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 66.

    Beesaman, a handful of geologists in a couple of uni's in the UK and Germany cared about the origin of basalt. Once they started to look at the data it became clear it was volcanic. 10's of 1,000's of scientists from all cultures and political persuasion have looked at the theory of AGW and the vast majority, even original sceptics say it is happening.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Humans can become extinct too. Do you really think we can cut our material usage and fossil fuel burning ENOUGH to curb this problem? No we must all get used to a stranger environment or give up, planes, cars, computers, power, phones etc. Would you want that? I doubt it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Drunken hobo, it's simple, it's the sun oh cognitively challenged one! Not CO2, nor methane or any other magic Pixie stuff, just the sun. But hey, keep on deluding yourselves, nature will have the final say! Rapid warming, it's barely instrumentally significant, just hype from a warmist clique. Climate changes, it's natural, tone down on the rabid alarmism, it's so passe!

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    59 beesaman
    "Obviously Drunken Hobo has never heard of Milankovitch cycles"

    You mean those tens of thousand year long cycles that affect global climate over an incredibly long period of time? Yes, I've heard of them, although I'm not sure how they can be used to explain the recent rapid warming trend. If you can, then please go ahead.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    This compensation deal is a nonsense. Do the politicos realize how much natural resources I have to consume in order to make the money to pay this? Further more, do they know how much energy is required to build a dam around Bangladesh, or how much concrete to raise Tuvalu one meter?

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    @Pacificisland Thousands of scientists used to believe in Neptunist theories until they were proven wrong by the Plutonist theories and then the later plate tectonic theories. Just look at how hard it was to get that established theory overturned! But hey, they are so worried on Tuvalu that they are building a new airport there, but then even Gore has a beach house he's that worried, ha!

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Public opinion can be manipulated; fundamental laws of thermodynamics can’t.There are thousands of scientific funding bodies from disparate sources; no way could there be a conspiracy. There is a conspiracy to deny AGW by non-scientists driven by industry, right wing politics and their media spin doctors. As we can see some saps fall for it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Obviously Drunken Hobo has never heard of Milankovitch cycles, dear me these alarmists are so limited in their scientific knowledge. They will be telling us trace gases heat things next, not the sun! Still it serves their wealth redistribution ideals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    53 geri
    "We have known for years we are coming out of an iceage, this is natural as the earth orbits the sun in an oval shape."

    Seriously? That's not what causes ice ages, otherwise we'd get one every year. On the last topic there was a climate change denier who didn't understand summer, now one that doesn't understand the orbit of Earth.
    Are the arguments really this weak? Dear oh dear…

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    I see Roger's band of alarmist acolytes are out again. Watch this space, as soon as the skeptics start to counter the shrill alarmist nonsense this HYS will be closed down, once again showing the institutional bias towards climate alarmism in the BBC...

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Climate change is the religion of the middle classes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Once again a piece biased from the start, the BBC really does need to replace Harrabin with someone less close to the climate alarmist side!

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    51 firemen - Interesting that you bring up ozone depletion. A good example of the West recognising a problem, developing a solution & the technology feeding down to other countries. It's rather short sighted that some people are suggesting the West cutting CO2 emissions won't help; it will eventually.
    We acted swiftly and stopped a catastrophe; hopefully we can do the same with climate change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Climate change, I like how they renamed from "global warming" to that.
    We have known for years we are coming out of an iceage, this is natural as the earth orbits the sun in an oval shape.
    Renewable sources are not good enough nor cheap enough atm
    So basically life and nature = climate change, earth moves = climate change. Can we help reduce things, sure but is it effective currently?

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Just one minor point.
    CO2? Plant life take in this alarmingly "dangerous" substance and "exhale" Oxygen!! Mammals et al breathe Oxygen.
    Get rid of CO2, you get no more oxygen...mammals breathe Oxygen.....
    So instead of putting your Mustang away, plant more trees!
    Have a good day!

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    How is climate change issue ever to attain its ends,as every Chinese and Indian seek to attain a Buick?
    And also,as China/India intent on attaining Western affluence, can Green Lobby all go to these countries and DEMAND they stop??
    As for the climate change argument,remember the OZONE LAYER scare?
    Large areas of world were to be "uninhabitable"?
    Ozone scare replaced by Global Warming scare.Next?

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Religion is such fun.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    @46 englishvote
    Wind and wave power are intermittent at individual places but the wider the distribution of generation the more this disappears. Interconnectors to make use of excess production in other countries, pump storage in Norway and geothermal energy from Iceland mean that you could have a system that is equally as flexible as the current one using only renewable energy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Quite how the masterminds behind the global conspiracy oft cited by GW deniers, managed to co-opt and enviegle the entire scientific community in the subterfuge remains a mute point...

    A good article by the author.....Only when we`re at the abyss will action be taken seriously, but mayhaps the tipping point will be long passed..

    Hell of a legacy...

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Someone said we Had 50 years of fossil fuel left. Was that about 20 years ago?
    Surely someone has made a plan on how we are going to provide energy and get about after it runs out.
    How about implementing that plan now?
    Or haven't the oil/energy companies bled us dry enough yet with price hikes?


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