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The Sydney Declaration – mostly harmless

September 8th, 2007

Unsurprisingly, the APEC leaders meeting in Sydney have signed a statement on climate change, grandly described as the
Sydneydeclaration
Sydney Declaration and described by Dennis Shanahan and Cameron Stewart in the Oz as a ‘sweeping triumph’.

It’s unsurprising because once the host nation has proposed a topic, it’s pretty much unthinkable for a meeting like APEC to break up without some sort of agreement, because such agreements commonly have grandiose titles and because the Oz … well, you get the idea.

Most of the attention so far has been focused on the set of initiatives referred to as the “APEC Action Agenda”, which includes various voluntary steps on energy efficiency, reafforestation and so forth. As my co-author Frank Jotzo notes, “In practical terms, that will mean almost nothing”. A fair indication of the significance of this agenda is its treatment by the New York Times, which gives a one-line link to the AP wire service report in which Jotzo is cited. The Washington Post has a story on the Bush-Howard statement a couple of days ago, but nothing so far on the great Declaration.

The really important point, though, is the section on Future International Action which begins “We reaffirm our commitment to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).” (Kyoto is a protocol to this convention). There’s more, spelling out the post-Kyoto bargaining process embodied in UNFCCC In other words, the idea that APEC would produce an alternative to Kyoto, or a post-Kyoto agreeement outside the UNFCCC is dead.

The APEC outcome reflects the fundamental conflicts in global climate policy. Everyone except the Bush Administration and its Australian deputies accepts the proposition, central to Kyoto, that the developed countries, which created the problem of climate change, should move first and bear the initial costs. The Bush strategy has been to encourage China in particular to maintain this stance, while refusing to do anything unless China moves at the same time. The resulting standoff suits the delusionists who dominate the Republican Party and who believe* that global warming is a fraud cooked up by the environmentalists.

Until a year or so ago, Howard was fully in line with the US and Australia played a spoiler role in negotiations of this kind. Now, of course, he’s desperate to get some substantive agreement. But no-one else at APEC wanted one. Bush is facing domestic pressures, the same as Howard, and needs to get good press out of his forthcoming meeting with 15 leaders, while avoiding actually committing to do anything. For the other parties at APEC, who broadly support the Kyoto line, the much touted fact that the countries there were responsible for over 50 per cent of emissions was a good reason to avoid any real negotiation. The risk was that they could get locked into a position that would constrain them at the real negotiations in the UNFCCC, where the US and Australia will be on the outer, and the Europeans will be the main representatives of the developed countries.

The final point here is timing. Obviously, for Howard achieving an agreement in Sydney was critical. But for everyone else, the crucial factor is the lame-duck status of the Bush Administration. On global warming, as on Iraq, Bush is playing delaying tactics which will leave the hard decisions to his successor. Everyone else is working on the assumption that the real agreement, if there is to be one, will be reached in 2009.

* To the extent that ‘belief’ is a meaningful term for a group to whom the whole idea of truth reflects prepostmodernist reality-based thinking.

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  1. Ian Gould
    September 9th, 2007 at 08:21 | #1

    “prepostmodernist reality-based thinking.”

    Maybe its jsut that it’s 8.20 on a Sunday morning, John, but could you explain this bit in simpler terms?

  2. jquiggin
    September 9th, 2007 at 08:49 | #2

    Ian, it’s a mildly snarky, and overcomplex, allusion to right0wing postmodernism and to the belief of the Bushies that they can create their own reality.

    To spell it out, I don’t think most of these people really hold any factual beliefs regarding global warming. For a bunch of political, cultural and tribal reasons, they find it convenient to oppose the scientists and environmentalists on this issue and they do so without seeking to think through any coherent beliefs of their own.

  3. September 9th, 2007 at 12:24 | #3

    “prepostmodernism” is the sort of term that catches on in academic circles, do try to be a little more responsible.

  4. jquiggin
    September 9th, 2007 at 13:42 | #4

    It was only my little joke, Al.

  5. Hermit
    September 9th, 2007 at 14:35 | #5

    The bit about restoring the Indonesian forests http://au.news.yahoo.com/070909/2/14dqr.html is remarkable in that it combines creative carbon accounting, cost shifting and colonialism.

    Creative carbon accounting because there seems to be no doubt on the high numbers, such as setbacks due to drought or fire.

    Cost shifting because it costs 5c per tonne ($30mill/600Mt) when Stern says CO2 should cost $US 85 per tonne.

    Colonialism because we get to indulge our penchant for coal burning while poor people get to stay in their little forests living a life of penance.

    A lot more needs to be said about the this in the coming years. For example I’d like to see TV footage of the drained swamps being ‘undrained’. Otherwise APEC is a pointless gabfest.

  6. Ian Gould
    September 9th, 2007 at 21:23 | #6

    “Cost shifting because it costs 5c per tonne ($30mill/600Mt) when Stern says CO2 should cost $US 85 per tonne.”

    Carbon should cost what the market prices it at. I think this is the first time I’ve seen a proposed response to global warming criticised as being too cheap.

    “Colonialism because we get to indulge our penchant for coal burning while poor people get to stay in their little forests living a life of penance. ”

    Yes, whereas we all know that what peopel in third world want is to cast aside their wretched and inferior indigenous cultures and become properly civilised like us.

    Indigenous people who live in forests and depend on forests for their livelihood are about as likely to burn it down as you are to burn your house down.

    The principal cause of deforestation isn’t the yearning masses struggling to be free (if only some kindly and wise middle class westerner would come along and show them what to do), its illegal logging and land-clearing for large scale commercial farming carried out by large corporations.

  7. mugwump
    September 10th, 2007 at 09:01 | #7

    I guess I still don’t get it: why *pre* postmodernism?

    As for your characterization of the AGW opponents:
    some of us hold honest scientific opinions that things are not as well understood as claimed; most of us believe that things are not going to turn out as badly as claimed, even if the AGW hypothesis is substantially confirmed; and all of us wouldn’t trust a greenie as far as we could spit him.

    Of course the environmentalists are pushing their own negative growth, low population agenda. But nearly all the most vocal climatologists on the pro AGW side are themselves rabid greenies under the hood (eg Hansen). Add to that the economists that seek to use AGW to further their own political views (Stern, Quiggin), and you can hardly blame the right for trying to prevent this thing getting out of control.

  8. hadfield
    September 10th, 2007 at 12:35 | #8

    “you can hardly blame the right for trying to prevent this thing getting out of control.”

    No, but you can blame them for the endless drivel that they seem prepared to tolerate, if not encourage. You know what I mean: “there’s global warming on Mars”, “global warming stopped in 1998″, “the troposphere isn’t warming”.

  9. Razor
    September 10th, 2007 at 15:35 | #9

    Anybody come up with a way for the developing world to achieve their dreams of economic development without coal?

    Didn’t think so.

    Call me when you work something out, then I’ll consider reducing my CO2 emissions.

  10. jimbirch
    September 10th, 2007 at 16:13 | #10

    “honest scientific opinions that things are not as well understood as claimed”.

    GRAVITY is not perfectly understood either but we don’t run around endlessly repeating the claim that because it’s not perfectly understood we shouldn’t accept it when (eg) designing cranes that work safely.

    If you want to be taken seriously, I’d drop that one: the case for GW is beyond reasonable doubt.

    This doesn’t mean that there are no unknowns, a Meteorology 101 course will present a robust argument that there is actually no prospect of there ever being no uncertainty. Climate modellers are closing in on them but none of them expect to provide the perfect knowledge condition that you appear to require.

  11. mugwump
    September 11th, 2007 at 04:33 | #11

    GRAVITY is not perfectly understood either

    When Anthropogenic Global Warming is as well understood and verified as gravity, I promise I’ll stop questioning its scientific foundations. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to apply the same scientific approach that led to the discovery of the laws of gravity in the first place.

    Even the proponents of AGW accept that it is far from beyond reasonable doubt. The best estimate they have for the impact of doubling CO2 is 3 +- 1.5C. Throw in the unknown unknowns (which are not modelled) and even a healthy dose of the known unknowns (many of which are also not modelled), and you arrive at more like 3 +- 1.5 (+-2), which is tantamount to “NFI”.

    Then on top of the uncertainties over how much warming there will be, there are huge uncertainties over the impact of AGW. Canada, most of Russia, and Northern Europe are going to be much nicer places to live if it is a little warmer. That’s a large chunk of the Earth’s land area right there.

  12. hadfield
    September 11th, 2007 at 07:47 | #12

    “NFI”?

  13. mugwump
    September 11th, 2007 at 09:26 | #13

    No F***ing Idea.

  14. jimbirch
    September 11th, 2007 at 11:10 | #14

    3C +-1.5C is not NFI, it’s 3C +-1.5C.

    Unknowns are largely included in the 1.5C.

    Unknown unknowns – like the earth being sucked into a passing black hole rendering the whole question moot – may well play a part. But they’re only a rational basis for action – or inaction – if you have a real basis for believing that the science is insufficiently advanced to mean anything much at all, ie, that the army of meteorologists, oceanographers, numerical modellers, etc, who have spent the last 50 years devoting their considerable talents to developing this science are about as clueless at the overnight experts commenting on blogs.

    Personally, despite a degree or two in meteorology and oceanography, I’m not qualified to really technically assess the state of climate modelling; I’ll go with the experts. They seem to be saying 3C +-1.5C, or thereabouts.

  15. myriad
    September 11th, 2007 at 14:59 | #15

    FYI

    the link between tropical peatland destruction & greenhouse gas emissions

    Far be it for me to defend the indefensible (ie this government) but protecting/rehabilitating the tropical peatlands of Indonesia and Malaysia (at least we’ve got half in this agreement) would be a major step forward. My major criticism would be doing it over 30 years – a snails pace that could be cut by 1/3 if they were really serious. It would need to bring on board the EU to address the major palm oil – cash crop – european biodiesal link, but it could be done.

  16. mugwump
    September 11th, 2007 at 22:37 | #16

    Unknowns are largely included in the 1.5C.

    Clouds.

    Unknown unknowns – like the earth being sucked into a passing black hole

    That’s a known unknown, and adequately modelled as a probability zero event. The unknown unknowns are the suprising new findings, like last year’s discovery that plants emit a lot more methane than previously thought.

    that the army of meteorologists, oceanographers, numerical modellers, etc, who have spent the last 50 years devoting their considerable talents to developing this science are about as clueless at the overnight experts commenting on blogs.

    They’re not universally clueless, but the scientific standards of the field are low.

    Personally, despite a degree or two in meteorology and oceanography, I’m not qualified to really technically assess the state of climate modelling

    Which is why they get away with it. A degree or two in mathematics and physics helps understand how poor the state of play really is.

    Actually, the state of play of the science is not that bad. It is the lies based on the science that is the greatest concern.

  17. jimbirch
    September 13th, 2007 at 18:28 | #17

    Which is why they get away with it.

    Get away with what?! It’s an incredibly complex problem and one that isn’t going to give an exact answer any time soon. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s complete rubbish, swamped by mysterious “unknowns” or whatever you seem to be implying.

    If you have some good science to put up, get out there in the science and state your case. Argue it with the people who could actually refute you. If you have anything valid they’ll roll it into the next generation of models. But as far as I can see you are just another two bob expert hanging on to an emotionally satisfying an assertion that you know better than the experts.

    Make up your mind. If “the state of play is not that bad”, then GW is the best reasonably take on the science, get over it. Alternately, if the climate modellers are a bunch of astrologers, you are equally qualified to choose your own truth.

    Then again, just spitting the dummy because the science gets misquoted does have a nice comfortable feel.

  18. mugwump
    September 13th, 2007 at 22:09 | #18

    jimbirch, the climate models predictions are all over the map (no pun intended). Check out climateprediction.net. Those models are tuned to the nth degree by the modelers. The basic temperature measurements are all over the map, and subject to continuous and undocumented retrospective revision by the supposed scientific leaders of the field (Hansen). Somehow those revisions nearly always serve to make it colder in the past. Check out climateaudit.org.

    Many of the leaders in the field use the science to make unsubstantiated projections to further their anti-capitalist, anti-human, anti-growth politics. They’re not being misquoted.

    Unfortunately, I have a day job and a family, so I don’t have the time to actively contribute to the demolition. I wish I did. But plenty of people do have the time, and the wheels are falling off this global scam.

  19. jquiggin
    September 13th, 2007 at 23:06 | #19

    “the wheels are falling off this global scam.”

    This claim is even more out of touch with reality than the delusionist position itself. Surely you must be able to see that, whatever you might think should happen, your side is losing ground on every front. The last delusionist scientific organisation (AAPG) just gave up, delusionist politicians are running for cover (see the topic of this post) and the general public has long since made up its mind.

    Your position here is reminiscent of what we’re hearing from your side on Iraq. Continuing claims of victory while anyone can see the actual position going from bad to worse.

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