Tuesday, September 28, 2021
HomeNewsThe ‘greatest crisis ever’ – Part One

The ‘greatest crisis ever’ – Part One

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The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed – and hence clamorous to be led to safety – by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H L Mencken (1880-1956)

THERE is bad news: the British government says it has no plans to delay the huge UN annual climate change conference due to be held in Glasgow this November. And there is good news: Greta Thunberg (‘You stole my childhood . . . how dare you!’) has told the BBC it should be postponed and she does not plan to attend anyway. Wise move: at 18 she is probably past her sell-by date.

Still, man is the worrying animal, and when he runs out of government-provided hobgoblins to worry about, the BBC can be counted upon to come up with new ones, such as children losing sleep over climate change and the environment. This should tide us over until November, when the great worry machine, COP26, will lumber into life in Glasgow, a fretathon devoted to the wickedness of fossil fuels because they emit the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide when burned.

COP26 is, mercifully, shorthand for the ‘26th yearly session of the Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’. The first COP meeting was held in Berlin in 1995, and this magnificent yearly opportunity for virtue-signalling by governments has resulted in its size and scope increasing almost exponentially.

COP26 will be the biggest summit the UK has ever hosted. The last two COP summits had more than 20,000 attendees, and as many as 30,000 could come to Glasgow, including 200 heads of state – meaning every last one (there are 197 members of the United Nations). With the incumbents safely out of town, watch out for a rash of coups this November.

One cost estimate for COP26 quoted by the BBC is ‘several hundred million pounds’. This seems high but, given the rate of escalation, it’s possible; the Polish government predicted the costs of the COP14 gathering in Poznań in 2008 to be around US$35million while COP21 in Paris in 2015 was budgeted at $188million.

If we assume a median figure of $50million, those 26 conferences will have cost the world’s taxpayers about $1.3billion – say a billion pounds – in current money. And what have they achieved? Well, you can watch and read about their achievements here and here; this is a summary.

There was a lot of activity before the first COP in 1995. It was in 1968 that the United Nations decided a UN conference on the human environment should be organised in 1972 and Stockholm was chosen as the venue. This resulted in another at the same place two years later focused on climate and climate modelling, and the glum forecasts which emerged resulted in a critical meeting of scientists at Villach in Austria in 1985. It was out of this gathering that, for the first time, there came a call for a ‘global convention’ to stop atmospheric warming.

The summer of 1988 was a hot one in the USA and major crop failures seemed likely. At a Senate hearing in June that year James Hansen of NASA said that global warming was 99 per cent certain to be linked to our emissions of greenhouse gases, and computer simulations showed that it was already large enough to cause summer heatwaves. The alarm this generated resulted in the creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in December that year, under the aegis of the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organisation. Its chairman for the next ten years was a quietly spoken Swedish meteorologist who had been in the thick of the earlier meetings, Dr Bert Bolin. He wrote the communique for the Villach gathering and was central to this field until his death in 2007.

The next significant event was the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in February 1989 in Delhi, the first of the great jamborees to focus on climate change. ‘Global warming is the greatest crisis ever . . . climate changes of geological proportions are occurring over time-spans as short as a single human lifetime.’

Then came the Rio Earth Summit in June 1992 which adopted the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), which led to the first COP conference in Berlin in 1995. That gathering’s main achievement was a decision ‘to meet annually for two weeks to maintain control over global warming’, a statement which shows a certain naivety.

Thereafter sonorous final communiques gave the impression of steady progress. Thus in 1997 in Japan the Kyoto Protocol was adopted, which committed industrialised countries to reduce greenhouse gases. In 2007 the Bali Roadmap was produced (a popular venue, 11,000 participants), and in 2016 the Cancun Agreements formalised the objective of keeping global warming below 2oC.

In 2015 the Paris Agreement was unanimously adopted to try to limit global warming to 1.5oC. The Marrakesh Action Proclamation was the product in 2016, and Bonn in 2017 saw the Talanoa Dialogue Platform launched to ‘promote the participation and dialogue of local and indigenous communities’. Madrid in 2019 saw a sort-of commitment by rich countries to make a further $500million available in 2020 to developing countries for the Green Climate Fund (a total of $8.9billion has been promised). Given the pandemic it seems highly improbable that it will be achieved.

What can Glasgow lay claim to? Under the terms of the Paris Agreement, governments will be required to set out their plans for ending their contribution to climate change. They will strut their stuff, particularly the British government, which boasts that it can and will reach its 2050 net zero carbon dioxide emission target. For this we can principally thank the monarchy, which owns the offshore seabed – an area equal to the land mass of the entire UK – and leases it out to wind farms.

But wait. This is all about ending our dependence on fossil fuels because of their ‘carbon’ emissions, right? But when you burn a fossil fuel you generate three products, carbon dioxide, water vapour and, yes, heat. All three warm up the atmosphere, the first two indirectly by the greenhouse effect, the third directly. Why are we demonising only ‘carbon’? Did Dr Bolin focus on it because it is much more powerful than the other two? Or is this a case of human fallibility? An obsession? Have we all been barking up the wrong tree?

To be continued . . .

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John Hollaway
John Hollaway is a retired mining consultant, having worked in 35 countries. He is the author of the All Poor Together trilogy, a semi-autobiographical account of development assistance in Africa and the reasons for its failure.

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