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Federal

Dec 17, 2009

Hoping beyond hope at
Copenhagen

Kevin Rudd has arrived in Copenhagen early, but the star of the show is Mohamed Nasheed, the President of the Maldives, who has become a new symbol of hope -- or perhaps wishful thinking.

Clive Hamilton — Professor of Public Ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University

Clive Hamilton

Professor of Public Ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University

Kevin Rudd has arrived in Copenhagen too early. Most other leaders will wait for their officials to thrash out an agreement before flying in to tidy up, sign the document and leave triumphant. After all, if they can give directions to their negotiators from their capitals, why risk being around if the whole thing collapses, as it may well?

With his heart still in Foreign Affairs, the Prime Minister seems to want to do the negotiating himself, to eye-ball the other parties across the table. In all likelihood he will become caught up in the feverish atmosphere and, like the bidder at a house auction who exceeds his top price, promise more than he intended.

That would be good for the climate, as well as fulfilling the PM’s desire to be a statesman. It is remarkable how Rudd has managed to position himself as a global climate leader when his plans for domestic action are so timid. He will have to go further at Copenhagen.

Australian negotiators willingly concede that the first question they ask of any proposal is “What is the compliance cost?” No one ever became a statesman by protecting narrow economic interests, so the coal lobbyists here must be sweating.

However, Australia is still doing what it has always done, supporting the United States. At COP15, the agenda — hidden in Australia’s case — is to ditch the Kyoto Protocol and replace it with something broader but weaker.

Yet the Rudd government does not have the immovable obstacle that thwarts the plans of the Obama Administration. It is in Rudd’s power to hold a double-dissolution election and remove the Senate blockage in Australia. That would be Obama’s dream.

Meanwhile, the natural tension of the past week is being multiplied and turning ugly by the chaos surrounding access to the conference venue. Even people with an official photographic pass augmented by the secondary pass created to ration access are caught in a seething crowd and turn away in frustration. The police had to get the dogs out yesterday to maintain order.

Many delegates are cooling their heels in their hotels, such as Mike Rann, the SA premier, whom I passed on the third-floor landing of our hotel in the placid northern suburbs of the city. He was on his mobile doing a radio interview with a journalist who seemed sceptical about the premier’s claim that he wanted to make SA a world leader in renewable energy.

Copenhagen is chock-full of mayors, state premiers and myriad others who are used to being treated as important. The vastness and bewildering complexity of climate conferences make almost everyone feel small, which turns mobile phones into lifelines to people back home who think you matter.

Bill McKibbin, the American author and founder of 350.org, has his own biggish pond in which to swim, the alternative conference known as Klimaforum09 being held at a sports complex near Copenhagen Central station. After a rambling talk to the thousand or so people from civil society groups around the world, he got to the point, introducing the new hero of international climate activism, Mohamed Nasheed, the President of the Maldives. A small man in a neat suit, he spent a long time in solitary confinement for resisting the military dictatorship before becoming the Maldives first democratically elected leader.

Fresh from chairing a cabinet meeting held under water with scuba gear (desperation trumps dignity), he spoke of the need never to give up, and rallied the multitude to chant the three most important words, “three five oh”. The crowd’s projection of hope onto his small frame was something to behold. As he left the stage he disappeared into a scrimmage of independent media.

Of course, we are past 350 ppm already, and getting back to that concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would require technological feats so far beyond our imagination. Sometimes hope can become disconnected from reality, whereupon it becomes wishful thinking.

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24 comments

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24 thoughts on “Hoping beyond hope at
Copenhagen

  1. Jonathan Maddox

    “technological feats so far beyond our imagination”?

    Clive, there are dozens of techniques which have been imagined that could achieve that. Some are relatively cheap but considered risky (geosequestration with pulverised olivine, ocean iron fertilisation for deep-ocean sequestration); others are absurdly expensive (“artificial trees”)

    But the simplest techniques are inexpensive, well-known and will have net economic benefits rather than costs : these are, combating deforestation with economic measures and enforcement; by improving agricultural techniques over and above slash-and-burn; and an expansion of productive forestry into degraded pasture or agricultural lands.

    Combined with a change away from wasteful fossil fuel use to renewable energy and more efficient use of cleaner fuels, the reduction is well within the realms of physical and economic possibility.

    Political will is, of course, another matter.

  2. stevieholden

    coal is more dangerous than nuclear power. which reminds me that France has had an ETS for quite a while, also they are in the process of introducing a carbon tax, not to mention that 70% of their electricity comes from uranium. All in an effort to slash co2 emissions.

    does this mean Australia is dragging the chain ?

    http://www.euractiv.com/en/climate-change/eu-emissions-trading-scheme/article-133629

  3. AR

    As maddox sed – there are a multitude of simple actions that could be taken and CHEAP in that they’ll also create jobs. It’s a old saw of the Right that if less of somkething is desired, tax it. The Lef tended to think that subsidies made more things betterly, a notion of which almost a century of tariffs & boards should have disabused them.
    Tax the basic sources of most energy, coal & oil, and use that tax windfall to allow tax holidays for start-ups that are small & local, by definition the best suited for local conditon. Most will fail or fail to thrive but those that succeed will be models to be overtaken and rendered outmoded.
    And all the while, everyone who can hold a hammer at the correct end, or twist a spanner or design a system or any other thing required,will be doing something worthwhile, earning and paying TAXES even if only GST.
    Or wqe can keep shovelling $100 bills into the power generators while they laugh all the way to the bank. One must assume they are eunuchs who don’t have kids or moral myopics, either way we could do with fewer of them, wasting oxygen.

  4. Joan20

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  5. Frank Campbell

    “Copenhagen is chock-full of mayors, state premiers and myriad others who are used to being treated as important.”

    Exactly. Chaos. Big-noting. A frozen wankfest.

    Mike Rann and Clive Calvin: swapping cliches in a hotel room. Until the escort arrives and Clive leaves.

  6. Ian Rudd

    Clive, I think you grossly overstate Obama’s intent. Yes he has a Congress & Senate that are obstructionist but he has shown no real willingness to actually DO something on climate change or any other issue facing America (eg the wars, health care, the finance industry, Israel etc etc). In my humble opinion he is as useless as any other president since perhaps Roosevelt.

  7. Richard Wilson

    Copenhagen Shopenhagen!

    Talk about an aimless desire to perpetuate oneself. The rich of the world; (I’m talking about the really rich who own this place – not their hand puppets), see fraudulent carbon trading as the replacement for the fraudulent housing bubble, which in turn had replaced the fraudulent Dotcom bubble.

    It’s time for all the puppets and their free-lunchers to go home to their masters “returned empty”. Have you seen the entourage from this country that we taxpayers stumped up for! Must be hundreds! In fact, I want to know what this little junket has cost us? So …. Opposition, Independents and Greens ask the question.

    This whole thing is a complete joke at our expense. Sadly such escapades are always at our expense and even sadder we always agree to pay for this cr@p.

    If there really were anything to this climate change thing, at least anything man could influence, the world would have already mandated no fossil fuels by 2025 at the latest, introduced and incentivised the introduction of non polluting vehicles and established a program to run existing pollution heavy transportation out over the next 20 years.
    All can be done without a global carbon derivatives exchange which looks like it might be on hold now till the next “snout in trough fest” in Mexico and I am doubtful the US dollar can hang on that long. (See new oil money system being set up by the Arabs).

    What upsets me most about all this stuff is people who make money out of being parasites. They don’t produce anything and they don’t fix anything. They sit around concocting schemes which produce nothing and add nothing to productivity. They merely take a margin on the new game of pass the parcel which, if you wake up, is introduced every ten years. In the meantime the middle class and retirees get robbed of their superannuation and other investments and the real world continues to go down the gurgler.

    Carbon trading, I suspect, is designed to replace the housing bubble and fill in the $500+ trillion derivatives hole that the BIS says currently exists. People around the world in the rich and the poor nations have to tell them to shove it where the sun doesn’t shine because we can only lose from a scam that offers to no material improvement in anything anywhere. That people cannot see this obvious scam is testimony to the power of the client follower media and their spinmeister accomplices.
    .
    Its time to tell these crooks to drop dead and start doing things for ourselves. That means taking responsibility for our own futures. This “entitlements mentality” is so 20th century! It is destroying any ounce of human resourcefulness we have left.

    Let’s force access to all the geothermal patents that have been locked away and then get moving on a practical plan to prevent the planet from being poisoned and I am not talking about carbon dioxcide here.

    Where geothermal energy is presently being used, it is costing about the same as wind which is far less than solar. Its advantage is that it doesnt stop when the wind dies down, it is everpresent. I am pretty sure that we are only seeing the inefficient end of the geothermal design spectrum at the moment so lets get moving.

  8. Frank Campbell

    Richard Wilson: I don’t know if your neologism “carbon dioxcide” was intentional- but it’s brilliant. Consider it memed.