Climate Science Watch director Rick Piltz talked with Al Jazeera English TV about the conclusion of the Copenhagen climate conference and where it leaves us.
Al Jazeera English TV news anchor Rob Reynolds interviewed Piltz, along with Daphne Wysham of the Institute for Policy Studies, in Washington D.C. on December 19, right after the conclusion of the climate treaty Conference of the Parties held in Copenhagen. Piltz Q&A included the following:
Q: Given all the interests at stake here, from China, from the developing world, do you think a better agreement could realistically have been hammered out?
RP: Well, if they’d started farther upstream getting down to the serious business of hammering out an agreement, yes, but I think it’s been clear for months now that we were very unlikely to get anything more than a political statement at the end of this conference. There’s not the level of trust, there’s not the willingness to make the commitments, particularly on the developed country side. Clearly what they’ve come up with is a kind of face-saving final statement. They decided it was essential not to walk away from this thing and say ‘we failed totally,’ but we are now very far from where we need to be.
Q: What does it say about the ability of all the nations of the world, esentially, along with many other groups, to get together with a process to come up with a coherent policy? Because they did so, and in the end it was more or less the United States and China and a few others sitting down and calling the shots. It’s a real loss of face for many of these leaders, isn’t it?
RP: That’s the way they seem to see it. How often, though, in international affairs do the deals get done by a subset of the major players?
Q: But Obama’s been talking about a multipolar world – that we now have the G-20, for instance, instead of the G-8 – and there had been all this lip service to more multilateralism.
RP: I don’t think Obama has fully taken ownership of the climate change problem in all of its implications. Has he given even one serious speeech to the American people to lay out the full impact of climate change if we let in run unchecked? Maybe he’s moving toward more ownership of that issue now. But you know, even if they had hammered out the ideal agreement at Copenhagen, we would probably be fighting for the implementation of every inch of it, probably for the rest of our lives.
Q: Let’s look at the political dynamics of this. President Obama knows that, if he commits to some target and the U.S. Congress disagrees with that, he’s in a lot of political trouble, isn’t he?
RP: He’s not Don Quixote – he’s not going to get out there and tilt at windmills if he can’t back it up. But we have a huge political problem here. We have elected officials, Congressmen, who are beholden to corporate power. We have a very influential global warming denial, disinformation campaign, a lot of that is corporate-funded, ideologues, a very toxic influence in our society, misrepresenting the science, trying to disconnect it from the policymaking. We have all of this to deal with, and we would have it to deal with regardless of what was agreed in Copenhagen.
Q: Given the sort of chaotic situation that developed in Copenhagen, do you think the world is ever going to try to do this again, in this same way?
RP: The problem of global climatic disruption is not going to go away. It has to be dealt with. One thing that Obama is walking away from this with, that may help him on the domestic political scene, is that he’s going to be able to say he’s delivered major developing countries to the table. You can run the numbers and you can see that both the developed countries and the developing countries have to be involved in the solution. You could take out all the emissions from China and the other developing countries and the developed countries alone would run the temperature up above any danger level—or vice versa, you could take out the West, and the developing countries would. So you have to have some new kind of agreement, which they’re clearly not ready to…
Q: But this process didn’t seem to work. In the end, Obama flew to Copenhagen, he sat down with the leaders of a few other countries…
RP: And ‘rescued’ the situation.
Q: Depending on your interpretation. But he said we have an agreement, then he flew home again. It seemed like the previous two weeks had not really mattered very much.
RP: I think the world is dealing with a problem here that is different. It’s a remarkably complicated problem to deal with. It implicates the entire global economy, the entire global energy system, our entire way of life. The cold reality is, we’re not at a point where we have enough public pressure, enough government leadership, to get the type of agrement you need.