The 18th Conference of the Parties (aka The 18th United Nations Climate Change Conference) recently took place in Doha, Qatar. By all accounts it was an unhappy affair. On one estimate 17,000 people attended it, and virtually all of them arrived by aeroplane. They stayed in air-conditioned hotels in a desert city whose splendiferous qualities are paid for by extracting gasoline and burning it in cars and power stations. The irony of it all seems not to have struck the delegates, though one of them explained that it was good to have at least one Arab state on board.
Our media took little notice, as was the case last year, at the 17th COP in Cancun. A ‘historic agreement’ was said to have been reached at Doha, but it is not clear what anyone has agreed to that makes any difference to anything, anywhere. According to Reuters, some delegates were close to despair at the lack of progress. There is to be another COP in 2015, and the more optimistic felt that this would be the moment when binding decisions would emerge. But the sense of it you get from media reports is that those who attended (who included, among other NGOs, the World Association of Girl Guides) were frustrated by the failure of politicians to listen to them and do what they want, which is to strike a global agreement that will end the spectre of catastrophic global warming.
I have not been able to find out the size or the composition of the Australian delegation, but it was apparently led by our Ambassador for Climate Change, His Excellency Justin Lee, a career diplomat, whose former position as Ambassador to Bangladesh apparently gave him insight into the effects of climate change on a developing country (this is the gist of the Ministerial statement announcing his appointment).
These gatherings seem to me more than a little bizarre. They are expensive indeed, and create a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. You would think that a lot of what is done might be done through video-conferencing, email and Skype. But no, if the world is to be saved, the saviours have to meet one another and rail against the forces of evil. COP seems to possess High-Level meetings and Side Events and displays. The closest I’ve been to anything like this is the sort of higher education bazaar I once visited in places like Shanghai, though that possessed no high-level meeting.
I don’t want to go to one, but they sound like a combination of a religious revival and a high-pressure real estate meeting: a forthright conviction that the world will come to its end unless something is done, and deals being struck, or attempted, to switch large amounts of money around from one part of the world to another. The Cancun COP decided that the industrialised West was responsible for all the greenhouse gas emissions that had occurred, and the one in Doha sought for ‘institutional arrangements’ that will compensate the poorer countries for the losses they have experienced.
What have they been? Well, extreme weather, floods, droughts, fires, inundation, and so on. The Prime Minister of Nauru raised the possibility of his country’s disappearing. This scenario has two major problems. The first is that world’s leaders are paying scant attention, because many of them, in the industrialised West in particular, lead countries that are broke, and are worried about their becoming broker.
The second, which feeds the first, is that the awful things that are said to be happening aren’t quite happening. What have been the great problems caused by the modest warming of the past fifty years? As I pointed out the other day, there is at least some persuasive evidence that rising greenhouse gas emissions have helped to feed the world. While Queensland and eastern Australia might not want to agree, global flood and hurricane levels are at an unusually low level, global sea ice levels are at around their long-term average, and a recent paper suggests that the rise in sea-levels is slowing down. Another recent paper suggests that claims of increased levels of drought have been overstated. And it seems that there has been no significant warming for the past 16 years.
None of that worries people who believe in the menace of anthropogenic global warming. Belief is belief, and is rarely susceptible to evidence. Those who attend these bunfights are mostly believers who want to put the world to right. My guess is that the pause in global warming tells us that we have more time than the Cassandras of global warming have told us, and that gives us space to find out much more about what drives climate, and what causes the natural variability that humanity has experienced over the last ten thousand years or so, and what if anything a warmer world would really mean for us, and what if anything we could do about it if some of the consequences were less than pleasant.
But then, I’m not a believer, just an old-fashioned rationalist who thinks that argument and evidence are really important.