Reactions to Climate Change Negotiations and Action

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  • by Anup Shah
  • This Page Last Updated Monday, March 05, 2012

Climate change is, in theory, the perfect topic for an international environmental agreement. All countries are affected by, and contribute to, the build up of greenhouse gases, and should be willing to join in the effort to stop it. However, it is far from easy to agree what to do, and how to do it…. The challenge is to use far less fossil fuel energy while increasing standards of living in developing countries and avoiding the sort of cuts in standards of living in developed countries that would produce public backlash and political impasse.

Just a Lot of Hot Air?, A close look at the Climate Change Convention, PANOS, November 2000

As described on this site’s previous page, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was signed and ratified by the world’s majority of countries in the early-mid 1990s. However, before and since that, negotiations and meetings have been marred by special interest groups trying to prevent effective action to combat climate change. In addition, there has been a lack of political will to take effective steps and measures.

Reactions

The US has been vocally against effective action on climate change due to its reliance upon fossil fuel for its economy. Being a producer of oil and coal, they feel more threatened by action on climate change.

Europe, on the other hand, is calling for stronger action. One reason it does so is that it currently imports its fossil fuels so has more incentive to reduce this dependency and seek out domestically grown alternatives.

In both regions, local populations have a reasonable awareness of environmental issues. However, in the US, the business lobbies (mainly fossil fuel based industries) are very strong and powerful and have been able to affect decisions and outcomes.

Following the Hague conference collapse, and U.S. President George Bush saying he will oppose the Kyoto Protocol to tackle greenhouse emissions, subsequent talks and negotiations have, according to the Environmental News Service (July 6, 2000), led to the European Parliament accusing the U.S. of being “non-cooperative”. Bush’s energy plan had also supported an increase in fossil fuel use. Instead of going via the international route and the Kyoto protocol, the U.S. has been seeking bilateral agreements with developed and developing countries, offering incentives such as debt relief in return. (See the Kyoto section a bit later on in this site for more details on the U.S. position.)

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Economic Concerns Drown Out Ecological, Social Justice and Equity Concerns

Equity Watch, a newsletter on climate change from Southern perspectives, by the Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment (CSE) provides a time-line of climate change and the political fall-outs. In it, it points out how since the 1980s and 1990s nations such as the United States, and former Soviet Union have in the past been against the notion of setting specific targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Other nations and blocs around the world are primarily for strong action as well, but have their own mix of concerns. For example:

  • The various island nations are already seeing a rise in sea levels. The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), as well as the European Union (EU) therefore have pushed for ecological effectiveness.
  • OPEC and various industrialized countries are obviously concerned about their economic ramifications and are pushing forth more research into creating carbon “sinks” to soak up carbon dioxide emissions. Such groups are therefore seeking economic effectiveness.
  • Many developing countries are concerned about their right to develop, to use their resources, and to not be penalized for climate change problems that are largely caused by the industrialized countries. They are therefore also seeking social justice and equity.
  • After all the political ramblings and conferences of the past few years (as discussed later on this web site), as expected, the interests and influences of the most powerful nations and groups has been the primacy. As a result, as summarized by CSE, “The Kyoto Protocol has focused almost entirely on economic effectiveness, to the detriment of the other two concerns” (my emphasis).
  • (For more discussion about the US position and the issues that developing countries have highlighted, refer to the Kyoto section on this web site.)

Of course, the above is a generalization as there are mixture of concerns. These do seem to be the ones that are primarily shown by the various groups in the past negotiations. As an example though, some Latin American and Asian nations are also supportive of some sort of forestry program, as it can attract possible investments.

Poor countries face the brunt of the problems caused by global warming, and point out that most of the current global warming are the results of the rich countries’ pollution. Current consumption patterns also see far more greenhouse emissions per person in the rich countries than the poorer ones (as also discussed later on another page in this section of the web site).

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Business Interests

Initially big business has been extremely hostile to action on climate change. However, some businesses are thinking differently.

Business Interests Reflected in Many Rich Country Negotiation Positions

The Kyoto Protocol has been corrupted in order to give TNCs —the main culprits behind accelerating climate change—a privileged status as implementers of the market-based “solutions.”

Greenhouse Market Mania, Corporate Europe Observatory, 2000

Largely due to US resistance and the need to get them on board for any meaningful action, various trade-offs were made to the text of the Kyoto Protocol. Critics argue that business interests have been a driving factor, while proponents argue that private innovation is needed and that some of these things have to be looked at because otherwise the costs to the US economy is so great, that emission reductions would not be carried out.

As well as the United States, Japan, Australia, Canada, Russia and Norway formed part of a consensus known as the Umbrella Group that wanted things like the flexibility mechanisms to have no limits, unlimited use of carbon sinks, all technologies to be counted in Clean Development Mechanism projects (not just known clean energy projects), etc. Many of these positions are similar to industry lobby positions too. Business interests have historically played an important part and had a large influence in the climate negotiations. (This site’s section on flexibility mechanisms has additional information.)

Particularly active during the Kyoto Protocol, the misleadingly named US-based Global Climate Coalition formed to actively oppose measures on climate change for fear of economic repercussions.

As PR Watch (see previous link) noted, the coalition had been the most “outspoken and confrontational industry group in the United States battling reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.” This coalition contained many big oil, energy and automobile companies.

The coalition was effective at the time, but also extreme. As PR Watch continues, “Prior to its disbanding in early 2002, it collaborated extensively with a network that included industry trade associations, ‘property rights’ groups affiliated with the anti-environmental Wise Use movement, and fringe groups such as Sovereignty International, which believes that global warming is a plot to enslave the world under a United Nations-led ‘world government.’”

As evidence of climate change mounted, major corporations had to pull out of the Climate Change Coalition, as it was bad PR for them to be associated with the coalition, and some accepted the evidence and began to invest in cleaner technologies. But much damage had already been done, and the influence on the Bush Administration, for example, has resulted in continued anti-international cooperation on this, as is discussed further below.

But some organizations may still be at it. At the beginning of 2007, the British Royal Society, and separately, the Union of Concerned Scientists reported on ExxonMobil waging a campaign of disinformation on global warming between 1998 and 2005, funding right wing think-tanks and journals such as the American Enterprise Institute, the George C. Marshall Institute, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. And “with the help of right-wing media, such as the Wall Street Journal, … columnists deliberately spread disinformation about climate change.”

As The Guardian reported (September 29, 2009), the largest American business federation, the US Chamber of Commerce, suffered a rash of high-profile walkouts as multinational companies became uncomfortable with the organzation’s hard-line opposition to measures tackling climate change. Big names include Nike and Johnson & Johnson amongst others.

This old federation, a lobby group, also called for a public trial on both the US policy decision to regulate CO2 emissions and the science behind climate change concerns. As science and technology site Ars Technica argues, putting climate change on trial is a terrible idea because, “The sort of arguments that make for good courtroom statements tend to obscure the details of science, and the specific example proposed by the Chamber clearly indicates that they do nothing for the public’s understanding of science.”

Some Businesses Taking on the Renewables Challenge

While many large energy businesses in particular have been against doing something, and influential in American politics especially, it doesn’t mean that all businesses from around the world are against tackling climate change. WWF also pointed out in February 2000 that many large businesses are keen to support the Kyoto treaty.

Ross Gelbspan for example, shows that economic issues can be addressed by supporting Kyoto; that jobs can be created, not lost, etc. “Globally, subsidies for fossil fuels have been estimated at $300 billion a year” with the U.S. alone counting for about $20 billion. Transitioning those subsidies to renewables, as Gelbspan also discusses, and helping fossil fuel companies be part of that transition, would be positive, rather than detrimental to their concerns. A number of businesses are researching alternatives to fossil fuels, or more efficient forms, but lack similar subsidies (or conversely, suffer from lack of market penetration because of the huge subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.)

Some leading businesses urging world leaders to tackle climate change

British Telecom is already feeling the impact of climate change, the company has revealed, as extreme weather has hit its British operations. Yet BT also fears that the imapcts will be worse for more vulnerable people around the world, and could destabilize the world economy.

Since the years of the Kyoto Protocol, as extreme weather and more and more data about climate change has been emerging, a large number of multinational companies have reversed their previous positions, or raised their voices on this issue. Leading up to the July 2005 G8 Summit, for example, a number of large companies called for urgent action on climate change.

A 60% emissions reduction can be achieved by using energy more wisely, without damaging competitivity, a number of British companies said to the UK Prime Minister, the BBC reports. This would help address a catch 22 that the British government faces: a backlash from business. A business lobby group have been successful against proposed cuts using fears of lost productivity, competitiveness, and/or jobs. But now with major businesses (and polluters) themselves urging for more action, perhaps progress can be made.

Even some major companies in the airline industry (some of the heaviest polluters and contributors to greenhouse gases) in Britain have been part of this chorus urging action. Their recommended solutions are in emissions trading, rather than aviation taxation (almost predictably), though they make an economic case for trading emissions based on the incentive factor. Emissions trading is a controversial topic because of the potential for misuse and poorer countries could potentially lose out, as discussed on this site’s flexibility mechanisms page. Yet, at least some of these big companies are also weighing in on the debate, rather than trying to derail it, which sounds like a step forward.

Leading up to the UN Climate Change summit for the end of 2011, some 200 major companies from around the world have also called for tougher action on climate change, the BBC notes.

Meanwhile, some have worried about the economic costs imposed by fighting climate change or by being subject to emission reduction targets. Canada is perhaps the most high profile having recently pulled out of Kyoto worried about the (CAN)$14bn cost to the tax payer.

Yet, the economic costs of inaction are in the trillions:

Economic studies have consistently shown that mitigation (such as putting a price on carbon emissions) is several times less costly than trying to adapt to climate change. Above chart shows total costs for action on climate change by 2100 to be about $11 trillion while damages will be about $8 trillion. With inaction, however, damages by 2100 will be around $20 trillion. By 2200, these numbers shoot up (over $30 trillion if action taken, or over $70 if no action taken). Source: The economic impacts of carbon pricing, SkepticalScience.com, March 1, 2012

(Some believe one of Canada’s motivations to leave Kyoto was on its “desire to protect the lucrative but highly polluting exploitation of tar sands, the second biggest oil reserve in the world”, as The Guardian had noted.)

In the US, large companies such as General Electric, Dupont, Alcoa, Lehman Brothers and Caterpillar have launched an unprecedented campaign to call on the US federal government to step up efforts to fight global warming.

An earlier Guardian report noted the US Change of Commerce losing members due to its hostile stance on climate change action. It also noted that due to both public opinion and long-term economic implications of inaction, more than 30 large US corporations have joined an alliance called the US Climate Action Partnership, which presses for swift legislation on emissions.

However, some are still trying to undermine climate change action through deception. As the British paper, the Guardian reports, scientists and economists have been offered a lot of money to undermine a major climate change report in February 2007, from the IPCC (this report is mentioned further below). The “American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an ExxonMobil-funded think tank with close links to the Bush administration” was accused of such practices.

Professor Matthew Nisbet notes the influence of conservative think tanks in science and environmental skepticism. Writing in ScienceBlogs he notes “A new study by a team of political scientists and sociologists at the journal Environmental Politics concludes that 9 out of 10 books published since 1972 that have disputed the seriousness of environmental problems and mainstream science can be linked to a conservative think tank.”

In February 2012, leaked internal documents from the right-wing organization the Heartland Institute appeared to show that rather than being a think tanks, it was more like a lobbyist, funded by many large corporations and individuals with an aim to discredit climate change science and propagate denialist views (amongst many other campaigns). They also pay some scientists and others because they are skeptical on climate change. It was even planning a school curriculum to keep teachers from addressing climate science.

And the documents have also revealed the value of disseminating denial messages to influential business outlets:

Efforts at places such as Forbes are especially important now that they have begun to allow high-profile climate scientists (such as Gleick) to post warmist science essays that counter our own. This influential audience has usually been reliably anti-climate and it is important to keep opposing voices out

Heartland Institute Exposed: Internal Documents Unmask Heart of Climate Denial Machine, DeSmogBlog.com, February 14, 2012 (Emphasis by DeSmogBlog)

(DeSmogBlog exposed the leaked documents and provides far more details.)

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Media Reporting

Corporate-backed Criticism and Ridicule of Climate Change

Throughout the 1990s, especially in the United States, but in other countries as well, those who would try and raise the importance of climate change, and suggest that we are perhaps over-consuming, or unsustainably using our resources etc, were faced with a lot of criticism and ridicule. The previous link is to an article by George Monbiot, writing in 1999.

Media False Balancing Allows Extreme Views to be Treated Same as Scientific Consensus

In 2004, Monbiot notes a similar issue to the above, whereby media attempts at balance has led to “false balancing” whereby disproportionate time is given to more fringe scientists or those with less credibility or with additional agendas, without noting so, and thus gives the impression that there is more debate in the scientific community about whether or not climate change is an issue to be concerned about or not:

Picture a situation in which most of the media, despite the overwhelming weight of medical opinion, refused to accept that there was a connection between smoking and lung cancer. Imagine that every time new evidence emerged, they asked someone with no medical qualifications to write a piece dismissing the evidence and claiming that there was no consensus on the issue.

Imagine that the BBC, in the interests of “debate”, wheeled out one of the tiny number of scientists who says that smoking and cancer aren’t linked, or that giving up isn’t worth the trouble, every time the issue of cancer was raised.

Imagine that, as a result, next to nothing was done about the problem, to the delight of the tobacco industry and the detriment of millions of smokers. We would surely describe the newspapers and the BBC as grossly irresponsible.

Now stop imagining it, and take a look at what’s happening. The issue is not smoking, but climate change. The scientific consensus is just as robust, the misreporting just as widespread, the consequences even graver.

“The scientific community has reached a consensus,” the [U.K.] government’s chief scientific adviser, Professor David King, told the House of Lords last month. “I do not believe that amongst the scientists there is a discussion as to whether global warming is due to anthropogenic effects.

“It is man-made and it is essentially [caused by] fossil fuel burning, increased methane production… and so on.” Sir David chose his words carefully. There is a discussion about whether global warming is due to anthropogenic (man-made) effects. But it is not—or is only seldom—taking place among scientists. It is taking place in the media, and it seems to consist of a competition to establish the outer reaches of imbecility.

But these [skeptics and illogical points against climate change] are rather less dangerous than the BBC, and its insistence on “balancing” its coverage of climate change. It appears to be incapable of running an item on the subject without inviting a sceptic to comment on it.

Usually this is either someone from a corporate-funded thinktank (who is, of course, never introduced as such) or the professional anti-environmentalist Philip Stott. Professor Stott is a retired biogeographer. Like almost all the prominent sceptics he has never published a peer-reviewed paper on climate change. But he has made himself available to dismiss climatologists' peer-reviewed work as the “lies” of ecofundamentalists.

This wouldn’t be so objectionable if the BBC made it clear that these people are not climatologists, and the overwhelming majority of qualified scientific opinion is against them. Instead, it leaves us with the impression that professional opinion is split down the middle. It’s a bit like continually bringing people on to the programme to suggest that there is no link between HIV and Aids.

What makes all this so dangerous is that it plays into the hands of corporate lobbyists. A recently leaked memo written by Frank Luntz, the US Republican and corporate strategist, warned that “The environment is probably the single issue on which Republicans in general—and President Bush in particular—are most vulnerable… Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need… to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue.”

George Monbiot, Beware the fossil fools, The Guardian, April 27, 2004

Eric A. Davidson notes similar things about false balancing and is also worth quoting at length:

The media likes to present both sides of any issue as if they were boxers of equal stature and strength, and so scientists with opposing points of view are interviewed as if they held equal stature and respect within the scientific community. In terms of strength of argument and credibility, the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change created by the United Nations] scientific consensus about the importance of global warming is a heavyweight compared to the bantam weight of the handful of dissenting scientists. Unfortunately, the well-funded and ideologically and financially motivated bantams are running circles around the pensive, cautious, lumbering heavyweight, and the impact of the bantams' clever program of misinformation far exceeds their numbers or their scientific credentials. Their strategy has been to find little chinks in the armor of the global warming evidence, draw attention to these minor points, blow them out of proportion, and thereby gain publicity in the popular press that cases doubt on the strong mainstream scientific consensus on global warming. When subsequently debated in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, these issues are usually put to rest, but by then, the damage has already been done in the popular press, and the global warming naysayers achieve their goals of undermining confidence in the science behind the global warming consensus.

Eric A. Davisdon, You Can’t Eat GNP: Economics as if Ecology Mattered, (Perseus Publishing, 2001), pp. 110 - 111

Furthermore, as subsequent page mention, at the major UN meetings on climate change, the mainstream media has sometimes hardly reported on it, or placed it much lower in priority than other stories, with even celebrities getting more media coverage at times.

Pressuring critics into silence

As revealed towards the end of January 2006, NASA’s top climate scientist says NASA and the Bush Administration have tried to silence him.

While NASA said this was standard procedure to ensure an orderly flow of information, the scientist, Dr. James Hansen disagreed, saying that such procedures had already prevented the public from fully grasping recent findings about climate change that point to risks ahead.

Dr. Hansen, according to the New York Times reporting this, noted that these were “fresh efforts” to silence him because he had said that significant emission cuts could be achieved with existing technologies, particularly in the case of motor vehicles, and that without leadership by the United States, climate change would eventually leave the earth “a different planet.” (By contrast, the Bush administration’s policy is to use voluntary measures to slow, but not reverse, the growth of emissions.)

Furthermore, “After that speech and the release of data by Dr. Hansen on Dec. 15 showing that 2005 was probably the warmest year in at least a century, officials at the headquarters of the space agency repeatedly phoned public affairs officers, who relayed the warning to Dr. Hansen that there would be ‘dire consequences’ if such statements continued, those officers and Dr. Hansen said in interviews.”

Earlier, in 2004, Dr. Hansen fell out of favor with the Bush Administration for publicly stating before the presidential elections that government scientists were being muzzled and that he planned to vote for John Kerry.

The New York Times also notes that this echoes other recent disputes, whereby “many scientists who routinely took calls from reporters five years ago can now do so only if the interview is approved by administration officials in Washington, and then only if a public affairs officer is present or on the phone.”

Furthermore, “Where scientists’ points of view on climate policy align with those of the administration, however, there are few signs of restrictions on extracurricular lectures or writing.”

And in terms of media manipulation, the Times also revealed that at least one interview (amongst many others) was cancelled because it was with NPR, which the public affairs official responsible felt was “the most liberal” media outlet in the country. This implies a political bias/propaganda in terms of how information is released to the public, which should be of serious concern.

As another example, the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) revealed that some business lobby groups have influenced the Australian government to prevent Australia from reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This lobby group included interests from the coal, electricity, aluminum (aluminium), petroleum, minerals and cement industries. The documentary exposing this revealed possible corruption within government due to extremely close ties with such industries and lobby groups, and alleged silencing of government climate scientists.

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The US and Climate Change Negotiations

Some countries, of which the US is the most influential and powerful, have been accused of being counter-productive during climate change negotiations.

When the Kyoto Protocol was written in 1997, it was mainly US and its business lobby that vehemently opposed the protocol based on economic concerns.

While the Clinton Administration signed and ratified the protocol, the Republican majority Congress, was opposed to this. When Bush came to power, he eventually withdrew from the international agreement.

President Bush cited a number of concerns, along the following themes:

  • Economic concerns;
  • That the Kyoto protocol was a political document;
  • That it is unfair that countries like China and India do not emission reduction targets.

But are these concerns and reasons justified or legitimate?

Policy Strategy

In a June 2000 presentation, the World Resource Institute (WRI) asked what is fair concerning developing countries and climate change.

WRI noted that there has often been a strong push by big business lobbies and related interests when environmental regulation is attempted. The resulting environmental policy strategy tends to have the following steps:

  1. Deny it
  2. Fight it
  3. Dilute it
  4. Delay it
  5. Do it
  6. Market it

These steps have also applied to climate change discussions:

Step 1: Deny it

With this step, we saw a lot of skepticism initially coming from US-based scientists, many accused of reporting for big business interests, such as oil and automobile industries.

Step 2: Fight it

With step 2, and with climate change, WRI notes that step 2 has become “blame someone else for it”, referring to Bush’s attempts to criticize the Protocol for not imposing reductions on developing countries.

Step 3: Dilute it

With step 3, it is interesting to note that the climate change negotiations that led to the Kyoto Protocol involved extremely heavy concessions on steps and measures to take, in order to get the United States in on the agreement. To criticize later the Kyoto Protocol for being a political document (see below) is a cruel irony.

Step 4: Delay it

With step 4, many have criticized the US and others of delaying effective action or in other ways attempting to derail effective action.

Steps 5 and 6: Do it and Market it

Steps 5 and 6 still have to unfold for the climate change issue. At the same time, while the Bush Administration has at least admitted it is not against action on climate change (just that it opposes the Kyoto Protocol), it is spending money on research and technology.

Yet, combined with delay tactics, this may be a way to ensure the US doesn’t lose its position of power by implementing climate change measures. If its companies can find ways to be more efficient and clean, then it can gain clout and prestige and recognition of help save the world.

By going its own way, it is ignoring international issues and concerns, and so this can be seen as a political move to ensure economic and geopolitical success on this major environmental issue without consideration of the rest of the world. Unfortunately it is often this “go it alone” approach that also creates a lot of resentment against the US in the eyes of many around the world.

The build-up to the 2005 G8 Summit saw the US’s position on this quite clearly, as reported by the Observer:

Extraordinary efforts by the White House to scupper Britain’s attempts to tackle global warming have been revealed in leaked US government documents obtained by The Observer.

… The documents [part of the Bush administration’s submission to the 2005 G8 action plan for the Gleneagles G8 Summit] obtained by The Observer represent an attempt by the Bush administration to undermine completely the science of climate change and show that the US position has hardened during the G8 negotiations. They also reveal that the White House has withdrawn from a crucial United Nations commitment to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions.

The documents show that Washington officials:

  • Removed all reference to the fact that climate change is a “serious threat to human health and to ecosystems”;
  • Deleted any suggestion that global warming has already started;
  • Expunged any suggestion that human activity was to blame for climate change.

Among the sentences removed was the following: “Unless urgent action is taken, there will be a growing risk of adverse effects on economic development, human health and the natural environment, and of irreversible long-term changes to our climate and oceans.”

Another section erased by the White House adds: “Our world is warming. Climate change is a serious threat that has the potential to affect every part of the globe. And we know that … mankind’s activities are contributing to this warming. This is an issue we must address urgently.”

Earlier this month, the senior science academies of the G8 nations, including the US National Academy of Science, issued a statement saying that evidence of climate change was clear enough to compel their leaders to take action…. It is now clear that this advice has been completely ignored by Bush and his advisers.

Mark Townsend, New US move to spoil climate accord, Observer, June 19, 2005

Perhaps since then, however, the US position has changed? For example, in the 2007 State of the Union speech at the beginning of January that year, President Bush announced various strategies and investment plans for cleaner technology.

However, as the BBC notes, some terminology has been used very misleadingly. For example, claims of emissions reductions may actually invovle emissions rises, but just at a slower rate. Hence, while scientists talk about emission reduction as actual reductions, politicians talk about future reductions based on current emissions, which sounds positive, but is misleading compared to the intents and actual advice of climate scientists.

The BBC correspondent noting this warned,

The publicity from [US Energy Secretary Samuel] Bodman and his benevolent business allies spoke of reducing emissions… It is a linguistic trick of huge importance to … everyone else who is likely to be at the sharp end of some climate-related impact in the coming years. We should all observe its emergence, document its every use, and fear it like the plague.

Richard Black, The semantics of climate change, BBC, February 3, 2007

Furthermore, almost a year after the above-mentioned story about attempts to silence NASA’s top climate scientist, many media outlets have reported on a new survey where hundreds of government scientists say they have perceived or personally experienced pressure from the Bush administration to eliminate phrases such as “climate change” and “global warming” from their reports and public statements. A US government hearing in the US is also pursuing this further as the seriousness of climate change is becoming more accepted.

Economic Concerns

As the WRI also noted in the above-mentioned presentation, climate change would not have an adverse impact on the US economy:

  • 80 percent of industrial output and 90 percent of employment is concentrated in industries where energy costs are less than 3% of the total output value
  • People of the developing countries will struggle most with the effects of climate change.

Furthermore, as WRI notes for previous major environmental issues, when international talks came on regulating harmful activities, again big business went on the defensive. The above steps applied in those situations too. Typically, the environmental problem under discussion would initially be denied as existing. Once it was not possible to deny it would be faught using fear, such as citing major economic concerns such as job losses or excessive costs that never occurred.

Such issues included:

(For more on the above three examples, see Eric A. Davidson, You Can’t Eat GNP; Economics as if Ecology Mattered, Purseus Publishing, 2001), chapter 5, especially pp. 94 - 98.)

Kyoto is a Political Document

The US Bush Administration backed out of the Kyoto Protocol, criticizing it for being a political document. The cruel irony here is the US ignored it is a diluted document due to its very own business-backed concerns that forced the rest of the world into making deep concessions in the Protocol just to get the US on-board in the first place.

Furthermore, perhaps it is a self-fullfilling prophecy, intentional or not, that the Protocol is weakened to get US buy-in (for it is recognized they are a key player). By subsequently pulling out, it leaves the Protocol in a weaker position, resulting in more discussions and talks being required, thus being open to accusations of being a political document only where progress is slow!

Yet, in some respects, such documents have to be political. International treaties on such major global concerns have to attempt to take all different nations’ considerations.

The word “political” is often overloaded, being associated with many negative connotations. Concepts such as common but different responsibilities (for the third world) had to be in there (discussed further below).

Developing Countries are not subject to reduction targets

The US Senate in 1997 voted in favor of the Byrd-Hagel senate resolution, which demanded the developing countries participate in the climate treaty and be subject to scheduled commitments to limit greenhouse gas emissions during the same compliance period for the rich countries.

But as WRI also noted, conversely, developing countries did not want to accept commitments without demonstrable progress from industrialized nations. That is, if rich countries (who are responsible for climate change in the first place) will not do something, then the poor definitely shouldn’t be made to do so.

It has long been recognized since the Convention document (which the US signed up to, as well), that the poorer countries share global concerns with the rich countries, but because they are not responsible for the climate change and because they have pressing development needs, they should not be forced into making emission cuts at this time.

Furthermore, as WRI charges, Developing country commitments are not the point; The real point of the environmental policy campaign is to “undermine any domestic action on climate change, and to sabotage the international negotiations.” That is, the developing country argument can be used to deflect attention away from the US towards the poorer countries. This was seen in some of the conferences where Europe too suggested the poor countries commit to reductions before further negotiations continued, counter to what they had all recognized and signed up to in the early 1990s.

Yet, further still, key developing countries are already making reductions and transitions showing rich countries that it can be done.

This concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities” and the developing country situation is explored in further detail late in this site’s section on global warming, in the social justice and equity part. Please do visit that for more detail on this important perspective.

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Possible Geopolitical Angles

There may be possible geopolitical angles that also explain the support of the business interests and of fossil fuels in some of the more powerful nations:

That is, due to the immense resources and costs involved in bringing fossil fuels to mass use, it is not necessarily something that every nation can afford. Hence, those who dominate in this area do exert a lot of political power and influence, globally.

Being a backbone to the modern world, this is perhaps a crucial issue from power politics perspective.

(The dominating powers used to be the U.S. and Soviet Union. Now it is primarily the U.S. Other parts of the world though rely on U.S. power, such as various Middle East countries, some industrialized nations, and some emerging nations, though the relationships between each other and the U.S. is not concrete. We see for example the E.U. being open to other forms of fuels and often going counter to the U.S. on many issues. The Middle East is a hot spot of extremism and despotic leaders and ordinary citizens in the middle, and so on.)

If alternative forms are readily accessible then all nations could potentially develop it and be less dependent on a few. Dependency and loss of control for poor nations, for example, has been a major issue throughout history including the post World War II global system.

Ultimately, whether from ecological, social, political or economic angle, in the long run and for humanity and the planet, this is not sound geopolitics either, (because it expends more resources in maintaining this power, in terms of military and other avenues) contributing to other issues such as climate, poverty etc.

Yet, relationships of power seems to be one of the ultimate issues, historically and in modern times, in the arena of international politics and relations. As a result, we have issues of poverty, terrorism and other related causes and effects.

Addressing this via a climate change program is not going to solve the world’s problems, but may contribute in removing some heavy dependency on fossil fuel and the resulting geopolitics of the Middle East, Central Asia and other areas that have led to insecurity, instability and terrorism.

The above is a gross oversimplification, as this is a far deeper issue of geopolitics and not covered here. For some more details on this angle though, see the Geopolitics and Trade, Economy, & Related Issues parts of this web site.

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Author and Page Information

  • by Anup Shah
  • Created: Sunday, November 12, 2000
  • Last Updated: Monday, March 05, 2012

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Document Revision History

DateReason
March 5, 2012Small note that economic costs of mitigation far outweighed by costs of not doing anything and about the Heartland Institute funding climate change denial views.
October 23, 2011Small note that 200 major companies have called for tougher action on climate change
October 4, 2009Added some notes about conservative think tanks funding the majority of environmental and science scepticism in recent decades, and how the US Chamber of Commerce has lost key members due to its stance on climate change and on its idea to put climate change policy and science on trial.
February 14, 2007Notes about some organizations still trying to undermine climate change action
February 4, 2007Additional note added about Australian and more US government scientists complaining about being pressured to change their descriptions of climate change impacts. Added a small note about subtle propaganda in describing emission increases at reduced rates as actual reductions
January 28, 2007Small note added about more companies calling for urgent action on climate change
January 29, 2006More about silencing critics—this time NASA’s top climate scientist feeling the pressure from NASA and the Bush Administration. Also added note on US stance during the 2005 G8 Summit
June 21, 2005Added some notes on how a number of businesses call for urgent action on climate change
December 25, 2004The UN Convention discussions part was moved out into another page.Added section on media reporting.Added section on the US position.

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Sometimes links to other sites may break beyond my control. Where possible, alternative links are provided to backups or reposted versions here.