Climate conference faces brush with reality

In case you missed it – and judging by the complete lack of coverage on the cable news networks you may very well have – there was yet another climate conference held this week in Bonn, Germany. But rather than the usual singing in the round of Bob Dylan tunes and boisterous plans to alter the world, there was a decidedly depressed tone to the discussions. It’s not that they’ve suddenly begun to question their previously held beliefs concerning anthropogenic global warming, (AGW) but rather a grim realization that most of the nations involved are a bit too busy making sure their economies don’t collapse to dump a significant portion of their GDP into carbon emission control.

The United States has little credibility at the negotiating table; China is showing signs of “buyer’s remorse” for commitments already made, and the European Union is desperately trying to save the Kyoto Protocol from a premature death.

Negotiators concluded two weeks of climate talks in Bonn on Friday, providing a sobering view of the political roadblocks on the way to Durban, South Africa, where ministers will meet in December.

With the world economy still reeling from financial and debt crises, there is a fading hope that countries will accept a pact that would see greenhouse gas emissions peak by 2015 and then begin to drop. And more important, that they will follow through with their own promised emission reductions.

The UN’s chief climate negotiator acknowledged Friday that economic and political challenges are competing with the scientific urgency of reducing emissions.

The “lack of credibility” cited regarding the United States was, at least according to a few of the participants interviewed, laid squarely at the feet of Barack Obama. Nobody was doubting that the president was talking the talk, but they saw no way he could walk the walk. Any plan which would require significant costs is rightly being viewed as a non-starter given our debt problems, and they further noted that Obama has lost control of the House, so a new, costly emissions regulation plan would never even make it to a vote.

The other problem causing the talks to essentially fall apart until their next meeting in December was the lack of buy-in by both China and some developing countries. Even if China participates, they are insisting on a “trust me” approach where no outside verification of compliance would be allowed. Smaller, developing countries are also balking, saying that the U.S. and the other major economic powers are getting off too easy and not paying enough of the costs.

All in all, this one looks to have been a complete flop. The participants seem to at least be waking up to the fact that the world is on the precipice of financial ruin and nobody is much interested in sinking themselves further just to push this group’s agenda.

EDIT: As helpfully pointed out in comments, while the Senate may be “out of control,” Reid is still a Democrat. Obama lost control of the House.