The Sydney Declaration – mostly harmless
Unsurprisingly, the APEC leaders meeting in Sydney have signed a statement on climate change, grandly described as the
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.