It was generally agreed to be the most amusing event at the two week climate change talks in the Qatari capital of Doha. Lord Monckton, having spent the previous few days variously sitting on a camel or swanning around the sprawling convention centre in Arabian robes, fooled everyone by dressing up as an Englishman and waltzing in to a plenary and finding a seat next to the Burmese flag.
Monckton fiddled with some buttons and then intervened, declaring that global warming had not occurred and calling for an urgent review of the IPCC, before being ushered out, evicted, having his card removed and forever banned from these climate change conferences.
Monckton is variously described as a clown or a fool, and is possibly both. But despite loudly boasting of the supposed success of his antics over the phone to his sponsors – “we really stirred them up,” he claimed – he has no impact at all on these negotiations.
The days when a Saudi negotiator could question the science about climate change are long past. These days they are announcing with other Gulf nation’s that they will seek to reduce their emissions and diversify their economies away from fossil fuels.
The biggest impact on these negotiations comes not from the of a Monckton, an Ian Plimer or even a James Delingpole; it comes from the likes of Tony Abbott, those who voted him into his role as Opposition leader, and those who pull the strings in the Republican Party in the US – now torn asunder by the Tea Party movement – and other reactionary governments.
Tony Abbott has once let slip his views on climate science, and called it “crap.” But since then he has hidden behind a scare campaign on the costs of the carbon price – an argument that is looking increasingly foolish. But still he insists on attempting to repeal it should he win power, and pursuing his “direct action” policy that has no credibility. Most people question if it could meet a 5 per cent target, let alone a higher one.
RenewEconomy talked to negotiators from numerous countries during and at the conclusion of the Doha talks, and the overwhelming response was that domestic politics had been the biggest drain on ambition, and the inability of any major party to respond to calls to meet the science.
This was true of Australia, where there is bipartisan support only for a 5 per cent target, of New Zealand, of the EU, which has been hamstrung by the antics of Poland, and of course by the US, where Tea Party politics have derailed the search for middle ground between Republicans and Democrats.
Some speculate that the absurd rhetoric in the Australian political discourse is holding back a move to increase its ambition. Australia has a 5-25 per cent range that depends on what other countries do, but some have argued that other countries are already doing enough to move to 10-15 per cent emission reduction target – a range that would be beyond the wildest dreams of Abbott’s green army and soil carbon.
Even so, the government seems reluctant to take the Opposition on. That’s not surprising, because without the Greens holding the balance of power, Labor would not have taken on a carbon price either.
“You cannot blame the UN for what is happening here,” said Jennifer Morgan, from the World Resources Institute, who has attended all 18 Conference of the Parties, the annual climate change summit. “If the US, China, or Europe had come here with a vision, it can change the dynamics completely. Consensus voting doesn’t matter any more. But there are no leaders out there right now.”
Morgan noted that a small group of Latin American countries had been created . “But we need the big guys to step up. With greater political will we can deliver a greater mandate for change, because this process just mirrors the domestic politics. If countries come here with a low mission mandate, then it is no surprise that this process fails.”
The big task is trying to bring that level of unity to the next climate change conference. The EU is working hard on Poland, which ironically is the host of the next talks, and there is growing optimism that Obama may use the political capital to push for greater climate action in the US.
“The fundamental issues that have to be agreed are the level of ambition, the equitable allocation of responsibility for that, and to dramatically ramp up climate finance,” said Alden Meyer, from the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists.
“These are all politically difficult issues. I am under no illusion that having one track (of negotiations) makes those differences disappear.”
Meyer said advocates would have to work hard on the US, but he saw a window of opportunity in the changing public response to Hurricane Sandy in the east, the severe drought in the mid-west, and the devastating wildfires in the country’s west. “Americans are connecting the dots on this.”
This was a theme taken up by Nick Mabey, from London-based E3G, who said that the US was moving towards a focus on reducing risk rather than a fixation on minimising mitigation costs.
Even Todd Stern, the dour chief envoy for the US at climate change talks, said Sandy had made an impact and held “important lessons for all of us.” He noted the “tens of millions” who had been impacted directly or indirectly. “I don’t think those people are interested in ideological, or rhetorical exchanges about climate change of the kind that often happens in the US. I think they are much more interested in action being taken to protect them, to protect their families and their homes, and their businesses.”