Published December 19, 2012
The United Nations is pushing for a novel way to get billions of extra dollars from Western nations by imposing a retroactive penalty for still-unspecified losses and damages that can be laid at the doorstep of rich countries for their longstanding production of greenhouse gases.
The notion was vigorously opposed by the U.S. at the talks, which concluded in Doha on Dec. 8 -- even though the U.S. has never ratified the Protocol. But that did not stop the assembly of more than 195 nations from rolling the idea forward to their next meeting, in Warsaw next December.
In the meantime, the Kyoto parties are calling for more research “to further the understanding of and expertise on loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.”
In other words, the Protocol nations do not yet even know how exactly to define the loss and damage concept, especially the sort associated with “slow-onset” change associated with rising seas and desertification. Yet in their final resolution on the topic they underlined that “the lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as reason for postponing action.”
The notion of some financial mechanism to compensate some countries for their extreme weather or climate would mark a large and acrimonious step in the climate debate, especially in a time of faltering international economies.
Until now, Western nations participating in the climate discussions have tacitly accepted the historical blame for greenhouse gas emissions, but avoided the notion of specific liability, by focusing on measures to cut greenhouse gases and adapt to climate changes.
At the same time, they have handed over plenty of cash already, through the Green Climate Fund, established in 2011 as a conduit for $30 billion in annual climate financing, with a long-term target of $100 billion a year of public and private funding. At Doha, the assembled nations agreed that the GCF would be headquartered in South Korea.
By the end of the Doha meeting this month, however, the Kyoto Protocol seemed weaker than ever, with Canada, Russia and Japan having formally declared they were not participating, and Japan and Canada having declared that they were leaving the pact.
In all, about 35 industrial nations led by the European Union have said their will comply with formal carbon emission reductions under the treaty, while many others, including rising industrial giants China and Brazil, are not called on to make such cuts. For its part, the Obama Administration says it will reduce U.S. carbon emissions by 17 percent from their 2005 level by 2020, even without formal adherence to the Protocol.
President Obama, for one, has declared fighting “climate change” to be a second-term priority-- and so is the Kyoto process.
At Doha, the assembled nations agreed to extend the treaty, which would otherwise expire at the end of this year, until 2020. In the meantime, the Kyoto members along with the U.S. and even such dissidents as Canada have agreed to start work on negotiating a new treaty by 2015 that would expand the existing promises of carbon emission cuts.
The idea of a new international “loss and damage” arrangement -- likely including a catastrophic insurance fund that would be subsidized by rich nations -- has also taken on a life that may not be easy to stop.
There is no doubt that the havoc wreaked by extreme weather -- as Hurricane Sandy attested -- can be enormous. But the relationship between whatever damage may currently be wreaked, and man-made greenhouse gases as its cause, is still a matter of enormous controversy and disagreement.
At Doha, for example, the U.S. argued that “attribution of specific incidences of loss and damage to climate change, as opposed to natural climate variability and/or vulnerabilities stemming from non-climatic stresses and trends like deforestation and development patterns, is technically impossible in most every case.”
Moreover, the U.S. argued in its submission to a Doha technical panel, the very notion of how to measure the magnitude of climate effects is still highly problematic, in part due to “a lack of climate observing stations in the developing world that allow for monitoring of the climate system and would provide indicators for when thresholds are passed.”
The U.S. also put forward a flurry of other technical reasons why the idea of compensation, rather than adaptation, would not fly, including that some countries would be more likely to get cash than others, as a result of their longstanding vulnerability to tropical storms.
Overall, a State Department told Fox News, in response to queries about the U.S. position, “we noted the U.S.’s strong record in providing humanitarian and disaster assistance around the world and stressed that we see this issue as inherently part of broader efforts to promote adaptation and resilience to such events.”
The spokesman noted, however, that “a substantial number of [Kyoto] parties” advocated for a new and additional institution. Among them was the radical government of Bolivia, which saw the loss and damage idea as the access-point to a whole new trove of international cash to deal with such general environmental conditions as “sea level rise, increasing temperatures, ocean acidification, glacial retreat and related impacts, salinization, land and forest degradation, loss of biodiversity and desertification.”
Or, in short, just about everything, including the likely results of bad national development policy, local misuse of resources, and local pollution, over-hunting, or over-fishing.
The new money, according to the Bolivian submission, would be used for such things as a “solidarity fund” to provide compensation for residual or unavoidable loss and
damage,” “rehabilitation support,” and “compensation for lost development opportunities.”
Lack of consensus on the approach means that the idea will not spring to life soon, but it remains on the bargaining table, in what is likely to be an excruciating series of climate negotiation talks in the years ahead.
Meantime, according to many climate skeptics, the issue of whether there is any aggregate increase in damaging climate events at all that can be traced specifically to “climate change” is still open to question.
“I’m not sure what damage you can point to that you can say with certainty occurred on account of climate change,” one skeptical analyst who has been working on climate issues for more than two decades, told Fox News -- even while requesting anonymity. He added that when it came to extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, the record shows that their devastating force has, if anything, declined in past decades.
The difference in devastation, he argued, is not that hurricanes and similar calamities are worse, but that humanity in general is much richer, and therefore loses more when such events as Sandy strike. As he put it: “We have more assets at risk.”
When it comes to huge storms, at least, scientific studies seem to bear that contention out.
In a paper that is about to be published by the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate, three researchers from the University of Colorado’s Center for Science and Technology Policy Research surveyed 60 years’ worth of data from around the world on the intensities of hurricane-strength storms as they made landfall.
While stressing that “considerable uncertainties likely remain unresolved” in the estimates contained in the data, they conclude that while the frequency of the occurrence of such storms hitting land has gone up and down over the decades, “no significant trend” of increased frequency can be found covering the entire period.
In short, “our long-period analysis does not support claims that increasing [hurricane] landfall frequency or landfall intensity has contributed to … increasing economic losses" due to extreme weather despite claims that storms amplified by “human-caused climate change" are on the rise.