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Copenhagen climate conference: The grim meaning of 'meaningful'

Like businessmen who insist a deal is legit, politicians protesting they have done something "meaningful" arouse suspicions that the opposite is in fact true. And "meaningful" was about the best word the spin doctors could muster in respect of the agreement of sorts that was brokered in Copenhagen late last night.

The climate change summit had three big tickets on its agenda: emissions, financial assistance and the process going ahead. And on each of these counts the accord – which was effectively hammered out not by the whole conference, but rather by the US, India, China and South Africa – fell woefully short. There was no serious cementing of the positive noises on aid that had emerged earlier on in the week. On emissions, a clear-eyed vision for the distant future was rendered a pipe dream by outright fuzziness about the near term. And most alarmingly of all, there was no clear procedural roadmap to deliver the world from the impasse that this summit has landed it in. Outright failure to agree anything at all would have been very much worse, but that is about the best thing that can be said.

The course of the summit as a whole – which moved from bold rhetoric, through blame games to eventual grudging concessions – was neatly epitomised in Barack Obama's flying visit. The newly-crowned Nobel laureate opened his brief speech in near-identical terms to those we recently deployed – in common with 56 newspapers worldwide – in a shared editorial which called on global leaders to do the right thing.

Stating climate change was a frightening fact, the president pronounced his determination to act. Soon, however, he broke his own rhetorical spell by following his eloquent overture not with a magnanimous announcement, but with some none-too-subtle pointing of the finger at China. He may have been technically accurate in implying that it nowadays emitted more than the US, but this cheap point distracted from the reality that much of China's – in any case low – per-head emissions are incurred in serving western consumers.

Later on he stood back from the brink. First, by conceding some language on monitoring emissions which addressed China's concerns about sovereignty, and secondly – at a late-night press conference – by making a nod towards UN scientists who have this week been warning that the offers tabled so far would set the mercury surging by a catastrophic 3C.

Obama's singular failure to raise the American game no doubt reflects his having one eye on the Senate, whom he still needs to persuade to enact his climate laws. Other leaders, however, proved equally unable to transcend parochialism when the crunch came.

China's premier Wen Jiabao used his own speech to harry the developed world to make good on the cash it has pledged to the poor, an important demand but one that would have carried more force if it had been married to the explicit acceptance that China will soon have to find the means to prove to a sceptical world that it will curb its emissions as it promises.

Throughout the evening, Europe seemed bent on clinging to its trump card of increasing its emissions offer from a 20% to a 30% cut, refusing to think beyond the horse-trading that has been failing the climate for years.

Only two years ago, the world's leaders swore this would be the summit to build a new carbon order. The threadbare agreement thrashed out last night has not even laid the foundations. The progress on financial assistance over the fortnight is welcome, but with much of the money earmarked for climate adaptation, the global community is left resembling an alcoholic who has decided to save up for a liver transplant rather than give up drink.

It is a sad tribute to collective failure that the all-important question at the end of Copenhagen is: what happens next?

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Copenhagen climate conference: The grim meaning of 'meaningful'

This article appeared on p36 of the Editorials & reply section of the Guardian on Saturday 19 December 2009. It was published on at 00.06 GMT on Saturday 19 December 2009. It was last modified at 04.54 GMT on Sunday 20 December 2009.

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  • madjack madjack

    19 Dec 2009, 12:13AM

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  • KentGuy KentGuy

    19 Dec 2009, 12:20AM

    Yup, the entire day - and the future of the world - became about the Senate. Look at those countries invited in to draft the text... it was all about getting accountability, to sell the deal back home. And the real problem is... it didn't work. Obama raised the stakes to look good domestically (and let's face it, it was a perfectly reasonable proposition), but that could now backfire badly.

    What next? Good question.

  • Barpropper Barpropper

    19 Dec 2009, 12:28AM

    Years ago,when I was a young man,folk would have immediately recognised something like Copenhagen as humbug. Nowadays ,there is so much humbug about that our humbug detectors have more or less, conked out.

  • RameshN RameshN

    19 Dec 2009, 12:32AM

    Two unrelated observations :
    1. There was nothing to suggest that Copenhagen would succeed in the first place, since there was so much bickering and divergent positions between the various countries prior to the meeting. The history of complex, multinational treaties is that successful agreements occur when there is broad agreement prior to the meeting eg the Antarctic Treaty.
    Accordingly, if the failure of Copenhagen spurs intensive discussions over the next year, especially between the major polluters, then there is greater chance that nxt year's meeting will supply more noteworthy agreement.

    2. Although Third World nations agreed that the burden of catastrophic climate change would fall on them, especially Sub-Saharan Africa, low-lying island states and Bangladesh, I was intrigued that there was no mention of population control amongst these nations.
    Third world nations have generally paid no more than lip service to population control. The fact is that the scarcity of water and insufficient food production caused by climatic changes is only made catastrophic in these nations because they have not paid heed to population. Countries from Yemen to Bangladesh to Chad to the Philippines would not be facing potential Somalification by 2050 if their populations remained within 20% of their 1960 levels. It is the combination of climate change and reckless overpopulation which has led to looming catastrophe.

  • RobertDJones RobertDJones

    19 Dec 2009, 12:38AM

    It certainly is very weak on emissions cuts. There seems little point in commiting to a 2 degree limit to global temperature rises without agreeing a means of achieving that.

    Better on funding, I would have thought: $100bn a year is a huge amount of money: about 1.5% of the GDP of the entire world. It may well not be enough, but it's much as could ever have been expected.

    I doubt it would have made much difference if the EU had committed to a 30% cut: Obama still wouldn't have been able to get the Senate to agree to any larger cuts than he's offered so far and the Chinese still wouldn't have been willing to submit to foreign verification of their emissions. The fact that the EU wasn't represented in the final negotiating cabal seems to me to show that European commitments weren't a stumbling block.

  • leedelta leedelta

    19 Dec 2009, 12:47AM

    18/12 was UN International Migrants' Day; how ironic that Obama, Brown et al can take credit on behalf of their corporate chums for creating millions more

  • LondonChap69 LondonChap69

    19 Dec 2009, 12:56AM

    Some of the blame should also be laid at the thousands of evironmental and development NGO's that lectured, patronised, confused and eventually bored regular ordinary people especially in Europe and in America. Who during a world wide ression were given conflicting information about how to deal with climate change. If we are to go forward these NGO's need to offer regular people a credible alternative. They really need to have a dialogue with buisness's and industry and get them on board too. Far too many pop stars and celebrities at COP15, and not enough business leaders stating that switching to a carbon free economy can actually offer real job opportunities!!!! At times COP15 seemed like a bloody lobbying circus, where NGO's just competed for the most gimmicky photo opp.

    Alot people, and especially politicans would seriously consider the views of the Warren Buffets, Bill Gates etc of the world.

  • DavidPSummers DavidPSummers

    19 Dec 2009, 12:57AM

    He may have been technically accurate in implying that it nowadays emitted more than the US, but this cheap point distracted from the reality that much of China's ? in any case low ? per-head emissions are incurred in serving western consumers.

    Such a cute way of putting it...

    China makes money from this "service" (running a trade surplus wit the US) and such "service" keeps a lot of Chinese employed. US labor unions have long suggested that they be given such "service". One might even suggest that there are sectors of the US that would be willing to implement regulations that would "relieve" China of such "service".

    I must admit the rest of the article wasn't as bad. But that sentence was nothing but spin...

  • gulliver055 gulliver055

    19 Dec 2009, 1:07AM

    there is nothing there. if there ever is it will take decades.

    homo sapien is still at option genocide. it is still there, half pissed in front of the bandit, swaying slightly, finger hovering over yet another 'gamble'.

  • doomtrain doomtrain

    19 Dec 2009, 1:08AM

    Climate change is irreversible. Demand for fresh water will continue to increase. Natural resources will continue to dwindle. World population is at least six and a half billion and rising rapidly. These are facts for all to see. Our world " leaders " know this. Strict population control is mankinds only hope of long term survival. Whom among our world " leaders " will grasp this extremely nasty nettle? Obama, Brown, Sarkozy, Merkel? I think not.

  • globalburning globalburning

    19 Dec 2009, 1:08AM

    He may have been technically accurate in implying that it nowadays emitted more than the US, but this cheap point distracted from the reality that much of China's ? in any case low ? per-head emissions are incurred in serving western consumers.

    China should spread the jobs around to dilute the pollution. Where would the optimum sites for industry be located?

  • HumanRightsTV HumanRightsTV

    19 Dec 2009, 1:13AM

    Yet again we see more evidence of the incompetence at the heart of all global political leadership. We have to understand the the paradigm of human civilisation has changed and consequently so have the needs of our global politics. Unfortunately we are trapped running political systems that were born out of the regional self interest developed in the Sumo-Babylonian cultural complex which informed and regulated the past 6000 years of human non-global history.

    We have a global identity now but still struggle to develop a global politics. In the past great cultural changes were allowed time, hundreds of years to supplant old models, we simply do not have that luxury now, a point our politicians are simply not equipped to deal with.

    The ideas of such commentators on the Guardian comments as Amber, that the bad politics we have in the UK is better than the bad politics elsewhere, represent the road to our own extinction; dinosaur thinking. What all of our politicians need now is a real groundswell of disapproval, not a whimper but a screaming shout from the global electorate that demands attention now.

    It is not enough to blame the politicians as we all go down the extinction plug hole of history. As a friend of mine said 30 years ago:

    "We all cry about this environmental thing but in the end humanity will suffer extinction. Mother Nature though is smart and after time, a long time, when the planet naturally re-adjusts itself, small life forms will start to evolve cognitive thinking and Mother Nature will say, 'oh no, we tried that before and it didn't work' and then stamp on the little beasties."

    Surely we are smart enough to work this out....together.

  • HowSoonIsNow HowSoonIsNow

    19 Dec 2009, 1:15AM

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  • birsealmighty birsealmighty

    19 Dec 2009, 1:17AM

    The current set of Politicians have failed us. The Labour party has failed - again!

    We now all individually need to take the responsibility of the planet in our own hands. Top of the agenda of each Political party/MP/MSP/Local Councillor has to be the environment. Not bankers and not capitalism. If Political parties will not do this then vote them out.

    With regards to power companies round the world we want clean power (not nuclear). With regards to car manufacturing companies we want hydrogen and battery powered cars. We need a new kind of aircraft fuel also or if this is not possible a new kind of aircraft. We need ships powered by hydrogen and battery. Oh I can hear the capitalists cry companies will not be making money. Too many people will have to be employed. Yes - but in the process our ozone layer will start to repair itself - nature will repair it.

    The free market is supposed to follow profit. Well saving ourselves is where the profit is to be made. The reverse is quite simple. We have made a profit from carelessness and much of the damage has been caused over the last two hundred years. If we continue to make profit in this way money will be worthless - because there won't be a planet left to spend money on.

    But then again the proletariat might have to damage the latest version of the Virgin spacecraft to keep the bourgeoisie here. You can be assured that they will be looking for the next planet to rape and pillage before ours dies out completely!

  • Isanuzi Isanuzi

    19 Dec 2009, 1:17AM

    When it comes to countering climate change, a pessimist today is just a realist. Is greed, and our refusal to radically alter our lifestyles, hardwired in the human psyche? I suspect it is, in which case, we shall effectively propel our own species not towards oblivion, but certainly towards significant numerical diminishment.
    Which is, of course, exactly what Nature intends of us.
    It is terribly important that we cease cutting down forests. They possess a spiritual beauty; they are bio-diverse; they have practical advantages for humanity. It is also important that we cease polluting rivers, and draining them dry. It is important too that we cease polluting the atmosphere - and this is where I am at one with those who strive to reduce carbon emissions, for the reduction of pollutants is the reduction of CO2. Because I love the wilderness, and I find spiritual upliftment in the sight of wildlife flourishing in an unspoiled environment, it is important to me that we cease encroaching on wilderness regions. I believe that when we destroy bio-diversity, we destroy something in our own souls. And all scientists must agree that trees are needed to convert CO2 into oxygen - and not just commercial plantations, which are sterile environments, incapable of sustaining the bio-diversity the planet requires in order to be healthy.
    It is important for our future that we cease over-fishing the oceans, and that in order to permit marine life to flourish, we stop poisoning the seas.

    How can any of these aims, with which surely, no-one can disagree, be achieved if our relentless increase renders them impossible to achieve? How can environmentalists ignore the issue of human increase?

  • AlbertaRabbit AlbertaRabbit

    19 Dec 2009, 1:31AM

    Course it failed. The leaders couldn't even decide what the objectives were. Was it to reduce CO2 emissions or impose a global redistribution of wealth? If it was the first then the smaller, poorer countries needn't be there. If it was the second then no one need be there.

  • Runesmith Runesmith

    19 Dec 2009, 1:32AM

    "Yes - but in the process our ozone layer will start to repair itself - nature will repair it."

    And this is the problem - the widespread scientific illiteracy not only among the deniers, but even the supporters.

    If someone who believes they're taking the problem seriously thinks that global warming is caused by ozone depletion, it's no wonder the average I'm-all-right-Jack has no clue.

  • Sigurdur56 Sigurdur56

    19 Dec 2009, 1:47AM

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  • SoundAndImage SoundAndImage

    19 Dec 2009, 1:49AM

    Of course untrammelled population growth together with ever expectant economic quaterly growth are never entertained in any discussion about climate change - the first unsettling problem would entail the emasculation of the Catholic Church and the Pope, not to mention the end of IVF, and the second to assault the very fabric of the World's obsession with money and the concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands.

    All we hear about are green taxes which means us ordinary folk having to pay out shead loads of money just to keep warm, and shed loads more of our monies conscripted to keep the developing nations to keep their carbon emissions within acceptable limits,which I've no doubt would be syphoned off into Swiss bank accounts by despots everywhere.

    Unless you talk about containing population growth or the way in which capitalism continues (and is expected to continue) raping the earth's environmental resources for private profit then the whole shebang means nothing in my opinion.

    Either climate change is real or it isn't - and if the scientists are right, then they themselves should demand such action and the politicians should follow suit if they believe it.

    Two inconvienient truths for the price of one - only there's no profit in it for Al Gore and his cronies is there?

  • PandaAtPlay PandaAtPlay

    19 Dec 2009, 2:02AM

    China is always the perfect scapegoat for the inaction of the West to keep enjoying its unsustainable carbon-lifestyle.

    If the gobal warming were true then everyone should sothing about it. Yet am I missing something here?! On per cap basis, Chinese level is less than 1/4 of that of the US and 1/2 of the EU !

    The western media overwelmingly point their fingers to China as the biggest emitter hence should face the biggest cut, is the same like asking some average Joes in the street to make donations to Donald Thump, just because the combining wealth of the former is more than that of the latter. Ridiculous !

    Furthermore, the US is bankrupt ( I presume a lage part of these 100 billion comes from the US). Where will the money come from without the finance of the Chinese ? -- Another looking good empty cheque!

    In exchange, less than $ 100 billion can buy you the complete control ( so called "monitoring": one can always find faults in any system if look harder enough) of entire industry capacity and progress of the dragon, making it anither Iran and North Korea, using bogey many "NGOs" on offer such as NED, etc. I say this is money well spent, much more effective than supporting Free Tibet and Free XinJiang stuffs !

    And why not even mention a single word on Green Tech transfer which is much more tangible, effective and measurable beforehand ??

    To save the earth, how about every single citizen of the earth faces the same X% cut on his/her current level, to be slightlyfair and square ??

    With this "meaningful deal" of "One Stone, Four birds", the US, as the biggest per cap polluter in the most significant sense, is escaping her due responsibility , shifting all the attention somewhere else, more closely controlling her strategic competitor China, and at the same time resuming the moral highground by taking the world for fools!

    What a master plan you got there !

  • PandaAtPlay PandaAtPlay

    19 Dec 2009, 2:17AM

    @ SoundandImage:

    "only there's no profit in it for Al Gore and his cronies is there?"

    Think harder: ever heard of Carbon Exchange of Chicago? ever heard of all the titles of salaried & bonused board directers of "NGOs" and "GOs"associated with it ? - it is multi billion dollar big business !

  • PandaAtPlay PandaAtPlay

    19 Dec 2009, 2:44AM

    While whole south China cities (including cities of millions plus people, let alone towns, counties, villages) even don't have heating system for normal residents for winter ( tempretures there go as low as -5C as we speak, with ppl, students wearing parkas indoors! ) , China is still willing to commit cut ting emission almost the highest voluntarily ( I guess plenty of people will just turn off the lighting as well for X hours per day to meet the target if that's the must).

    And at the same time, is the life becomes that miserable if average Western household owns 1 car instead of two? Or take public transport to work for X days per month instead of using private transport? Or Walk instead of drive to street corner convinient stores for hamburgers?...

    Can Al Gore sells 2 of his houses while keeping the other 2, or can he sell 6 of his cars while still keeping 2 others, before starting lecturing average Chinese farmers on how to cut their carbon by half ?

    This, is the hypocricy at its best !

  • ianfalconer ianfalconer

    19 Dec 2009, 3:04AM

    I may be wrong but in the EU press conference I thought I heard Barosa say that the EU had played their 30% card and it was refused by everyone else around the table at the time.
    We said that they wanted more money but not more commitment to emissions reductions from the EU.

  • LukaKuzmich LukaKuzmich

    19 Dec 2009, 3:08AM

    Give them time. The Spin-Doctors are still cooking it up.

    By Monday Mandy will be telling us that a great victory was won, and by Christmas Day Gordon Broon will have saved the world (again).

  • christobal0094 christobal0094

    19 Dec 2009, 3:09AM

    The Cop15 has clearly demonstrated the limits of massive conferences and media coverage.
    It was all more about looking good that doing a good thing, with a quick check at the home folks reactions.

    The added handicap was the financial crisis as background.

    Now what will happen after the curtain has fallen ?

    About energy how to avoid coal fired power when the Peal Oil is there ? Saving and reduction ? Nuclear ? Sustainable ?
    About demographic: rich do not breed but do pollute more; poor breed but pollute much, much less. That brings us to food, desertification, water supply.

    It should have been about a political vision of society adjustment and economy as a mean.
    Not about the price to pay to whom.
    This was Tokyo carbon- trading- permits.

  • AntonyIndia AntonyIndia

    19 Dec 2009, 3:16AM

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  • AntonyIndia AntonyIndia

    19 Dec 2009, 3:21AM

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  • WayneChina WayneChina

    19 Dec 2009, 4:16AM

    Its is a failure and it is time to fight.
    Remove all politicans that think ANY pollution is acceptable.
    Destroy the Foffil fuel Infrastructure.
    We can survive without it.
    It is time for Evolution, if we do not change what we are doing we are doomed.

  • gulliver055 gulliver055

    19 Dec 2009, 4:21AM

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  • YamalDodgyData YamalDodgyData

    19 Dec 2009, 4:51AM

    PandaAtPlay has spotted an emperor with no clothes and a lot of hypocrisy.
    very good post.

    Although you missed one obvious parallel in past Sino-Western relations

    ??? = ??
    Goldman Sachs = ????????

  • wordfactory wordfactory

    19 Dec 2009, 4:52AM

    Any other baby boomers reading this have an inexplicable sense of deja vu? Of idealistic young people marching in the streets, pledging to change the world, overturn capitalism and start again?Of course, it was US ... 40 years ago ... almost to the year. Copenhagen was the final, hateful expression of disgust by Gen Z against their parents, among everything else that went on. I hope the amateur politicians of the IPCC have learnt their lesson: if you want to scare the population witless with science, then it better be true - and RING true, which it doesn't. My long experience of politics (as an observer, not a gladiator) is that ordinary people collectively have an impeccable bullsh*t meter that monitors their leaders. So Copenhagen's legacy will be that it's time to start again and TELL THE TRUTH that, as Mike Hulme says, we should begin MANAGING the climate, not forecasting a catastrophe which is not going to happen. Ordinary people ARE prepared to make sacrifices, change their lives and pay taxes to manage the long-term threat to climate caused by a century of burning oil and coal, provided it is based on REAL science and commonsense.

  • magwich magwich

    19 Dec 2009, 4:56AM


    .Who are they at all ?
    Those wrinkled men in black, their wrinkle-proof suits
    fit only for funerals
    or weddings of the rich and famous. The destitute
    stand bootless under black trees on scorched earth
    for rain, for help that comes always too late and brings no water,
    if it comes at all.
    Only more pale men in black, the councils of the rich :
    dung beetles rolling the world?s frail wealth
    into a concrete ball
    They call the developed world. It is a world
    of their own making.
    It too will fall.

  • SydneyEnviroEd SydneyEnviroEd

    19 Dec 2009, 5:10AM

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  • walterkovacs walterkovacs

    19 Dec 2009, 5:22AM


    all around
    sometimes up
    sometimes down
    But always around
    are you coming to my town
    or am I coming to yours?
    We're on different buses, pollution
    but we're both using petrol

  • mdunf1 mdunf1

    19 Dec 2009, 5:57AM

    Good work Obama, play for time and let the hysteria subside. When surrounded by madmen that is about all you can do. You cannot afford to make them angry, self appointed saviours of humanity do not take kindly to that.

  • MoralsMan MoralsMan

    19 Dec 2009, 6:18AM

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  • mrpiffin mrpiffin

    19 Dec 2009, 6:29AM


    Anyone would have thought that was a negative reality inversion.

    As a punter rather than an expert in matters environmental and economic, I would argue that if economies are predicated on growth, I can't see any sensible way forward.

    Also, I'd like to ask how a journalist like Polly Toynbee (I know it's a different article) can sound so intelligent on telly but in print has a cadence that transcends mere irritation? The tagline of the Planet is not a priority is just plain wrong. I don't know if people truly deserve the governments they get, but sometimes the best of intentions get lost in translation.

  • granny678 granny678

    19 Dec 2009, 7:07AM

    I am quite elderly and remember these "changes" before. The more things change the more they stay the same. Why not give the "maker" of this planet solve these problems? Who builds something and doesn't include a way to "fix" it? Only electronics makers....LOL.

  • Leikos Leikos

    19 Dec 2009, 7:40AM

    There is no way to put a good spin on this disaster. However, let's not start by putting the blame in the obvious places. The failure is not the result of the Energy lobby, corporate interests, the denialists, Iain Plimer and so on. . It's all too easy to put the blame there, somewhere where it won't bother us. We have to start with ourselves. THe failure is not a political failure but a human failure. Monboit is right, that nothing substantial has changed in 150 years in the way we negotiate and approach our political problems, but he is wrong in blaming vested interests for that. Our policital leaders are no different than ourselves --- nationalistic, serving our self-interests with an us-vs-them attitude, fearful, security conscious, unwilling to listen to anyone but ourselves.

    As long as we cannot transcend our nationalistic and religous differences, we will not be able to work globally, and we need to work globally if we are to address a global problem like --- global warming. Copenhagen could not have had another outcome. The bickerings reflect the way things have been done for thousands of years. Though there has always been a minority that has been aware, wanted to do the "right thing" , in this democratic age, that's not enough to make us act globally. Not even the leaders can do that. It has to start from the individual, the proverbial grass roots, and grow from there. It's the only place you can expect real change, rather than business as usual.

  • JamesCameron JamesCameron

    19 Dec 2009, 7:47AM

    "It is a sad tribute to collective failure that the all-important question at the end of Copenhagen is: what happens next?"

    The elephant in the conference chamber was, of course, the disastrous news that the scientific basis for the whole idea of global warming had been deeply undermined just before kick-off. Climategate and the Russian confirmation of the nefarious activities of the UN?s key data providers Hadley/CRU will simply not go away. It also makes any hope that the US public will support economy wrecking CO2 reductions impossibly forlorn. It also needs to be said that before any future event, somebody will have to get a hold of the leaders of Rent-a-Mob International and read the riot act. The thuggery seen nightly on US television could hardly have been more counter-productive. Sadly by the next conference Gordon Brown will have gone. His last desperate bid to seal his place in history by putting up billions of his taxpayers' money was a rare moment of hope. The incoming Conservative government, while green enough in all conscience, is not going to repeat Brown's offer of a 42% cut in UK emissions. They know this could only be achieved by driving the UK back to the 1930's. It may well be that we look back at Copenhagen as the high point of "scientific" consensus. The future for those who believe in AGW looks bleak.

  • 147faculty 147faculty

    19 Dec 2009, 7:51AM

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  • zavaell zavaell

    19 Dec 2009, 8:09AM

    Leikos - it would be easy to agree with you about not blaming anyone and starting by looking at ourselves. However, we have to find where the responsibility lies for failure, for the inability to understand what is already affecting certain parts of the world through drought, the melting of ice and glaciers and more extreme weather. Do we blame our education system for producing scientifically illiterate people (birsealmighty in his eloquent piece gets it wrong about the ozone layer) or capitalism for fomenting excessive greed and selfishness? Or do we blame ourselves for being hardwired to avoid taking note of danger? My money is currently on a series of political conventional wisdoms in each country that makes it impossible for negotiators to move out of box built in Whitehall (in our case) because 'that is how business is done'. Obama clearly would like to do more but has been fallible on two major accounts: first the strategic mistake of setting off with medical refor int he US, by which he seriously underestimated the power of the Republican (and other loony parts of the US right) to block progress; and, secondly, by adapting the wrong tactics ahead of Copenhagen, right through to participating. To me it was almost as if he didn't want a weak agreement to happen so that he could delay a confontation with the Senate. The truly evil people are the Republican senators such as Inhofe of Oklahoma, who denies that there is a any man-made element to global warming. The man is either very dim or he is in hock to interest groups. Either way, democracy is not setting a very good example.

  • bigfacedog bigfacedog

    19 Dec 2009, 8:14AM

    I am neither a sceptic nor a environmentalist (I don't know enough about the science to be either) but as a historian, I find it remarkable that we as human beings have always denied our own natures.

    In other words - our very human character ensures that we will do nothing about climate change until we see ourselves under direct and immediate threat (i.e. that a major disaster related to it occurs in the West)

    To expect anthing else of people is ludicrous. There are so many other issues in the world that are much more immediate, but yet people act irrationaly in terms of resolving them - so to expect people to act in the name of some common good in respect to climate change is like expecting your pet dog to start speaking spanish.

    So anyway I shrug my shoulders - people are people

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