A Prolonged and Solemn Farce

“A prolonged and solemn farce” was Churchill’s description of the disarmament talks of the 1930s, but it applies even more accurately to the annual round of United Nation’s climate talks, which just wrapped up their 17th year of world-saving negotiations in Durban, South Africa, with another 11th hour “breakthrough” agreement that amounts only to an agreement to meet again next year and repeat the farce.  Basically the agreement says all nations of the world will reach a legally binding treaty, similar to the Kyoto Protocol, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but not until 2015, to take effect in 2020.  They’ve kicked the can so far down the road it’s already been cleared out from the recycling bin.

The chances of such an agreement being reached is zero, for the same reasons that a successor to the Kyoto Protocol couldn’t be adopted in Copenhagen two years ago.  Meanwhile, the UN groupies committed to providing $100 billion a year in climate aid for developing nations, but there’s no mechanism for coughing up the money.  They call this “aspirational” in diplomatic circles.  Looks a lot like the Eurozone negotiations to me.   (In fact, both exercises have a lot in common; more on this point in a separate post.)

The fact that the entire UN process has gone well past its “sell-by” date can be seen in this morning’s media coverage.  While the Washington Post’s Juliet Eilprin, perhaps the worst environmental reporter among the major media outlets, calls it “a significant agreement,” her story runs in page 8 of the Post, which tells you something about how significant her editors think the story is.  The New York Times “news analysis,” by the more serious John Broder, appears on page 11 of the national print edition, and includes this assessment:

There is no denying the dedication and stamina of the environment ministers and diplomats who conduct these talks. But maybe the task is too tall. The issues on the table are far broader than atmospheric carbon levels or forestry practices or how to devise a fund to compensate those most affected by global warming. . .

Effectively addressing climate change will require over the coming decades a fundamental remaking of energy production, transportation and agriculture around the world — the sinews of modern life. It is simply too big a job for those who have gathered for these talks under the 1992 United Nations treaty that began this grinding process.

So, who’s been saying this from the beginning?  Just about everyone the climate campaign derides as “skeptics” and “deniers.”  But Broder essentially ratifies what I told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in testimony last spring, to which I added this coda:

But climate assistance has revived the old idea of requiring wealthy nations to indemnify poor nations. The German newspaper Neue Zurcher Zeitung observed shortly before the Cancun summit last year: “The next world climate summit in Cancun is actually an economy summit during which the distribution of the world’s resources will be negotiated.” What prompted this conclusion was a candid admission from a UN official closely involved with the climate negotiations, German economist Ottmar Edenhoffer: “But one must say clearly that we redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy. Obviously, the owners of coal and oil will not be enthusiastic about this. One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. This has almost nothing to do with environmental policy anymore.”

This is the kind of loose and unserious talk that brings discredit to the UN and to international climate diplomacy. But it is very popular with much of the UN’s constituency, and America’s diplomatic corps indulges this mentality with polite indifference. With only a few exceptions, such as under Pat Moynihan in the 1970s and Jeanne Kirkpatrick in the 1980s, American diplomats do not call out this kind of redistributionist enthusiasm, or if they have, that fact goes un-advertised to the American public, which quite sensibly hears these kinds of sentiments and forms a low opinion of the UN. . .

The idea of climate adjustment assistance has revived at the UN an old idea from the 1970s—what was called then the “New International Economic Order.” The premise of the New International Economic Order, as explained at the time by West Germany’s Chancellor Willy Brandt, was that there needed to be “a large scale transfer of resources to developing countries.” This was back in the hey-day of post-colonial Western guilt, and it came to an abrupt end in the 1980s when President Reagan forcefully repudiated it at a UN summit in, coincidentally, Cancun.

Let’s call climate diplomacy for what it is: climate dipsomania.  And here’s a suggestion for any GOP candidate who wants to peel off some undecided primary voters: pledge that if elected, the U.S. will stop participating in the UN climate circus.

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