Obama bids to avert Copenhagen collapse

Why are very important subjects like personal finance and climate change so mindnumbingly boring? For two reasons I suggest. We’re frightened of them and the waywardness of human nature robs us of easy answers. I defy you to tell me what the real story is coming out of Copenhagen, leaving aside the demos and the shuffling over the size of the conference table. I think it may be a political poker game between China straddling the First and Third Worlds, and the US, unable to strike a clear note because of the clash of its own myriad vested interests in Congress. Added to which is the temptation to put it all on the back burner so to speak. The climate for the next 30 years is more or less set; what we’re talking about now is the 30 years after that. Let’s look at the gaps the negotiators need to close. Take the ideal US position climate change warrior George Monbiot puts into the mouth of Barack Obama. You can immediately see why collapse is possible.

I hereby commit the United States to cutting greenhouse gases by 50% against our 1990 levels by 2020.

Next, note the quiite radical position of China.

Wants rich countries to reduce emissions to 40% below 1990 level by 2020

And compare it with the minimalist US pledge.

Will cut emissions to 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 pending congressional approval – this is close to 4% below 1990 levels

A key deadlock is over who jumps first. China has third world backing for aggressive cuts – provided the US, still currently the world’s biggest polluter, leads the way. But the US insists that China and its friends commit to cuts simultaneously. This may be a ploy to call their bluff – if they’re bluffing, that is. Moreover the US which distrusts the China lobby wants a tough inspection system to verify emissions cuts. Result – deadlock and a pessimism that the presence of Obama and 100 other world leaders isn’t yet dispelling.
Meanwhile we’re all secretly hoping technology will rescue us – or our grandchildren rather , as Channel 4 News reported after asking hundreds of scientists to plug their favourite technology Carbon capture and storage (CCS) comes top but is still experimental. Solar power, with superconductors distributing power to cloudy Britain is a runner but wlidly expensive. Biofuels with manufactured rather than natural algae which can prodcue the unintended consequence and increase CO2. And then there’s geo-engineering the climate, firing vast quantities of salt into the atmosphere to help form cloud cover. Or my own favourite, using domestic airlines to stream sulphur into the atmosphere to block the suns’ rays. This surely is O’Leary’s dream solution. It would mean he’d make even bigger profits without having to carry any passengers at all.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London