Dominic Lawson: A climate deal that flatters to deceive

There was no advance on the vapid pledges made in Copenhagen which were deemed to be retrograde

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How's this for upbeat reporting? "The breakthrough – which Britain and the Prime Minister did much to bring about – came amid unprecedented scenes of enthusiasm and emotion in the early hours of Saturday morning, when tears flowed and thunderous ovations from almost all the representatives of the 194 nations gathered in the resort's sprawling Moon Palace hotel complex drowned out the last resistance."

Thus, in The Daily Telegraph, the doyen of environment correspondents, Geoffrey Lean, gave David Cameron star billing for negotiating the saving of the planet at the Cancun UN climate change summit. Amazing, really, considering that our Prime Minister, in common with almost every other head of government, chose to stay away from unseasonably cool Cancun. He obviously has a wonderful telephone manner.

Yet what is this deal that had the delegates, by Lean's on-the-spot account, shedding copious tears of happiness and relief? As far as I can tell, there was no advance on the vapid pledges made a year ago in Copenhagen, and which were deemed at the time to be retrograde and almost worthless. The UN member states agreed in Cancun that they "shall aim to complete" further commitments by developed nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions "as early as possible". The agreement dropped the earlier text that called on the world to cut emissions by 50 per cent and richer countries by over 80 per cent by 2050; in its place, all concerned agreed to "work towards identifying a global goal for substantially reduced global emissions by 2050". Yada, yada.

Oh, and the delegates repeated their Copenhagen commitment to set up a Green Climate Fund of $100bn to "address the needs of developing countries". We are given no clear idea of how this money is to be raised, delivered or allocated.

In short, every decision which would actually involve invigilated action by identifiable countries has been kicked down the road to Durban, the venue for the final UN climate summit to renew the Kyoto Protocol before it lapses in 2012. Strikingly, it was the country which hosted that agreement, Japan (generally seen as the good guy in these circles), which declared at the outset of the Cancun summit that it now had no intention of agreeing any further cuts in emissions, unless China and America agreed to be bound by the 1997 Kyoto targets – which neither of the two biggest emitters have shown any inclination to do in the intervening period.

That they have not, owes more to reason than those nation's critics are often prepared to allow. Even on the calculations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), full implementation of the Kyoto Accord would have cost hundreds of billions of dollars in lost economic growth, while helping to reduce global temperatures by less than one third of one degree Fahrenheit in 100 years. It is hardly any wonder that there are no serious economists to be found who think that the best way to relieve global poverty, in the developing world or anywhere else, is in fighting the good fight against carbon emissions.

Had the boom years of the late 1990s and early 2000s continued, then their arguments might have gained much less traction; but at a time of deep fiscal retrenchment and with a steep rise in families affected by fuel poverty (that is, those who need to spend over 10 per cent of their income on fuel) such critiques have become much more compelling. No wonder the developed nations were studiously unspecific in Cancun about the sources and method of collection of the $100bn Green Climate Fund for poorer countries. Just a cursory examination of the fiscal state of most Western European exchequers, not to mention the truly colossal budget deficit in the United States, and the inevitably harsh measures which will be imposed by those governments on their own citizenry, should be enough to make the poorer countries deeply cynical about their prospects of collecting said $100bn – as indeed they are.

Incidentally, it is one of the paradoxical aspects of this whole business that the most scary planetary overheating forecasts from the IPCC are predicated on a massive expansion of the economies of the developing world, as they embrace the path to growth from cheap electricity and motor travel which the West underwent (to our great advantage); on this basis, the developing world itself has a choice between warmer and richer, or less warmth and more poverty. Not surprisingly, it wants the former – which is why a year ago the World Bank was asked to approve a multibillion-dollar loan for South Africa to build what would be one of the largest coal-fired power stations in the world. While countries such as Britain and the US refused to vote for the loan, it was carried by the united support of the Bank's board members from developing countries.

Nothing daunted, the British Government continues to insist that it will be "the greenest ever", and presses ahead with plans to cover our countryside with grotesquely subsidised wind turbines and solar panels, almost as if unaware that other European nations, such as Germany, Spain and France, are rapidly reining back their bankrolling of landowners who have raked in billions of consumers' and taxpayers' money under the great green energy boondoggle.

The past freezing fortnight in the United Kingdom shed an especially illuminating light on the dottiness of relying on wind power. Because winds are frequently very low during the coldest weather, our shiny new green energy source was able only to supply one 500th of the exceptionally large demand, as much of the country experienced unprecedentedly low early winter temperatures. It is for similar reasons that Germany, despite its vast investment in wind power, has not been able to decommission a single one of its conventional power stations.

Geoffrey Lean tells us that "green technologies provide plenty of jobs ... they provide several times as much work per dollar invested than fossil fuels". Yes, indeed, but it is only in the Alice-through-the-looking-glass world of "green economics" that nations are believed to benefit from a deliberate and dramatic loss of productivity and increase in costs per unit of energy generated. In the real world, it is a recipe for the import of carbon and the export of jobs. This, in part, is why the Bremen Energy Institute argues that "wind energy macroeconomically has a negative employment impact".

As Jeremy Nicholson, the director of the Energy Intensive Users Group, which represents such industries as steel and aluminium, points out: "Outsourcing our emissions is not a solution to a global problem. Politicians need to understand that unilateral action will come at a terrible cost in terms of UK manufacturing jobs, investment and export revenue, for no discernible environmental gain. Is that what they really want?"

No, they surely don't. On the other hand this Conservative-Liberal Coalition Government, like its Labour predecessor, sets great store by the almost imperial idea that the UK is a "world leader in the fight against climate change", which, in legislative terms, means becoming an outlier in mandatory carbon emission reductions. This means that they get adulatory write-ups by environment correspondents attending UN summits, with the Prime Minister hailed as a saviour of the climate: on the other hand, it's the rest of us who will have to pay the bill.

d.lawson@independent.co.uk

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