Harrabin's notes: Kyoto rumbles on

Qatar Qatar was built without a sea level rise in mind

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The clanking Kyoto climate Protocol lurched into its terminal phase in Doha, dragged down by complexity and self-interest to the last. Soon it will be replaced by a new model.

Since the protocol was constructed 15 years ago, greenhouse gases have risen relentlessly.

Authorities warn that on current trends the Earth is, at best estimate, likely to exceed the 2C temperature rise agreed as a limit by all governments.

Some think the climate will heat by as much as 6C.

Shale gas optimists hope that a global gas boom will provide a quick transition to a cleaner economy, but their strategy looks unlikely to lead to emissions cuts on the scale science says is needed.

'Sacrifice Brooklyn'

Others conclude that the UN climate process is useless and should be scrapped.

The oil giant Exxon, which previously denied climate change, is now saying that politics can't fix it: better adapt instead.

But scientists warn there is no credible scenario for adapting to temperatures at the upper limit.

Already, with a global temperature rise of 0.8C, even the US faces challenges. President Obama has asked for $60bn in the aftermath of "Superstorm" Sandy and New York may need to sacrifice Brooklyn to save Manhattan if a hurricane strikes again.

Imagine how Niger will cope. Or Bangladesh, where the delta cannot be protected by sea walls without unimaginable expense. Or Nauru in the South Pacific.

The Doha conference did take a small but surprising step towards acknowledging that rich nations may have an obligation to compensate poor nations which suffer irreparable damage from climatic change.

But all the nations in Doha agree that cuts need to be deeper and faster, preferably carried out by someone else. They don't doubt the mainstream science on climate change - indeed their governments helped to write it.

Streamline Kyoto

It's the will to succeed in this unprecedented co-operative endeavour that's leading to the Son of Kyoto - O'Kyoto, Al Kyoto, bin Kyoto, McKyoto - whatever it will be called.

The remains of a neighbourhood n Queen's after Hurricane Sandy hit in December 2012. "Superstorm" Sandy devastated some New York neighbourhoods

By December 2015 all the world's nations are due to have agreed a comprehensive deal to co-operate on an equal footing to tackle climate change. No more will China be able to criticise the US when its own current emissions have overtaken America's. (Although this is not true for cumulative emissions.)

No, the new deal will have to be fair to all. It will streamline the chaotic Kyoto system which bolted on branches as nations discovered one new unfairness after another: you chopped more trees; my industry collapsed so I lost money but saved carbon emissions; your cows belch more; you buy the stuff I make then blame me for the CO2 emissions.

The KP, as it's known, ended with four separate financial tracks that befuddled most climate diplomats. The EU delegation head told me even the EU's negotiating capacity was stretched to breaking.

How would Mali fare? Or Somalia, whose chair I borrowed for the final Doha plenary because many African delegates could not afford to postpone their flights. Others were slumbering at their desks after trying to negotiate single-handed round the clock.


This baffling thicket of rules will be swept away in the new treaty. But let's survey the task ahead. The world's nations will have to be ranked on a sliding scale with the richest polluters expected to cut most and contribute most cash towards helping the poor get clean energy and adapt to climate change. In future they may also be expected to compensate people if their land goes under the waves.

Imagine the job of negotiating that all-in-together treaty, which has been demanded by the US since it pulled out of Kyoto complaining that it would not accept targets unless rival China did too.

Meanwhile China is already consolidating its position for O'Kyoto. With millions of people in poverty, it expects to be treated as a developing nation. It expects not to be blamed by other nations for emissions it makes on their behalf.

Diplomats have just spent a fractious exhausting fortnight doing the housekeeping on the KP without any substantial new commitment to cutting emissions. Yet within three years a new deal is scheduled. Really?

'Inadequate' pace

The association of parliamentarians focusing on the environment, Globe, does not underestimate the scale of the task, but counsels against despair.

It will soon report that 32 out of 33 major economies have, or will have, significant legislation on climate or energy. The laws achieve low-carbon growth, greater energy security and a reduction in greenhouse gases and local air pollution.

In Doha the Dominican Republic took a lead for developing countries by pledging to cut its emissions. But even Globe admit that the overall pace of change is totally inadequate.

Some blame politicians but they underestimate the scale of this political task. In the UK the Chancellor has already secured a review of climate laws because they impose short-term costs on people already struggling to pay energy bills. And the big incumbent fossil fuel firms insist that they are allowed to extract all their reserves even though the International Energy Agency warns that the fuels can't be burned without wrecking the planet.

So who is winning the climate battle? Well, this year's talks were hosted by Qatar, which has the highest per capita emissions in the world. Did it pledge to cut emissions? No. Offer financial help to the poor? No.

Next year's talks are being hosted by Poland, which has weakened EU ambition on emissions cuts and wreaked concessions to be allowed to burn more coal.

Little wonder that some people are gambling that the Earth proves more resilient to CO2 than the vast majority of scientists believe.

Follow Roger on Twitter @rharrabin


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  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    @42 Uncarved Block

    I'm sorry but that is simply wrong.

    Wind and wave energy is intermittent and cannot be relied on for base load generation.

    Solar is obviously not available when needed and very weak in Britain

    All these need backing up, and that means fossil fuels.

    Or we could build nuclear power stations instead, and solve our CO2 problems once and for all

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Extinction is a natural evolutionary event

    So buy a V8 Mustang, a tanker of beer and PARTY while you still can

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Global warming? Recent theory? Dodgy science?

    Predicted 2000 years ago by ex fisherman:

    "the heavens will pass away with a great noise and the elements will melt with fervent heat, both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up"

    but don't worry, that's not the very end, there's some good news:

    "we look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells"

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    The trouble is, if it does in fact turn out that this has all been hype on a par with the South Sea Bubble, tulip futures and Y2K, an awful lot of people are going to have to find a new religion....

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    The UK has enough renewable energy resources (wind, tidal, wave, etc) to supply all of its own power and turn it into a net energy exporter. The UK renewable industry still has the potential to be a world leader, exporting goods and expertise. So why is the Government giving money to foreign companies to increase use of fossil fuels and nuclear? Environmental suicide and economic madness combined.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    @37 Little Old Me

    Not sure I was trying to exactly quote anybody, that was pretty obvious and also impossible in 400 characters or less

    Solving emissions problems by building wind farms is just plain ridiculous, but that is exactly what the “greens” preach
    Ask yourself why

    then read @28 for part of the answer

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    "...people are gambling that the Earth proves more resilient to CO2..."


    What does this mean? The Earth will be fine however much CO2 is around, though animal and plant life, including us may well not be.

    Such quasi-mystical mumbo-jumbo gets us nowhere.

    Let's work on getting the science as good as we can, and quantifying the risks for us in relation to others: pandemics, wars etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    So green house gases have risen intensely - funny how the global temperature hasn't though.

    For how long will they keep spinning out their doom laden warnings before people realise they are bogus?

    Enough already. Stop this nonsense and lets get on with tackling real global issues such as starvation. malnutrition and absolute poverty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.


    How truly desperate and utterly out of decent arguments are you if all you can do is selectively misquote the environmental movement to do them down...???

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    31.AJ - "......In short, this will only take effect when it is entirely too late and we will be wiped out."

    To be fair GW will not entirerly wipe humans out - we're too resourceful. But it will cause civilisation as we know it to collapse. Not enough food (production is ALREADY suffering = Govt cannot control the population = economy collapses = no money & so on....

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    32 Mike Haseler - If you were tricked by "No global warming in 15 years" then I doubt your ability to determine what makes "good evidence based science".
    And according to deniers, it was also "good evidence based science" that was used to show no warming/minimal warming/Sun causing warming. How do you explain those away, or will you deny that those ever were the popular denialist arguments?

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    As the world can easily sustain twice as many people as it does now (if not a lot more) why do people keep going on about "overpopulation"?

    Mother nature will sort out "overpopulation" if and when it does occur so there is no need to fret.

    Enjoy today!

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    englishvote "over population is a huge problem." Agreed.

    I was talking to one of the few alarmists at the Royal Society meeting and when she said "we have to cut fossil fuel" I asked: "why not let our children use as much fossil fuel, but just cut the population by birth control" - she more or less said I was mad.

    Deny her as a women the right to overpopulate the world with children!?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Drunken Hobo: "Mike Haseler - Ah, the goalposts have moved again!"

    Our goalposts are good evidence based science. What's yours?

    The current scientific thinking is that we should be planning for a range of scenarios both warming and cooling of which man-made CO2 warming of c1°C is just one of many possible climate drivers leading to a range of scenarios.

    I.e. the Global warming scam is DEAD!

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    It will never, ever work.

    You have a great many posters on the BBC who don't believe.
    You have Global governments who are not incentivised to take a long term view (so what if it works in 50 years, I need to get elected in 2).
    You have corporations who have the ears of govt. and just want to make money.

    In short, this will only take effect when it is entirely too late and we will be wiped out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    CO2 is a huge problems, pollution is a huge problem, over population is a huge problem.

    We need answers to these big problems

    But what do we hear from the environmentalist and greens?

    "Build wind farms, put solar panels on your roof in Newcastle, recycle your plastic bottles"

    That ain’t going to get it done people I'm afraid.

    We need big answers not toys

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    A 'light hearted' point of view

    27.temporarily out of order
    Just now
    "The oil giant Exxon, which previously denied climate change, is now saying that politics can't fix it: better adapt instead.*
    Perhaps they require a new licence for something which they wont get issued if they dont join the concessus ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    All the big oil companies are up to their armpits in the wind scam. I bet most of the big green "NGOs" are funded by big oil.

    Is it any wonder that the greens have stopped protesting about the real problems of life like pollution and rain forests and peat bogs and have tried to raise fossil fuel prices to the delight of big oil?

    Who's really in the pay of Big oil. Its not us sceptics!

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    "The oil giant Exxon, which previously denied climate change, is now saying that politics can't fix it: better adapt instead.*

    Has anything ever been fixed by politics. Fixing things usually involves "doing stuff".

    It may have taken Exxon a while to change course(Captain asleep perhaps), but they're right in a way. There are times you just have to accept you've run aground and deal with it.


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