If you’re like me, any mention of the Kyoto Accord makes my eyes glaze over. It reminds me of the interminable newspaper headlines back in the 80’s, when Canada went through the process of bringing its constitution home from Britain (find a Canadian, say "repatriation of the constitution", and watch their eyes glaze. It’s fun. Ed.). Yeah, you know it’s an important and noble cause, but please — spare us the gory details and just get it done already.
However, the news coming out of last week’s international talks in Buenos Aires is full of tantalizing reports about grown-ups behaving badly. It’s juicy. Even for someone with, as Laird would put it, "the attention span of a hummingbird".
In a nutshell (stay with me), the meeting brought together most of the world’s countries to see how much industrial pollution can be cut in the next 8 years. The meeting started on a high note. The Russians had just signed on to the Kyoto Accord, finally bringing it into effect after seven long years. Participating countries will meet next year to negotiate as a group for the first time.
The Russians were welcomed as heros,
"…with cheerful Russian dancers in honor of the country that made possible the dream of those concerned of the dreadful consequences of the global warming."
After the dancers, it was all downhill.
Rich nations are balking at making sacrifices
that will cut pollution but hurt their economies. The biggest and
baddest polluter of them all — the United States — flatly refuses, so
naturally the rest of them figure, "why should I bother?".
Convincing the U.S. to at least participate in the conversation was high on the meeting’s hidden agenda.
Delegates tried to organize a series of meetings that will keep things moving until next year’s negotiations, but the US delegates bullied and interfered. According to the WWF,
"…the Bush administration moved from non-interference at the conference to a strategy of active obstruction, using a series of wrecking measures."
Thanks to the U.S. delegates, the "series of meetings" was reduced to one "information session". No new cuts to pollution are to be discussed at the "session". Anything said there "is not to leave the room", in other words, not to be brought up or discussed at next year’s big meeting. It sounds like U.S. will only be satisfied if everyone promises to play cards, drink coffee, and not talk about the weather.
For a country that has only observer status at next year’s meeting, the U.S. sure has a lot to say about how it should be run.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia acted as their evil little sidekick. While delegates tried to work out an aid package to help developing nations with adaption, Saudi Arabia worked beside the U.S. delegates to scuttle the plan. They demanded "compensation for loss of oil revenues if the world moves away from fossil fuels."
Greenpeace had a few choice words for them:
“For Saudi Arabia to hold out a begging bowl whilst the least and poorest developed countries in the world struggle to cope with floods, droughts and extreme events, is obscene” said Sawyer."
Environmental groups worldwide were enraged:
"…activists said the U.S. and Saudi position was "immoral", because it blocked poor countries from getting much needed support for adaptation to climate change. Washington and Riyadh argued that the eventual decline in fossil fuel purchases would hurt the economies of the petroleum exporting countries.
Fast-growing developing nations like Brazil, who rely on coal-intensive industry and burning forests to clear land for agriculture, watched and took it all in. They got the message that they were on their own and that self-interest was in their best interest:
"We are not prepared to discuss reductions in emissions," said Brazilian head delegate Everton Vieira Vargas.
A small positive note: The Americans behaved so badly that they alienated their only credible friends at the meeting, Australia.
"The Howard Government has distanced itself for the first time from the United States’ hardline attempts to stall international action on global warming.
The Environment Minister, Ian Campbell, has made a point of spelling out key differences with the US after years of standing together – as the only two developed nations that have not signed the Kyoto protocol.
American lobbying at a United Nations climate change conference, described as "atrocious" by Australian environment groups at the meeting, prompted the Government to clarify its policy."
"Is Kyoto Kaput? Even before it officially takes effect on Feb. 16, the Kyoto agreement to curb greenhouse gases is leaking air… holding a "seminar" hardly captures the urgency to do something quickly about climate change."
Kaput? God, let’s hope not. Bullies and bad behaviour do liven up otherwise dull headlines about important and complex things like the Kyoto Accord. But I’ll happily cope with my glazed eyeballs if it means this Kyoto thing is moving along and is really going to happen.
Bring on the boredom. Please.