The end of the world as we know it — Chapter 18

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.



Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Peter Lang says:

    Doha climate talks end with a wimper.

    It’s the economics, stupid!

    For 20 years the UN process has been trying to get
    international agreement to targets, timetables, carbon pricing, UN taxation
    powers, and UN control.

    It’s failed!

    20 years of delay so far – and counting (slow death
    preferred to removal of life support, sudden death and admission of failure)

    The wise heads have been saying all along “It’s all about

    But the ‘Progressives’ would not listen. The ‘Progressives’ ridiculed these people and
    anyone who didn’t accept the ‘Progressives’ beliefs and proposed solutions.

    The ‘Progressives’ want to talk about their projections of impacts in 100, 200 years and more from now. They wanted irrational policies like carbon pricing and renewable energy. And they did all they could to thwart roll-out and development of the least cost way to reduce emissions, nuclear power.

    The Kyoto Protocol is next to useless. It was clear to most rational people all
    along that such policies could not work.
    Despite that, the unelected bureaucrats of the EU and the Australian Leftist government have managed to get their way and force through an extension
    of the Kyoto Protocol and agreement to pay $10 billion per year, down form $100
    billion per year, to corrupt, incompetent governments to spend mostly on

    The EU carbon price has been a failure.

    Lord Monkton says about Australia
    and the Australian carbon tax:

    The fools: In this category, Australia stands alone. Its absurd carbon dioxide tax is almost 50 times more expensive than letting global warming happen and adapting in a focused way to its consequences.

    But really, the ‘Progressives’ need to take a really good,
    hard, impartial look at what they’ve been advocating: i.e. economically
    irrational policies. They are not

    My advice to the ‘Progressives’. Start listening and stop telling!

  • Peter Lang says:

    Ref. Discussion on Climate Etc.:

    Very interesting discussion about projections of global
    temperatures into the future. This is actually
    getting to the nub of what is important (but to be of much value for informing policy
    we also need to understand the damage function and the decarbonisation rate
    function). I have lots of questions I
    hope someone can answer for me. They are
    genuine questions not rhetorical.

    But first, I agree it is good as a first step to bound the
    projections with a worst case and a best case.
    I understand a worst case projection is an increase of 5C. What is the best case? I suggest reasonable assumptions for best
    case would be:

    coal, oil and gas electricity generation will be replaced by nuclear over
    a period of 50 years.

    power will be substantially cheaper than fossil fuel electricity

    electricity substitutes for some gas for heating and oil for land
    transport (as in electric vehicles and low-cost electricity producing
    energy carriers).

    emissions from fossil fuels are reduce by 50% in 50 years

    in part to lower cost energy, the world will be much richer than current
    projections suggest; as a result, population growth rate slows to the low
    end of projections. World
    population peaks lower that current projections.

    My questions:

    is 2.5C increase so bad?

    is 5C increase so bad?

    It seems to me there is no persuasive argument that these
    would be catastrophic. If there was, the
    proponents wouldn’t have to resort to arguments like:

    Bottom line. Its not safe to go from 15 C
    today to 20C in the future.

    And I would bet that many people would see that a safety margin around this
    would be good. Say, 17.5C is a limit that we do not want to transgress. That is
    we want to be sure that we don’t do anything that drives us past 17.5C.

    That is a statement of belief, not science.

    More questions:

    we want to achieve the low estimate, what policies would achieve it with
    low uncertainty?

    My comment: I believe the policies must be economically
    rational. They must provide mostly
    winners in the short and medium term for most people, most groups, most regions
    and most countries.

    I suggest it could be done quickly and easily by educating
    the anti-nukes. The best people to do
    this are the anti-nukes and ‘Progressives’ themselves, such as those who blog
    on web sites like this.

    The how is described in a series of comments by Harrywr2 and
    me starting here:

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