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Climate skeptics react to Durban

  • 13 Dec 2011, 16:00
  • Robin Webster

There's been a complex reaction to the outcome of the UN climate talks at Durban. Many have focused on the political victory - the remarkable achievement of binding the US, China and India to an outcome with "legal force".

On the other hand, some have labelled it a failure as any deal made will not come into force until 2020, and environmental groups are unanimously focused on pointing out the deal will not currently prevent a 2C temperature rise.

Climate skeptic lobbyists have also been giving their thoughts. Before the agreement was finalised, Lord Monckton, writing on the prominent climate skeptic blog Watts Up With That, sounded the alarm (again) over the UN's plot to bring about 'world government'. Whilst the outcome of the talks still remained unclear, he wrote that:

"The profiteering UN bureaucrats here think otherwise. Their plans to establish a world government paid for by the West on the pretext of dealing with the non-problem of "global warming" are now well in hand.

It is hard to imagine the exhausted UN delegates on Sunday morning having the energy left to establish a world government, but we may have missed something.

After the agreement was finalised Benny Peiser of the Global Warming Policy Foundation took a different tack, writing that:

As expected, climate delayers won the battle at the U.N. climate talks in Durban early on Sunday. They succeeded in delaying any decision on CO2 emissions caps for years to come. There is now little prospect of a global agreement before 2020. In any case, the West would have to cough up £100 billion per year before anyone will sign up to anything.

This represents heroic back-pedalling from Lord Lawson et al, who since Copenhagen have been arguing that there will be no global agreement, that climate change as an issue is dead in the water, and that governments should forget about reducing emissions.

Just back in August, for example, Lawson said:

"The idea that there's going to be some global agreement is complete nonsense. There's not going to be a global agreement. The Chinese have made it absolutely clear, at various United Nations conferences, the Indians have made it clear too, the United States had made it clear that unless China and India join in a global agreement, they're not going to do it."

And here he is in the Daily Mail, also from this year:

For the UK, responsible for 2 per cent of global emissions, to go it alone is futile folly.

And the complete failure of the UN-sponsored environment jamborees - in Cancun last year and Copenhagen the year before - to achieve a global decarbonisation agreement clearly shows that this is not happening and, in my judgment, is not going to happen.

China, the biggest global emitter, has made it clear that it will not accept any restraint on its use of carbon-based energy, as has India. (The annual increase in China's emissions, incidentally, is greater than the UK's total emissions.) And the U.S., the second-largest emitter, has made it clear that without China and India on board, there is no prospect of the U.S. signing up to anything.

These predictions have turned out to be wrong. China, India and the US have found something they can agree on - although there is more waiting until emissions reductions commitments are made. The GWPF's new message is therefore that this is a victory for 'climate delayers':

The climate delayers have been successful in pursuing a shrewd wait-and-see strategy which has now been enshrined as the only game in town of climate Realpolitik.

Interestingly, the GWPF's statement makes it look rather like they place themselves in the 'climate delayer' camp, perhaps along with Bjorn Lomborg. His opinion piece in yesterday's Wall Street Journal took a similar tack to Lawson, arguing that the focus on reducing emissions is mistaken because it is never going to happen politically, and that we should focus on adaptation, rather than mitigation.

In reality climate skeptics had limited impact in Durban - even Monckton's attempt to attract attention by leaping out of an aeroplane seemed to pass off with little more than a few amused tweets.

On the other hand, messages which advise politicians to wait and see, to underplay, to delay and to leave it to someone else's term of office are always going to be attractive, and it would be a mistake to underplay their impact.

As BusinessGreen puts it:

These treaties mirror nuclear disarmament agreements; they are a great starting point, but their success is entirely dependent on the willingness of signatories to actually begin to disarm.

Now that the Durban agreement to agree has been made, it's a safe bet the climate delayers will focus their attention on ensuring any progress is slowed.

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