Published February 25, 2010
Despite the debacle of the failed Copenhagen climate change conference last December, the United Nations is pressing full speed ahead with a plan for a greatly expanded system of global environmental governance and for a multitrillion-dollar economic transfer scheme to ignite the creation of a "global green economy."
In other words: Copenhagen without the authority — yet — of Copenhagen.
The world body even has chosen a time and a place for the culmination of the process: a World Summit on Sustainable Development to be held in Rio de Janeiro in 2012, the 20th anniversary of the famed "Earth Summit" that gave focus and urgency to the world environmentalist movement.
The 2012 summit date is significant for another reason: It marks the end of the legal term of agreement for the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions, which includes carbon reduction targets, and provided the legal basis for an international cap-and-trade market for carbon, centered in Europe. The U.S. first signed then backed away from the Kyoto deal without ratifying it; until its apparent collapse, the comprehensive Copenhagen deal was intended to include the U.S. and supplant Kyoto with a new, legally binding regime.
The new Rio summit will end, according to U.N. documents obtained by Fox News, with a "focused political document" presumably laying out the framework and international commitments to a new Green World Order.
Just exactly what that environmental order will look like, and the extent of the immense financial commitments needed to produce it, are under discussion this week at a special session in Bali, Indonesia, of the United Nations Environment Program's 58-nation "Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environmental Forum," which oversees UNEP's operations.
The GC/GMEF, as it is known, is made up of environmental ministers and top-level bureaucrats from a roster of supervising nations — the U.S. is one of them — and its meeting is surrounded by a galaxy of environmentalist non-government organizations (NGOs) and environmental journalists from around the world.
Idyllic Bali is a favored venue for U.N. environmental meetings, in part because of its seclusion from too many outside eyes, and because its Pacific location and small size make it a highly congenial hothouse for environmental enthusiasm. In 2007, it served as a launching pad for the Bali Action Plan, which laid the negotiating basis for the Copenhagen treaty process.
The latest Bali session runs from Feb. 24 to 26, and is accompanied by a welter of other UNEP activity ranging from sessions on international waste management and chemical disposal, to the start of a process aimed at a new international treaty covering the storage and disposal of environmental mercury.
But the major topics are a global system of governance and what amounts to the next stage of a radical transformation of the world economic and social order, in the name of saving the planet.
Alongside that, as always, are discussions of vast sums of money that should flow to developing nations to help them make the transition to the new, greener world. As one of the papers written in advance of the meeting to "stimulate discussion" puts it, "the situation ... presents genuine opportunities for a dramatic shift from what can be termed 'business as usual.'"
For the anonymous bureaucrats who wrote the discussion papers, "business as usual" apparently means the current world economy, which the anonymous authors disparagingly term the "brown economy," or the "current dominant economic model." It is, according to the UNEP documents, a model in crisis, "which currently consumes more biomass than the Earth produces on a sustainable basis," and also "depletes natural capital" and "risks perpetuating and exacerbating persistent poverty and distributional disparities."
The new green economy under discussion at Bali will be something very different: For starters, it is much more vague, and as far as the discussion paper authors are concerned, it will stay that way.
The paper paints the coming green order in nebulous and utopian terms. It "implies the decoupling of resource use and environmental impacts from economic growth." It involves "substantially increased investment in green sectors, supported by enabling policy reforms." The investments will "provide the mechanism for the reconfiguration of businesses, infrastructure and institutions, and for adoption of sustainable consumption and production processes." It will lead to "more green and decent jobs, reduced energy and material intensities in production processes, less waste and pollution, and significantly reduced greenhouse-gas emissions."
But when it comes to measuring the achievement of those goals, the paper says, "it is counter-productive to develop generic green economy indicators applicable to all countries given differences in natural, human and economic resources." In the process of turning brown to green, "a green economy in one country may look quite dissimilar to a green economy in another country."
All of which may make judging the value of investment in the ecological transformation difficult to evaluate, except for insiders. But then, the paper suggests that the world may have an additional governing structure composed of exactly those insiders. As the paper puts it:
"Moving towards a green economy would also provide an opportunity to re-examine national and global governance structures and consider whether such structures allow the international community to respond to current and future environmental and development challenges and to capitalize on emerging opportunities."
The discussion paper, published — but not distributed — on Dec. 14, 2009, assumes that the goal of the green economic transformation is the same as that of the ill-fated Copenhagen conference: a 50 percent reduction in global carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. That, the paper says, will require a staggering $45 trillion dollar to accomplish — much of it in transfers from rich nations to poorer ones.
The paper, however, paints that as a bargain — "an average yearly investment of just over $1 trillion." About half of that would go for "replacing conventional technologies with low-carbon, environmentally sound alternatives."
Another major investment target would be "ecosystem-based adaptation and mitigation"—paying people and governments to maintain and expand forests, wetlands, coral reefs and other productive sources of "natural capital," which the current "dominant economic model" — the paper provides no other specifics — abuses.
But that is only the beginning of the transformation. Consumption patterns must change, so that fewer wasteful products are consumed, and more ecologically proper ones are produced — organic food and beverages, for example. The UNEP authors, citing other analytical papers produced by UNEP, claim that "the global market for environmental products and services is projected to double from the present $1.37 trillion per year to $2.74 trillion by 2020."
Beyond the organic food market, however, "environmental products and services" are not defined in much detail. One area would be the management of chemicals and solid and hazardous waste — as the paper puts it, "solid waste management alone consumes on average 20-50 percent of most city budgets."
In social terms, one of the most important goals of the transformation would be jobs, jobs, jobs — all of them green, and many of them, as it happens, already in existence.
The report notes, for example, that the U.S. recycling industry as of 2002 already employed over 1 million people; more investment would thus provide "significant opportunities" for more job creation. The same goes for looking after trees: Citing the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the paper claims that "10 million new green jobs could be created by investing in sustainable forest management."
The report argues that significant amounts of the money developed countries have thrown at the problem of ending their current steep recessions could be counted as the type of green investment it envisages as part of the trillion-a-year future. In the U.S., for example, the document says that 11.6 percent of the economic stimulus as of August 2009 — about $112.8 billion — is the type it sees as vastly increasing in the future.
Where is all the money supposed to come from? The paper is emphatic that government alone doesn't have enough. The paper says that "regulated market mechanisms" are needed to "to promote new and innovative investments in green technology."
But above all, the paper asserts, the focus on ecological transformation must become all-encompassing if it is to succeed. Quoting from UNEP's formal medium-term strategy for 2010 to 2013, it says that "linkages between environmental sustainability and the economy will emerge as a key focus for public policymaking and a determinant of future market opportunities."
In other words, the green economy requires a green-oriented political revolution. As UNEP's medium-term strategy puts it: "The current environmental challenges and opportunities will cause the environment to move from often being considered a marginal issue at the intergovernmental and national levels to the center of political and economic decision-making."
The authors of the UNEP "discussion" papers see that organization — the U.N.'s principal environmental watchdog — and especially its governing "Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environmental Forum," as the central nexus of that new eco-centric regime — and that strengthening its authority at both the national and international levels will be a growing theme as the 2012 Rio Conference looms nearer.
"It is clear that environmental ministers alone cannot meet today's environmental challenges," asserts yet another Bali discussion paper. "One step towards strengthening their standing vis-à-vis other sectors is to strengthen the national [environmental] governance system."
Meantime, UNEP's GC/GMEF "is mandated to bring all environmental aspects together and to formulate broad policy advice and guidance" in the area of "international environmental governance reform" — with the aim of having it all ratified, eventually, by the U.N. General Assembly.
In all of this, it appears, the 2012 Rio Conference on Sustainable Development and the preliminary meetings that will determine its agenda is intended to play an important role in focusing attention on the agenda being discussed at Bali, and in creating the suggested frameworks of future "international governance." Above all, the planned Rio summit will be a framework that welds together the UNEP framework of environmentalism with the U.N.'s traditional anti-poverty agenda — which also involves huge investment transfers to poor countries from rich ones.
The two agendas come together in the rubric for Rio: sustainable development. As the paper on governance turgidly puts it: "eradicating poverty, changing unsustainable patterns of production and consumption and protecting and managing the natural resource base of economic and social development [are] overarching objectives of and essential requirements for sustainable development."
Vast international wealth transfers, crash investments in "green" technologies for energy, food, transportation and virtually everything else, with the aim of making enormous cuts in carbon emissions by 2050 — the sum of all the discussions underway at Bali appears indistinguishable from the Copenhagen agenda that was declared dead in December.
Except the U.N. and many nations — including the U.S. — apparently don't think so. Indeed, a series of new Copenhagen process negotiations have just been set for Bonn in April, with another set for late May to early June.
Their official aim is to bring Copenhagen back from the dead by the end of this year at a final negotiating session in Mexico.
In a press release announcing the negotiating round, Yvo de Boer, head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which manages the Copenhagen negotiating process, declared that "this constitutes a quick return to the negotiations" — and a continuing determination to put a new treaty in place as the capstone of the Green World Order.
But at the same time, he made clear that a deal by the end of the year is unlikely; 2011 is more feasible.
If that happens, de Boer won't be applauding from his current position. He has resigned, effective July 1, to become a consultant.
The first major preparatory meetings for the Rio summit in 2012 will be held at U.N. headquarters in New York City in mid-May.
George Russell is executive editor of Fox News.