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17 December 2009

Copenhagen: the price of failure

Who will pay for stalled negotiations?

By James Macintyre

Layer upon layer of depressing news is emerging from Copenhagen today, as 115 leaders begin to arrive in the city two days to the summit’s closure, amid open talk of failure.

This morning Ed Miliband, the usually optimistic Climate Change Secretary, warned of a “farce”, saying:

It would be a tragedy if we failed to agree because of the substance. It would be a farce if we failed to reach agreement because of the process.

The conference is said to be some 18 hours behind track after China, India, South Africa and Brazil held up the programme over the proposed scrapping of Kyoto, the only legally binding agreement, to create space for a fresh document.

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We can only hope that negotiators are deliberately playing down the talks’ prospects, in advance of a surprise deal at the eleventh hour. But in the meantime, it is worth remembering the stark and uncomfortable key question: Who will pay the price of failure?

And it is, surely, the world’s poorest. Anyone visiting the char islands of Bangladesh — where 119 million of the population subsist on less than $2 a day — would know that climate change is so much more than a western talking point. For some, it is life and death.

The total number of floods, cyclones and storms has quadrupled in the past two decades, during which time the number of people affected by disasters has increased from about 174 million a year to more than 250 million, on average. As Miliband and Douglas Alexander, the International Development Secretary, freely accept, the western developed countries have a “historic responsibility” to developing nations: between 1850 and 2000, 30 per cent of carbon emissions came from the United States, 27 per cent from the countries of theEuropean Union, and 7 per cent from China.

The leaders of those developing nations, then, must serve their peoples and stop quibbling over the “process” question of Kyoto’s fate. And the developed countries must act urgently to set an example and make the sacrifices that will lead to a deal, however imperfect. It is time for politicians to prove their worth.

If not, the world’s most deprived people will never forgive them.


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