Insight. Antics.

Dreary Forecast.

In Economy, Energy, Politics on November 16, 2009 at 9:35 am

World Leaders in Singapore for the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit on 11/14/09 - Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

You might be under the impression that there is now, at long last, worldwide consensus towards taking swift, bold action against climate change, by reducing carbon emissions and transitioning to renewable energies. Y’know, a reactive rallying cry in this post-Katrina, post-Australia flood, Day After Tomorrow age.

Indeed. This weekend, while at the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit, world leaders (seen above in their brightest kung fu practice attire) reached a momentous, exciting outcome: they will not reach a deal this year.

Yes, in Singapore, the word came down that the sweeping, binding agreement they intended to reach at the U. N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, with a goal of halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, is DOA.

Not with that attitude! Come on, guys, it’s game time!

(The fact sheet they released avoided all of this of course. And, this news renders what President Obama said at APEC on the subject pretty empty.)

Apparently, APEC is not known for much in the way of substance. So, this news has really bolstered its relevance!

What’s most disheartening of all? It’s mostly our fault! Congress’ inability to pass climate and energy legislation has sent typhoons of political paralysis across the oceans. The House passed a relatively robust bill in June, but Ol’ Unreliable Senate has not. Thanks for letting us down again.

Another morsel of glee: the Senate isn’t expected to get into the nitty-gritty of a debate until 2010. And from there, it’s only two years until the Mayan apocalypse!

The world looks to us, wants us to lead. And we’re not. Instead, since the U.S. was long the leading emitter of polluting gases (now it’s China), they see hypocrisy and dereliction of duty.

This news all but assures a watered-down conference in Copenhagen, if not from the tepid agreements to be reached, surely from the rising ocean levels produced from melting sea ice.

However, 192 nations are still spending over a week there, so I am naïvely holding out hope that they can salvage something meaningful from it. Perhaps limiting how many paper towels a human is allowed to use in a given day? Though I would settle for simple hope.

Better luck at the conference after Copenhagen, next year in Mexico City, a city known for its easy-going, consensus-oriented factions and safe environs.

What’s funny is, for most of the aughts, business has been obsessed with talking about the rise of the BRIC nations: Brazil, Russia, India, and China. All but the “R” are making some admirable efforts on global warming, while the U.S. lingers in limbo. Brazil just pledged to reduce its emissions by over at least a third by 2020. India’s seems to be just getting going. China has not yet implemented high standards, but it is making sizable investments in renewable energy. Ironically, Americans in business and politics have been intimidated, challenged, and just plain mindful of China. (Check out Foreign Policy magazine as I wrote this.) Are they a threat? How do we address them? How can we keep up with them? In this case, perhaps we should emulate them.

I understand that political realities came into focus, which led to the decision to lower expectations for Copenhagen. There is understandable interest and concern of economic collapse around regulation. The disparity between industrialized and developing countries is so broad that it is considered difficult to craft an enforceable, realistic agreement.

The thing is, we’ve had a decade of dithering, to use Dick Cheney’s favorite new word. We need to make up for it with iconic action, with sheer political will because incrementalism is not moving the ball forward fast enough. Worse and worse natural events are going to happen. We can’t continue to “punt the most difficult issues into the future.” Al Gore won’t be around to nag us forever.

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