It would be wrong to say that nothing came out of the Copenhagen conference. Just ask the Chinese.
From the perspective of the Peoples Republic of China — and their allies in India, Brazil and South Africa — the Copenhagen conference was a howling, screaming success. They got everything they wanted out of it and a lot more.
Start with what they prevented from happening.
The conference produced neither a successor to the Kyoto Treaty, nor a binding treaty generally. This mattered big time to the Third World, since the Kyoto Treaty exempted Third World nations from limiting their greenhouse gas emissions.
The conference produced no longterm or short-term quantifiable targets for overall reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, nor any timeline for meeting them.
It produced no mention of a peaking year for greenhouse gas emissions, something that western governments considered essential for keeping global temperature rises below 2 degrees Celsius.
Western governments wanted 2020 to be the peak year.
The Chinese even prevented any mention in the final communiqué — the so-called Copenhagen Accord — of the targets for greenhouse gas reduction that had already been unilaterally adopted by developed countries.
More positively (if that’s the correct characterization) the Chinese and their allies succeeded in getting the UN to set up a registry where the countries of the world could list the steps they intend to take to reduce greenhouse gases and combat climate change. Listing steps is completely voluntary, as is actually carrying them out. Creation of the registry will allow China (and one suspects any number of Third World copycats) to register its policy of reducing the carbon intensity of each dollar of GDP it produces by 40 to 45 percent by 2020 — and thereby give the carbon intensity reduction strategy international legitimacy. The problem with this approach is that if China’s economy continues to grow at its current rate — 8 percent annually — for the next 10 years, China’s overall output of greenhouse gases in 2020 will be about 75 percent higher than it is today, even after the putative carbon intensity reductions.
China and its allies also got language inserted into the final accord explicitly stating that social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries, which may be admirable in terms of social justice but means the Third World can treat reducing greenhouse gas emissions as a low priority.
China and its Indian, Brazilian, and South African allies essentially organized themselves as a gang of four, so to speak, to advocate for the foregoing policies, and they succeeded in rallying most of the Third World behind them. This may be the most important thing to come out of the Copenhagen conference. From now on it will be China and the Third World that call the shots on international climate change policies, not Europe and the United States.
China and its Third World allies also got Europe and the United States to agree to create a $100 billion a year fund to help poor nations adopt green technologies and cope with the effects of climate change. To be sure, the chances of this fund actually materializing are improbable — the U.S. taxpayer and his or her elected representatives are apt to be reluctant to hand that kind of money over to the same folks who gave Hugo Chavez a standing ovation for bashing the United States — but the unfulfilled promise will become another pretext for the Third World doing nothing on climate.
What can we make of all this? Self-evidently, China and most of the Third World do not see global warming as a threat to their countries, and they aren’t going to proactively lift a finger to do anything about it, although they will be more than happy to put up somewindmills, solar panels and nuclear reactors if the west is willing to pay for them.
The real threat, in their estimation, are the efforts of western greens to combat global warming, which they see as threatening their economic development. And that appears to have rallied and unified the Third World in ways that nothing has since the end of colonialism.
But then why should the Third World take the threat seriously? It doesn’t have to go very far to find evidence that environmentalists themselves don’t, never mind western climate skeptics.
Consider, for example, the bill introduced in Congress recently by Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-California, which, if passed, will put more than 1 million acres of Mojave Desert land off limits to development, derail plans for at least a dozen solar thermal power plants, and put California’s plans for getting a third of its energy from non-carbon sources at risk.
To be sure, an environmental case can be made for protecting the Mojave Desert and the desert tortoise that lives there. But if that is put ahead of solar power development, it is pretty hard to make the case that global warming poses much of a threat.
Or, as one climate skeptic recently put it: “I’ll believe global warming is a crisis when the people who say it’s a crisis start acting like it’s a crisis.”