Voluntarily cutting growth or consumption seems unlikely; what is the alternative?
The COP-11 talks — or rather, "the first meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol in conjunction with the eleventh session of the Conference of the Parties to the Climate Change Convention" — are coming up in Montreal at the end of the month. The protocol (itself a product of COP-3) went into effect in February. According to the treaty, the parties to the protocol were supposed to have an agreement about post-Kyoto steps before it went into effect.
"There is a consensus that the caps, targets and timetables approach is flawed. If we spend the next five years arguing about that, we’ll be fiddling and negotiating while Rome burns," [Australian Environment Minister Ian] Campbell said.
The big complaint from the U.S. and Australia (and, increasingly, Kyoto participants) is that developing countries like China and India are not bound by the protocol. With billions of poor waiting for the fruits of modern society, robust growth, and economies driven by cheap, easily available coal, these countries will soon swamp any CO2 reductions made by developed countries.
U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair apparently agrees. He echoed this line of thinking in an Observer editorial hyping the importance of the climate talks opening today in London between the G8 countries and developing-world nations. He has been increasingly blunt lately about the fact that he no longer believes the Kyoto model ("caps, targets, and timetables approach") can work; this week’s talks will focus instead on technology.
COP-11 may play out as a big international bitching session about the U.S.’s refusal to ratify Kyoto. But even if the U.S. and Australia committed to Kyoto, and every country already involved in Kyoto magically met its targets (which seems unlikely), worldwide CO2 emissions would not be reversed or even stabilized. A Kyoto best case scenario is still a grim outcome for the planet.
I may be pilloried for this by my environmental brethren, but I’m inclined to think Blair is right that "no country is going to cut its growth or consumption substantially in the light of a long-term environmental problem." It would be nice if they would. It would also be nice if they gave ponies to all their small children. But we’d have to see a pretty drastic change in geopolitics — nay, human nature — for such behavior to become the norm.
People want better lives. Countries want to develop. If our survival depends on voluntarily slowing or stopping development, we’re probably well and truly screwed.
The alternative is to put our time, energy, money, and international agreements behind techniques and technologies for sustainable development. It’s a long shot, but it’s starting to look like the only one.