A climate deal that flatters to deceive
Amazing, really, considering that our Prime Minister, in common with almost every other head of government, chose to stay away from unseasonably cool Cancun.
How's this for upbeat reporting? "The breakthrough - which Britain and the Prime Minister did much to bring about - came amid unprecedented scenes of enthusiasm and emotion in the early hours of Saturday morning, when tears flowed and thunderous ovations from almost all the representatives of the 194 nations gathered in the resort's sprawling Moon Palace hotel complex drowned out the last resistance."
Thus, in The Daily Telegraph, the doyen of environment correspondents, Geoffrey Lean, gave David Cameron star billing for negotiating the saving of the planet at the Cancun UN climate change summit. Amazing, really, considering that our Prime Minister, in common with almost every other head of government, chose to stay away from unseasonably cool Cancun. He obviously has a wonderful telephone manner.
Yet what is this deal that had the delegates, by Lean's on-thespot account, shedding copious tears of happiness and relief? As far as I can tell, there was no advance on the vapid pledges made a year ago in Copenhagen, and which were deemed at the time to be retrograde and almost worthless.
The UN member states agreed in Cancun that they "shall aim to complete" further commitments by developed nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions "as early as possible".
The agreement dropped the earlier text that called on the world to cut emissions by 50 per cent and richer countries by over 80 per cent by 2050; in its place, all concerned agreed to "work towards identifying a global goal for substantially reduced global emissions by 2050". Yada, yada.
Oh, and the delegates repeated their Copenhagen commitment to set up a Green Climate Fund of $100bn to "address the needs of developing countries".
We are given no clear idea of how this money is to be raised, delivered or allocated.
In short, every decision which would actually involve invigilated action by identifiable countries has been kicked down the road to Durban, the venue for the final UN climate summit to renew the Kyoto Protocol before it lapses in 2012. Strikingly, it was the country which hosted that agreement, Japan (generally seen as the good guy in these circles), which declared at the outset of the Cancun summit that it now had no intention of agreeing any further cuts in emissions, unless China and America agreed to be bound by the 1997 Kyoto targets - which neither of the two biggest emitters have shown any inclination to do in the intervening period.
That they have not, owes more to reason than those nation's critics are often prepared to allow. Even on the calculations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), full implementation of the Kyoto Accord would have cost hundreds of billions of dollars in lost economic growth, while helping to reduce global temperatures by less than one third of one degree Fahrenheit in 100 years.
It is hardly any wonder that there are no serious economists to be found who think that the best way to relieve global poverty, in the developing world or anywhere else, is in fighting the good fight against carbon emissions.
Had the boom years of the late 1990s and early 2000s continued, then their arguments might have gained much less traction; but at a time of deep fiscal retrenchment and with a steep rise in families affected by fuel poverty (that is, those who need to spend over 10 per cent of their income on fuel) such critiques have become much more compelling. No wonder the developed nations were studiously unspecific in Cancun about the sources and method of collection of the $100bn Green Climate Fund for poorer countries.