchelors or higher - in one of the physical sciences:

    "Signatories are approved for inclusion in the Petition Project list if they have obtained formal educational degrees at the level of Bachelor of Science or higher in appropriate scientific fields."

    "Appropriate scientific fields" included over 2000 medical doctors, which is strange indeed, as the opinions of climatologists on the best way to treat cancer and the like are rarely sought. Science teachers can sign it, but they don't contribute to climate study.

    Further, the petition is not aimed directly at AGW, but at the Kyoto Protocol. For some, the distinction is blurry. I'll explain, AGW is a problem caused by changes in the climate system by human activity. Kyoto is an attempt to deal with that problem. One can oppose the solution without rejecting the latter.

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  • 17. At 2:31pm on 08 Dec 2009, Pawel M wrote:

    "[Political leaders] do not want to be associated with failure. It makes for bad headlines. As more leaders have committed to attending the climate change talks in Copenhagen, so hopes of a deal have risen too."

    I'm afraid this is too simple, because it does not take into account, what the leaders will interpret as success. And many of them, I'm sure, are coming to Copenhagen with an agenda of protecting their countries' coal-based industries and not having their tax-payer's money sent to some place in Africa. It's still easier to scare voters with unemployment than with climate change in most parts of the world, so if the summit fails, many of the leaders will be going home very proud of themselves and expecting lauding headlines in their nations' local newspapers.

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  • 18. At 8:39pm on 09 Dec 2009, cool_brush_work wrote:

    A) It is obvious that the Human exploitation of the Natural Resources of the Earth have been gradually depleting the raw materials created over billions of years: In the last 100 or so years that exploitation and depletion has expedentially risen every decade until the Earth is at Productive crisis point.
    B) Alongside that critical diminution of the available raw materials on which Humans are dependent has come the equally troubling realisation that Human activity has also contributed to some near critical Climactic changes (Global Warming/Global Cooling - - whichever, they do no favours for the Homo Sapien species and many others).
    C) The most notable Human development that has seemingly brought about both Ecological and Climate Endangerment to Humans is ironically the massive expansion in Human Population.

    So far as I can tell nothing decided at Copenhagen will have much longterm effect on 'A' or ''B' continuing to develop at uncomfortably rapid rates for the ordinary Human of any Continent.

    My belief is that 'A' plus 'B' given the continued multiplication by 'C' means we are doomed as a species: I also believe 'we' (Humans) have only ourselves to blame as evidenced by the incredible politically inept, greed-driven and self-serving bunch of so-called Human Leadership present in the Danish Capital. 'We', for the most part, elected/selected these uninspiring, duplicitous 'quacks' with their band-aid solutions to the Earth's infinite range of troubles and as 'we' also either man-made or man-contributed to the immense problems 'we' have the leadership 'we' deserve.

    My conclusion is, unfortunately, the bounteous Earth that has done nothing but sacrificially serve itself up to us ungrateful, slovenly and rapacious Humans, has decided enough is enough (and at 6000,000,000,000+ who can argue!?): It is time for Homo Sapien to become one with the Dodo and thousands of other species 'we' have literally wiped from the face of the Earth.

    However, all is not lost - - arriving in a jet plane at an airport near you will shortly be Your particular 'Dear Leader' - - whose refrain of humility and eagerness for 'we' to cough up taxes for Copenhagen's nice little jaunt will be trumpeted to near and far and be as effective at staving off the demise of Humans as Canute was at stopping the tide rolling in!

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  • 19. At 9:12pm on 09 Dec 2009, cool_brush_work wrote:


    Re #1

    You be careful old chap!

    That's the 3rd time this Year you have made a very informed and informative contribution to a topic.

    Seriously, I did enjoy the way you pointed up the Ecological disaster anomaly known as China - - where I live they put all their waste into at least 5 different bags which are then dutifully taken away by the local authority for various treatments-recycling-disposal - - however, with a total National Population of around 5 million this nice, genuinely concerned Scandinavian country is having its entire Annual anti-Global Warming endeavours scuppered by at least 20 Chinese mega-industrial cities that churn out more garbage-waste-effluent in a month than this Nation does in a year!

    Okay, everybody has to start somewhere, but, unless Copenhagen gets China to actually carry out (NOT just say it) enormous cutbacks in its Economic Development, NOTHING anyone else will do will matter.

    Of course those 'cutbacks' will mean less for the rest of the greedy, self-indulgent World: So, how will the World react?
    Simply go without the 2nd/3rd tv, car, dishwasher, computer, mobile (cell phone)?
    Or, will other Countries step in to greedily fill the profit-making breech and thus negate China's efforts!?

    My monies on the latter result: MAII, whether right or wrong about the USA contribution this Earth's Human species is going to suffer enormously from a World that does not want to believe the Earth has had enough of being misused, abused and endangered as if it were just another creature, by the People that inhabit it.

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