Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Progress at Durban?

The two sides of contrast in the COP-17 agreement at Durban seem to divide on the perspective of goal advancement. Assume for a moment that the necessary emission reductions and other necessary strategies (leaning more towards various geo-engineering applications) can be akin to society collecting 10 fireflies in a jar. Suppose the consequence to not collecting these fireflies in a certain time frame is death.

The group who believes that Durban is a success could argue that Durban captured one firefly, finally the ‘developing’ nations like China and India acknowledge that they will need to cut emissions in consort with the developed nations not after. These individuals could also argue that those who view Durban as a failure are being unreasonable, assuming that a vast majority, if not all, of the fireflies could be captured in a single swipe of the jar. The ‘Durban was a success’ crowd believes that the best strategy for capturing all ten fireflies is to capture one firefly at a time and because Durban seems to have done just that it should be considered a success.

The ‘Durban was a failure’ crowd believes this mindset is foolish. This criticism flows one of two ways. First, society has not collected 10 fireflies yet and until that happens nothing else should be viewed as a success. Overall while understandable, this mindset is rather counterproductive and unrealistic because no rational person would conclude that such a dramatic shift in human society could occur in a single element short-time frame.

Second, even if you could argue that Durban was a success based on both the U.S., China, India, etc. actually agreeing, despite no binding elements, to reduce emissions within a global carbon scheme the problem is timing. Assume that both China and the U.S. actually live up to this pledge, a critic could state that why should people be happy about capturing one firefly, a firefly that has been evading the jar for over ten years since Kyoto. Does society really have the luxury of spending an average of ten years capturing each one of the remaining nine fireflies?

A critic could argue that perhaps it is time for a new strategy to capture these fireflies, one that does not involve aimlessly running around wildly swinging a jar (global climate conferences). Recall that a number of individuals believed that this ‘Durban’ firefly was captured in Bali in 2007 and the final details from Bali were supposed to be addressed in Copenhagen in 2009, all interested parties know how that turned out.

The biggest telling point in the above criticism is that with no binding elements in the agreement the proverbial can has simply been kicked down the street until the next conference, something society has been doing for the last decade. Without binding elements that could penalize non-participating or non-complying countries such emission agreements are equal to having a sizable hole in the jar where whether or not any fireflies remain captive is at the discretion of the firefly not society. When it is in the interest of the firefly to be free it is difficult to consider the possibility that it will voluntarily restrict itself for the sake of others.

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