Thursday, December 01, 2011

Durban And You

The most recent UN Climate Conference began this week in Durban, South Africa. Representatives from across the globe came to Durban hoping to do...something. As is often the case at conferences, especially those dealing with the climate, different groups of countries want different things. Some of these issues have the potential to affect geopolitics in both the short- and long-term.

The first issue of concern, and one of the early sticking points of the conference is the Green Climate Fund. This is a fund consisting of a whopping $100 billion dollars that will be used to support green projects and programs in developing nations. You can probably see the flaw in this plan; $100 billion is a lot of money. The Green Climate Fund has been tentatively in the works for a number of years, but now that developing countries are actually pressing for the Fund, opposition is growing. As you might expect, the United States is balking at this amount of money (we are in a bit of a pickle), as are the Europeans (they had a solvent currency when this plan was first discussed).

More interesting are the other countries that are opposing the fund. These countries include Venezuela, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Canada. What do these countries have in common? Of course, they are all large producers/exporters of oil and other fossil fuels. Canada in fact is one of the more belligerent countries at Durban, claiming that not only will they not agree to a second phase of the Kyoto Protocol (which expires at the end of the year), they may very well pull out from their original commitment. One has to wonder if this is tied to Canada's plans to export increasing amounts of oil from their tar sands, Keystone or no Keystone.

The other major issue at Durban is the conflict over binding emissions cuts from developed vs. developing nations. During the negotiations for Kyoto in 1997, developed countries accounted for two-thirds of carbon emissions in the world. Because of this, Kyoto took a two-tiered approach in which developed countries that signed and ratified the treaty (not us) had binding emission reduction targets placed upon them. However, things have changed now. Currently, developing countries like Brazil, China, and India account fro half of total emissions, and that percentage is expected to rise to around 65% by 2020. Therefore, these countries are realizing that they too should be subject to binding reductions. Just kidding! These countries are saying that they are still developing, and so the current model should apply.

So basically, Durban has three camps: the developed countries led by the US that won't do anything until China et. al. agree to binding emissions, the "developing" countries like China, Brazil and India that don't want binding emission reductions applied to them, and real developing countries that want the money from the Green Climate Fund. Any potential emission reductions agreed to at this meeting would of course have serious implications for American interests vis-a-vis energy prices and potential supply disruptions, but it doesn't look like binding reductions have a chance at Durban. What will be interesting is if the Green Climate Fund doesn't get any money. Would China be willing, as it has already done in parts of Africa, to invest even further in developing nations? That would have the potential to bring more developing countries into the China camp, and unless one believes China would invest in green industries in these countries, it could also further delay meaningful progress on emissions reduction.

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