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January - February 2010

The High Cost of Market Economy Label It has fascinated Vietnam watchers, particularly those from the West, to discover the metamorphosis of the country transforming itself from a closed political system into an aspiring market economy.

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A commentary on the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit by Dr Michael Nobel, the great-grand nephew of Sir Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite. (An exclusive interview with Dr Nobel appears in the Sept-Oct edition of AseanAffairs as part of the cover story, entitled ‘Renewable Energy: Enter the Green Era’.)

The aims of the conference were clear: current global CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced substantially and the financial and political means to accomplish that must be established in a global agreement.
The waves of overwhelmingly negative reactions, ranging from despair to disgust caused by the lack of such concrete results from the Cop15 meeting have now abated somewhat. Seldom has an international conference been met with such high hopes and great expectations and rarely have its results been met with such unanimous criticism by all, from heads of state, to environmentalists, scientists, government officials, media and the general public.
Stephen Hesse of The Japan Times wrote a scalding commentary calling it “a circus of geopolitical bickering among self absorbed leaders…of politicians made ineffectual by corporate interests, of civil society groups being arrested or excluded and .....senseless process taking precedence over essential substance”

Negative prerequisites
Harsh words indeed. In retrospect it could perhaps be useful to summarise why the potential for a successful, concrete and legally binding agreement of future environmental goals was in fact quite slim from the start.

•    Too many delegates. 193 members, most of whom harbouring widely disparate viewpoints on what the conference should accomplish, was much too large a number to expect a consensus Compromises, watered down to the point of ineffectuality, again became the preferred solution to achieve at least some kind of result. The criterion, which is also being used in United Nations deliberations with the aim to seek consensus from all parties large and small, contributed to a substantial part of the failure.

•    Those with the lowest ambition level dominated the proceedings. The major developing nations such as China and India failed to put the looming crisis caused by global temperature increases before national interest of continuous growth of their own economies. In China measures protecting its present annual economic increase rate of 8+ percent in order to safeguard internal social stability, take precedence over global environmental issues, while the Indian population yearns to emulate the economic development of its neighbour. Therefore it was not the usual conflict between rich and poor nations but a problem of fossil fuel dependent nations and rapid growth developing economies.

•    China and the US together produce almost half of the world’s CO2 emissions. However, in United States the current economic crisis does not inspire political support of measures causing further downturns in its GNP, particularly considering the influence of its powerful energy industry. The hands of President Obama were thus fairly tied when it came to agreeing to large-scale reductions in CO2 emissions.

•    The so-called Copenhagen accord was produced by only five of its members, the US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa. It can thus be expected that a large number of other delegates had and continue to have disparaged opinions about the proposals in the final document.

•    The environmental goals were set too high. The UN Panel on Climate Change has suggested that industrialized countries should lessen their emissions by 25 - 40 percent. The current CO2 level worldwide is 385 parts per million and rising by 2 or 3 ppm per year. To stop the rise at 450 ppm, a precarious level event there, emissions would have to be cut by 80 percent by 2050. Faced with such impossible odds industrial nations might have felt that the task was unfeasible, paying only lip service to a reduction agreement.

A climate time bomb already at 2°
A wise American Indian chief once said: “Not before the last tree has died, the last river poisoned and the last fish is caught, will we realise that we cannot eat money.”

So what are the effects of temperature rises? Most climate experts agree that the effects of the global temperature rise upon the health of the world’s oceans are disconcerting. If the average global temperature increases with 2°, already dozens of valuable eco-systems around the world will collapse. The arctic ice layer has decreased with 40 percent since 1960, severely menacing the polar bears very existence.

The sea level will most likely rise by between 28-43 cm. The arctic summer sea ice will disappear in the second half of this century. An upsurge in global heat waves is very likely, with resulting increases in tropical storm intensity, which tragically we have witnessed in several South-East Asian countries.

Twenty percent of all coral reefs in the world have disappeared already and 50 percent of the remaining ones will be threatened by this increase in temperature.

Low-lying islands and coastal areas will be inundated. This was one of the most urgent concerns of countries such as Maldives, Seychelles and the coastal area of Bangladesh.

There will be an increase in forest fires and droughts as the climate dries out. This will acerbate an already precarious situation for many countries facing desertification of pasture and savanna.

Glaciers in Europe and in the Himalayas have lost 50 percent of their volume threatening water supplies for large segments of the populations in the valleys below. The reserve of potable water in the

world in 1950 was 17.000 m3 per inhabitant, in the year 2000 it had decreased to 7.800 m3 per person. The next problem facing mankind will be a lack of sweet water.

And then we have the spectre of ever-increasing pollution. During the last 25 years 40 percent of life in the oceans have died out due to pollution. 25 percent of the mammals, 33 percent of the fis

hes and one out of eight birds in the world face eradication.

Positive conference results

What are the positive results to be drawn from the conference?

•    The most important outcome might be the world’s reactions to the absence of a positive resolution accomplished at the Cop15. No doubt follow-up conferences in Germany and Mexico this year will strive to avoid a repetition of these mistakes allowing for future concrete positive negotiations and results.

•    The 100 billion dollar fund promised by Hillary Clinton for CO2 reducing efforts among developing countries. However this fund is conditional upon the developing countries accepting to submit to a control and supervision system.

•    Out of the frustration borne by the Cop15 changes proposed by organizations outside the establishment might gain a foothold. 20 % of energy produced in Denmark already comes from renewable sources i.e. wind power. Such examples or the ambitious energy savings program proposed by the Spanish government could lead to bilateral agreements between countries and government departments.

•    New ideas and solutions formulated on a regional and local level between non-governmental parties could also make a significant difference. Grass root movements could gain a larger say, as politicians want to avoid loss of voters, at least in the more democratic countries.

•    A new model for CO2 reduction. The Swedish reporter David Jonstad exposed such a system: “On the basis of science create a carbon dioxide budget for the entire planet and distribute it equally between the citizens of the world; it could put negotiations in a whole new light and cut several of the Gordian knots.”

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