As expected, an informal coalition of major emitters such as the USA, China, India and Russia won the battle at the climate talks early on Sunday when they succeeded in delaying any binding decisions on CO2 emissions caps for years to come.
That postponed the danger of a legally binding climate treaty that would force major nations to impose extremely costly restrictions on cheap energy and thus their economic growth. “Business as usual” is now the unofficial motto of international climate policy.
With the enduring standoff in international climate diplomacy almost certain to continue, even environmentalists agree that the Kyoto Protocol will continue only as an empty shell. Europe’s political isolation on CO2 emissions has deepened, with Canada yesterday dropping out of the Kyoto Protocol and Japan and Russia too considering abandoning the sinking ship.
Even before the start of the Durban talks, the Basic countries – China, India, South Africa and Brazil – had announced that any future agreement must be based on the next report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which will not be published until 2014, and a review of the UN climate convention – not due to happen before 2015.
In truth, a global agreement on binding emissions caps is unlikely to ever materialise. By demanding an annual climate fund of $100bn (£64.2bn), together with billions worth of technology transfers, the Basic nations and their allies have kicked the ball into the West’s court, knowing full well that their key condition is not going to be met.
Behind closed doors, similar delaying tactics were surreptitiously entertained by other major nations such as Canada, Russia and the United States. In the eyes of many environmentalists, the manifest obstruction employed by US diplomats was not much different from similar delaying tactics routinely exercised by the Bush administration – all, of course, in the national interest.
In any case, the Obama administration – struggling with an astronomical debt burden and economic sluggishness – is refusing to sign up to any significant wealth transfer to its up-and-coming competitors in the emerging and developing world.
The real story out of Durban is that there is now little prospect of a global agreement coming into force before 2020. Both developing and emerging nations cannot afford to slow, let alone reduce their dependence on cheap energy and economic development as any significant curtailment would undermine their social contract and risk political stability. In any case, the West would have to cough up $100bn per year before anyone would sign up to anything. Unless a manifest and continuous warming trend reappears by 2020, the green agenda will remain firmly on ice for the rest of this decade.
Dr Benny Peiser is the director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation.