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Copenhagen's shotgun wedding - what did participants honestly expect?

Copenhagen indeed has proven yet 'Another overhyped talkfest in a series of duds!'

Copenhagen's much hyped COP15 was all navel gazing on communications consultants' hype. Like Copenhagen tourism, I bet the consultants pocketed nicely! And what a setting, beautifully detached Copenhagen!

Arrogant to the needs of developing nations and of sea-level nations and strangely even to the needs of developed nations, Copenhagen was doomed to fail. Copenhagen was doomed to fail simply on the basis of distrust on entry by each of the 192 nations and on account of the threatening opening speech of the conference.

The previous climate forum of 12 years before, labelled the 'Kyoto Protocol', had developed/industrial nations in breach of its undertakings. So with trust breached by industrial nations going into Copenhagen, any offerings of goodwill by developing nations had been undermined before the Danish talks commenced.
So on the back of this leadership shamozzle, do gooding Scandanavians held fast to host 192 disunited countries make cast iron national decisions under the pressure of just 2 weeks. Forced marriages are outlawed in civilised countries these days.

Worse is that the participants were being asked to commit to economic restrictions in the wake of a global financial crisis so that the UN could impose a sense of idealism at a time when pragmatically traits of a recession lingered. Perhaps this aim was a tad adventurous.

When it comes to complex global issues posing long-term adverse economic, social and environmental consequences whose expectations thought a two week brainstorming session by opposing ideologies under duress would deliver a silver bullet consensus blueprint appeasing developed and developing nations in one go?

It's Alice in Wonderland and if the Danish government were accountable beyond its tourism boom it would make publicly transparent the total conference costs, the total greenhouse gas emissions by staging the conference.

Copenhagen was just another wasteful talkfest as predicted. The Scandinavians should think twice next time about offering their white knight image to solve the dirty world's problems.

Tuvalu should host the next one in a year's time, at the complete expense of the top 3 worst greenhouse gas polluters. Nothing like working at the 'coal face' to deal with the real problems and issues.

But wherever the next conference is held, it must be preceded by a series of multilateral negotiations on each of the issues with agreements and funding already legally secured. This should be done using online conferencing not airline fuels. Such a complex overarching conference can only be a consolidation of previously secured agreements.

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Kevin Rudd said developing nations needed to acknowledge that if they did not act to bring down their own emissions they would soon be responsible for 50 per cent of all carbon emissions in the atmosphere.

This is quite ironical as Australia has surpassed the US as the world’s biggest per capita producer of carbon emissions, according to a report by a British risk consultancy. Analyst Maplecroft estimates that Australian CO2 output per head of population now stands at 20.5 tons annually, putting it ahead of the 19.7 tons emitted by the average American.

Developed nations typically have high carbon dioxide emissions per capita and total carbon emissions. Therefore, even with a large population in the developing countries, they are only responsible for carbon emissions of 7 per cent: one-seventh of what the wealthy nations are contributing.

The emission of greenhouse gases, associated with industrialisation and strong economic growth from a world population that has increased sixfold in 200 years, is causing global warming at a rate that began as significant, has become alarming and is simply unsustainable in the long term.

Every time wealthy nations are reminded of their contribution to the degradation of our environment, they tend to point fingers at poorer countries and talk about population. No wonder there is now an impasse at Copenhagen!

The Optimum Population Trust wants the world to prioritize family planning. It estimates that 200 million women - mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia - don't have access to birth control. Given the opportunity, the Trust believes many people would choose to have fewer children.

In the last 20 years, the number of international migrants around the world has increased 200 percent from 100 to 200 million per year. Developing countries are unable to cope with the high level of demographic growth and are unable to create enough jobs for the number of people entering the labor market. Immigration is globalising the problem of overpopulation and acerbating emissions rather than allowing each nation to face their own contributions and stabilise their growth.

In some developed countries like Australia, the low birth rate and the increasingly aging populations mean that for "continued economic prosperity and the ability to care for the needs of the aging", a steady labor flow from other countries is seen as "necessary".

Without discussion about global population growth, and developed countries like Australia's "need" for mass immigration and developing countries runaway and disastrous growth in human numbers, there was never a chance of a climate change deal being sealed in Copenhagen.

The elephant in the room was being ignored!

Ranking countries on the basis of carbon emissions per capita has merit just like ranking according to aggregate carbon emissions. The reduction responses and funding of carbon reduction programmes should be proportional on both bases.

There are many related issues and many causes and many options.
The first step should start by being pragmatic and focusing on what works the fastest and has most reduction impact. While population growth is indeed a herd of elephants charging in the room, in the short term only wars and famine would make a noticeable impact and I think that is too unethical. One child policies cannot work in democracies.

Better to have focused on what works fastest most effectively. Tackling deforestation is the fastest and is simply a matter of compensation being paid by the haves to the have nots. As it turns out the 'have nots' are the ones ripping down native forests the fastest.

If Copenhagen had just addressed deforestation, it would have achieved a significant inroad - 20% reduction in one year or something in that order.

News of the pledge by US based Climate Progress of US$1 billion over three years towards decreasing deforestation is an excellent outcome. The funding will go to developing countries that develop REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) programs.

I like the term 'Logger Compo'.

Developing countries need the money, the world needs to keep its forests intact - a simple, workable, political solution. They could have let Obama announce it and his global followers would be happy.

Tiger Quoll
Snowy River 3885

Kevin Rudd wants a "big" Australia with a big population, big mining and coal industries, big logging companies such as Gunns, big polluting desalination plants and a big economy.
Australia's population growth rate the highest in 40 years. We have the highest number of livestock per capita in the world, and we are major exporters of coal, the dirtiest of fossil fuels! We are world leaders in greenhouse gases per capita.

Anything he does towards reducing economic output will be thrown back at him and business sectors won't sponsor his re-election.

Unfortunately all these "bigs" mean high greenhouse gas emissions and high pollution.
There is no way Australia can align with the big populations of China, India, Japan and the rest of Asia.

Our one-issue political parties, based on economic growth and power, are not compatible with negotiating global climate change agreements.

Someone should inform Kevin that 'big is not better'. Perhaps Rudd has Obama-envy.

If Rudd wants to perform for Australia's interests and not his own, Rudd needs to start achieving quality not quantity on combatting climate change, because after 18 months Australia is knee deep in committees and speeches, yet parched on betterment results. Since coming to PM-ship what has Rudd done to combat deforestation in Australia? What new national parks has Rudd announced?

The days of thinking big 20th Century Fox scale industry is just going to dig us a deeper economic boom-bust cycle and worsen urban Australia's greenhouse gas cultural addiction. Obama and Rudd both would do well to invest less energy into speech craft and more into tangible ecological results.

Ecological science is about life processes, distribution and abundance of organisms, the movement of materials and energy through living communities, the successional development of ecosystems, and the abundance and distribution of biodiversity in context of the environment

Rudd would be better informed by having fewer economists on his staff and just one independently thinking ecologist to informing him what the above paragraph means.

The Gunns board made a strategic mistake culturally shifting away from its core hardware industry to what the latest charismatic CEO thought was a gangbuster - harmful deforestation. What drugs were the board on that day? Tasmania is a local pure New Zealand within Australia with one of the rarest opportunities for leading the new green industry revolution in every one of its industries, yet 19th Century Gunns has committed to rape and corrupt Tasmania natural assets and condemn the island to pure image pergatory.

Yes Vivienne, the 'per capita' benchmark is a more honest comparable measure of a country's performance and instantly discounts those who say wait and do nothing until the big emitters move. Such folk in need of guidance should perhaps form a 'Sheep Party' and then advertise for a shepherd.

The proven analysis technique of 'Standard Costing' should be applied to greenhouse gas measurement. It has similar benefits to measuring socio-economic performance on a 'per capita' basis.

Tiger Quoll
Snowy River 3885

Tiger Quoll,

I love almost everything you write. But this time I beg to differ. This is what I wrote about population-denier Monbiot's attack on the Canadian government's climate change record:

Monbiot’s Continuing Obsession with Per Capitas

In the wake of his scathing indictment of Canada’s irresponsible record in fighting climate change, George Monbiot was interviewed on CBC Radio on December 7th (2009). Any guest that who will join in a politically gang-bang of the Harper government is welcome on CBC Pravda—not that Harper hasn’t got it coming. But then, so do the opposition parties, but more.

What makes Monbiot so potently dangerous is that the kernel of misunderstanding inherent in his analysis is shrouded by several good points. He referred to an article in Nature Magazine that stated that if we are to avoid the 2 degree tipping point that most proponents of man-made climate change (AGW) cite as the fulcrum point between manageable and catastrophic global temperature increase, we must leave 40% of known conventional fossil fuel reserves (oil, gas and coal) in the ground. Since the oil in the Alberta tar sands is the dirtiest (with a CO2 footprint some 30-40% higher than conventional oil), he argued, it should be the first among the 40% left untouched, followed by coal. He observed that Canadian climate change policy was being driven by Albertan policy, that is, by the determination to exploit the tar sands. Not quite.

Canadian climate change policy, like its immigration policy, is actually driven by a belief in the necessity of economic growth. And the commitment to this ruinous policy is bipartisan. The four major parties all believe that economic growth is the key to our “prosperity”, and that population growth, for all intents and purposes mass immigration, is the sine que non of economic growth. Their difference does not lie in whether to grow the pie, but only on how it should be divided. The fifth, extra parliamentary party, the Greens, are led by an ideological schizophrenic, Elizabeth May. She has often quoted Paul Ehrlich’s statement, that “economic growth is the ideology of the cancer cell”, but nevertheless favours, along with the NDP and the Liberals, an immigration intake 25% than the Harper government allows. Canada already has the second highest per capita immigration intake in the world, and the highest population growth rate in the G8 group. May somehow believes that population growth has nothing to do with environmental degradation. She is dead wrong.

The five million immigrants who have arrived since 1990 when immigration began its dramatic skyward increase, have contributed four times as much Green House Gas (GHG) emissions as the entire tar sands project, and required an increase of housing stock that has covered four times the area of the tar sands development---the largest land-surface engineering project in the world. Four years of average immigration results in GHG emissions equivalent to the 40 million metric tonnes that the tar sands emitted in 2008. Yet neither the Greens nor the Liberals and New Democrats will cite immigration policy as a major culprit in climate change . And neither will Monbiot. Since none of the opposition parties committed to actually shutting down the tar sands, by their willingness to hike immigration and population levels they actually would generate more GHG emissions than the Harper government is responsible for. Despite the worst of intentions, objectively, the Conservatives are the greenest political party in Ottawa, believe it or not. But then, they would be, since the Sierra Club gave them the poorest grade in the field.

Monbiot’s assessment of Canadian government performance not only suffers from this omission, but from his persistent inability to distinguish between per capita emissions and total emissions, a subset of the common green focus on per capita consumption to the neglect of total consumption. Nature does not care about per capitas. It does not award medals to folks who live virtuous and frugal lives. At the end of the day, it cares only about the total amount of consumption and the total amount of GHG emissions. We may award brownie—or greenie---points to individuals who reduce their personal footprint---but nature doesn’t care about our moral sanctions. So Monbiot’s poor review of Canada’s per capita GHG emissions relative to China or India is irrelevant. What is relevant is Canada’s total GHG output compared to others.

Monbiot points out that the GHG emission from the average Canadian is 15 times that of the average Indian. Canadians emit about 20 metric tonnes of GHG while Indians emit just 1.5 metric tonnes of GHG per capita. So what? Canada has 34 million GHG emitters but India has 1.5 billion GHG emitters. Nature’s scorecard shows that Canada emits 680 million metric tonnes per year while India emits 1.95 billion metric tonnes. India emits 2.86 times as much GHG as Canada does. That is the stat that counts. If Canada is to be held morally accountable for its high GHG emissions relative to its population level, then surely India should be held morally accountable for allowing its population to grow to 1.5 billion people. Overpopulation deserves equal billing to overconsumption. Lower per capita emissions do not, or should not, assign superior moral authority to India. Canada should work to lower its per capita GHG emissions, but it should also work to lower its total GHG emissions. India, on the other hand, should get off its high horse, pull up its sleeves and contract its population.

Monbiot, meanwhile, should carry a calculator when he mounts the pulpit, and put the “P” back into the IPAT equation.

Tim Murray
December 8/09


RE: Your comment 'Per capita emissions mean squat to Mother Nature'

Clearly the biggest polluters and biggest aggregate consumers like the US are causing the most greenhouse damage to the planet. But my argument is that why should countries like Australia, despite being comparatively smaller overall contributors to the greenhouse gas emission problem, be less complicit when on a per capita basis we are high contributors? Australia remains one of the highest per-capita polluters in the world, and the developed country most at risk from climate change. "The 'per capita entitlements' approach takes as its starting point the equal right of each person to use the atmosphere as a global commons. In a pure per capita approach, there is no reference to current emissions levels, but simply a global budget allocated equally to countries based on population." [UNDP - Bali Road Map]

Countries keep finding excuses for why they don't have to change their consumption habits. Australia says wait and see what the US and China do. China says developed nations should do their bit first. The US says China needs to be accountable. Finger pointing was one of the cause why Copenhagen failed.

The problem of global warming we are told is due to humanity's excessive greenhouse gas emissions. The problem needs to be realised at a global, regional, national, city and individual level.

Tim, are you suggesting that individuals are only responsible for our environmental problems on a collective basis? The sum of the individual parts usually exceeds the whole. Surely tackling a problem that has been avoided over successive decades in favour of decadence warrants tackling it from both the collective and individual levels in order to catch up to where we should be? I like the synergistic approach where different entities cooperate advantageously for a final outcome.

As far as I can gleam from the little I know about climate change fighter, George Monbiot, he is vocally and constructively contributing to the debate on climate change. I agree with his view that "drastic action coupled with strong political will is needed to combat global warming".

He also has merit in recommending
* Setting targets on greenhouse emissions using the latest science;
* Issuing every citizen with a 'personal carbon ration';
* New building regulations with houses built to German passivhaus standards
* Banning incandescent lightbulbs, patio heaters, garden floodlights, and other inefficient technologies and wasteful applications;
* Constructing large offshore wind farms;
* A new national coach network to make journeys using public transport faster than using a car
* All petrol stations to supply leasable electric car batteries with stations equipped with a crane service to replace depleted batteries;
* Scrap road-building and road-widening programmes, redirecting their budgets to tackle climate change;
* Reduce UK airport capacity by 90%;
* Closing down all out-of-town superstores and replacing them with warehouses and a delivery system."


Monbiot isn't perfect, but who is? I question his idea about piping hydrogen instead of liquid petroleum gas. But at least he is contributing more than most. If we only let PhD'd experts to criticise or offer ideas, we would be a poorer society indeed. Go along to any community meeting on any subject and you will be impressed with just how much inherent knowledge and inventiveness lies out there untapped. We should each be questioning all of the main contributors to greenhouse gases and debating all suggestions like the ones Monbiot espouses.

Australia is still head long into building wider highways as if we are stuck in 1960, despite the performance our PM Rudd gives when on global tour.

Yes, immigration is relevant too. But really it is just shuffling around the global overpopulation problem and NIMBYism is starting to kick where population is being poorly managed. A core driver of greenhouse gases is excess demand which has it root cause in overpopulation itself. Other root causes of greenhouse gas emissions are excessive consumerism (aggregate and per capita) and the cultural premise that economic growth his good and no growth is infinitely bad and depressing. I have often thought of imposing a fat tax on anyone over a certain BMI, but that would draw human rights criticism. If we are challenging western excesses, do individuals have a right to engorge?

Others should be offering alternatives in the same way George Monbiot is flagging the problem and offering alternatives at the national and individual levels.

Tiger Quoll
Snowy River 3885

For Tim's response to this comment: see "It is socially responsible to be socially irresponsible" of 4 Jan 09.

I would just like to point out a couple of problems with the 'per capita' thing. One is that it is obviously being used as an excuse by green-branded groups and government to increase Australia's population without citizen consent so that a claim can be made to be reducing per-capita emissions by growing the poorer sector. That's a way of having your cake and eating it for the growth-lobby: they can divide an ever growing number of people into the total emissions and point at how the many are consuming less and less (due to living in poverty). At the same time, they can point to growing markets, composed of many low consumers making up a large consumption and paying more money per emission.

The elites who are herding us into this mess make more and more money out of every pseudo-solution.

It has also been observed elsewhere that this tactic comforts the new class that wants to go on having huge television screens and driving cars and living as if fossil fuel had no tomorrow, but still wearing badges of environmentalism and generosity. How does it do this? They can point to how generous they are to immigrants and refugees, how willing to share they are, and still live high on the hog.

Some other per capita will have to make those sacrifices on their behalf, but they will still wear the badge.

Oh, then there is the third thing (which is implicit in the above). Industry drives most emissions, the media drive consumption, and most per-capitas (i.e. most people, most Joe-Blows) have little choice. They are just seen as consumers and marketed to and moralised to as such. In much the way that the Church not so long ago picked on its flock for masturbating, knowing that most of them would go on doing it but feeling awful. So it is that most of us are made to feel guilty for being trapped in a media marketed machine that forces us to act against our collective best interests, either by convincing us that what we perceive isn't real, or making us conform by force - e.g. tollways we have to use, immigration policies we weren't consulted on, putting our taxes to destructive use when we have no way of withholding them etc etc.

Oh, and of course, the Church is still in the game, trying to make us feel guilty for not having enough per capitas per family. See Tim Murray's article Alliance for death (aka “Life”).

I like the idea of Climate Change conflabs being held on Tuvalu. I think the G7 should be held there. In fact it would be a good idea to move the Whitehouse there and Australia's Parliament house there permanently. I don't know if that would daunt the government growth-lobby though; they would probably be flogging Tuvalu ocean views over the internet, with the help of the Foreign Investment Review Board. In fact, has anyone looked at the NFIRB site lately - it could already be happening.

Has Shakespeare written something to cover this situation? A classical point of reference might stimulate wider-reaching debate.

At the moment I feel that we are each in the position of hobbits, choosing to try to combat the dark forces or deciding to go back to bed and pretend it's all not happening. But the dark forces are certainly abroad, more and more strongly, and, as Frodo was told, I think, they were going to come and get the hobbits, so he might as well go out there and try to stop them before they got there - or some such.

Where are the Ents? They had better hurry.

Sheila Newman, population sociologist

Vivienne writes:

" Our one-issue political parties, based on economic growth and power, are not compatible with negotiating global climate change agreements."

Are not all parties dedicated to economic growth? Are not left and right both committed to "growing the pie"? The only quibble being how that pie is to be divided? Do not left and right both assume that the ingredients for baking that pie will always relatively cheap and plentiful (oil, natural gas, water and precious metals)? Are not the people of Australia, Canada and the UK, for example, living under a one-party growthist state, one party with factions who conduct a sham battle that we call "choice"?

The New Democratic Party (NDP) is Canada's 'democratic' socialist party, or social-democratic party (depending on how they what to persuade). To capture the green vote, the British Columbia NDP has produced a "vision" statement of several pages called "Building a Sustainable BC". Not once in that document do they link environmental degradation or climate change to population or economic growth. Not once do they question the ability of an NDP government or any government to "grow the revenues" in a post carbon world. Not once do they reject growth. In other words, they wouldn't recognize "sustainability" if it rose up and bit them on the ass. Sustainability is just a buzzword that if attached to the most damaging megaproject suddenly makes it innocuous. Both right and left now, use the same jargon. The NDP wants to promote a "business-friendly environment", "sustainable development" and "smart growth". Growth in green paint.

Tim Murray


RE: Your comment "In a one-party growthist state, there is no right or left'

Your pie analogy, while offering a simplistic comparison to Australia in terms of allocation of limited resources; the economic, political and social environments (and others) are more complex than a two dimensional pie.

Throw in complexities like factional agendas, election cycles, extrenal forces like GFC, Copenhagen, US policy influence/commitments, pressure from lobby groups, events in the media, then party policies (like economic growth, etc), budget commitments and clearly the pie analogy becomes inadequate. It is logical to try to make sense of complex issues and to deconstruct a complex problem into a simpler problems easier to grasp. But the risk in doing so is to come to a simplistic assessment of a complex problem and this can restrict solutions to those that ignore the complex components.

My approach is to independently gather the facts using an evidence-based approach. What are indicator statistics - economic, environmental and social metrics? What are the current numbers and what are the trends? Who are the experts?

Involve them. Make the problem solving task public. Involve the public. Political parties in government need to be held publicly accountable for decisions of public resource allocation at each step, not just at election time. Governments should be legally made to publicly declare all denotions and revenues and also all submissions from lobbyists. Democracy iin its current framework is not delivering democracy in the spirit intended. It has be allowed to reduce to the letter of the law.

We need a paradigm shift away from our current limited democacy framework - typically the two party system, which characterises most countries. In Economics, an oligopoly is a market form in which a market or industry is dominated by a small number of sellers (oligopolists). Telephone networks in Canada, Australia and the UK are cases in point. This has problems of market dominance by a few, so a concentration of power, risks of collusion and corruption and which encourages ridigity in government. The only way an electorate can change that ridigity is to periodically switch between the two dominant players. Progress becomes a slow pendulum and many voters disconnect from the process out of frustration.

It is time for a paradigm shift towards 'Transparent Democracy' starting with changing the electoral framework to enable more parties to have greater opportunity in government. One means is to ban political donations whioch enable the incumbents run exceedingly expensive campaigns that deny the minor parties a chance of competing. The US presidential election model is a case in point.

We then need to identify direct drivers (causes, pushes) of these statistics and what are the underlying root causes?
Where do we want to be in 5, 10, 20, 50 years time in terms of benchmark figures and which models in the world seem to have successfully got a happy balance that we can emulate? If perpetually increasing growth is no longer viable, what are the alternatives? What are the drivers of political policy and let's get them out in the public arena to for debate. The UN model of a international watchdog has proven toothless and useless. The 'Haves' keep tilting the wealth away from the 'Have Nots' to themselves. It ain't working. A stronger international watchdog is needed.

For instance, since GFC Mark 1, what policies have been put in place to address the underlying root causes, that an independent watchdog can varify will avert a GFC Mark 2? If population growth is a common underlying root cause f demand pressures that are exceeding global carrying capacity, how is this dealt with? Which countries start having a once child policy? China did it as a dictatorship and sisnce relaxed this policy, but how would this be enforced in democratic societies?

The problem is complex at every turn. But that doesn't mean it's too hard. The evidence and the intelligenyt anaylsis needs to come together in a serious of problem solving sessions. It will take more than 2 weeks with 192 countries forced to an arbitrary deadline. Copenhagen was an analogy of the boss demanding his sales manager deliver results on his desk by COB friday.

Tiger Quoll
Snowy River 3885