Thursday, 21 November 2013

The COP-out; what a catalyst you turned out to be...

What is to be learned from the fiasco that is currently COP19? 

First, it appears that there is a sea-change in the rhetoric of certain developed nations. Where previously there had been some attempt to avoid being seen as a moral pariah, the examples of Australia, Canada, hosts Poland and other participants, show that the fear of domestic political damage is overriding the fear of international shame in responses to both mitigation and adaptation needs. Some folks are just flat out saying that they ain't gonna do nuthin' for mitigation, on the contrary, intend to follow domestic policies which run counter not just to climate change M&A but also pretty much all concepts of Sustainable Development. 

Their response indicates that rather than address the hugely complex ethical and practical difficulties of coping with Sustainability on a global as well as domestic scale, these players prefer to deny any relationship to responsibility past present or future, and express the intent to go down the short-term self-interested path. As a former teacher, this is reminiscent of certain schools which proclaim that 'bullying is nonexistent'. There is no such thing as an adolescent society devoid of an internal power/influence structure; it just takes subtly different forms. But in all (secondary) schools there are those who dominate and those who are dominated. Likewise, it is fair to say that there is no society which will escape the negative consequences of AGW down-the-line, and these players, in denying the reality, are simply deferring the problem to a period beyond their tenure (or even lifetime).

Second, the divide between have and have-not seems to be crystallising. Not just the rhetoric, but also the desires and intentions of the G20 (for example), are in conflict with those of the G77. One one side, the demand is: "you caused this problem, you ought to help fix it," on the other: "it isn't OUR problem, why should we?" 

It's difficult to be sure how this divide will develop over time, but the choices seem to be starkly twofold: 
1: Either we move towards a global society which is increasingly polarised on the basis of wealth (capacity to adapt), increasingly inequitable and unjust, and increasingly violent (what happens at metropolitan level when you have a strongly financially divided society?), in which scenarios of multiple-million deaths and permanent local/regional instability become the accepted 'necessary cost' (Collateral damage, anyone?), or 
2: We continue to struggle towards a generally more equitable and just society, where the distribution of the means of survival are managed and shared, according to the need of the recipient and the ability of the provider (Charity, anyone?), ie, seeking the win-win solution. (Yes, it can be argued that Australia is playing a particular variant of the zero-sum game, the Prisoner's Dilemma, and is opting to 'win' at the cost of the other).

The third (and probably most divisive) lesson is that Climate negotiations are going down an inexorable path to a blame-culture. This can be nothing but bad news. It's as if the developing nations ('victims') have decided that, since the 'noisy neighbours' won't play ball, they are going to proceed to litigation and counter-attack to achieve their objectives, in response to which the neighbours send out the rottweilers. This is very much a no-win game.

On the brighter side, I have a suggestion as to How to ensure that funds exist for fixing what's been broke, protecting what's at risk, and preparing for the unexpected.

The parallel is not exact, but more than 300 years ago, the largest need for investment, and the largest return on investment, came through international trade, conducted over the high seas. In response to market demand, and from pre-existing processes, Lloyd's of London was formed, to provide investors with greater security, and sailors with funds needed to set sail. Why can't we construct a similar organisation for Global Environmental (incl. climate) Capital? Existing entities such as the World Bank and the IMF, funds such as CCC or the corporate sustainability foundation trusts, can band together, with or without individual governments, as 'names', providing the capital to allow for underwriting of risks, for investment in M&A strategies, and for providing succour to the victims of disaster. This way, more would share the burdens, autonomy could be preserved, and what was needed could be provided where and when the need arose.

It's a thought.