No matter where you stand on climate change, there's one thing on which we can probably agree. The "breakthrough" deal hammered out in Durban is completely meaningless. No carbon dioxide emissions will be cut because of it. All they agreed to do was keep on talking about a framework for a deal you can be sure will never happen.
For some people, this is too much reality to bear. Thomas Homer-Dixon, writing on The Globe's website, says we should be "ashamed" by our inaction on the climate. "The lies are starting to corrupt our civilization from inside out," he wrote.
Yet there was never any likelihood that anything would happen at Durban. It was an elaborate exercise in process, mounted by bureaucrats who've staked their livelihoods on denying that the parrot is really dead. Any hope for global action expired in the wreckage of Copenhagen, when the Chinese sucker-punched Barack Obama. It's unlikely he'll come back for more.
The key thing to understand about the climate talks is that they're not really about the climate. They're about power and money. They are about the desire of fast-growing emitters such as Brazil, South Africa, India and China to extract billions in so-called climate reparations from rich countries, especially the United States. These and other so-called developing countries now account for more than half of greenhouse gas emissions. They want the rich countries to start cutting large amounts of carbon right away, while they do nothing. The rich countries are understandably reluctant. Hence the impasse.
The media need stories to report, even when nothing real is happening. Midway through the conference, everyone got excited over China, which was said to have put something on the table that might lead to a deal. In fact, China put nothing on the table, except to say that it might consider doing something if everybody else did something first. And who can blame it? China has 128 million people who still live on less than a dollar a day. Its chief priority is to grow its economy as fast as possible to avoid rioting in the streets. As for anyone who persists in fantasizing that the nations of the world will ever cede control of their economies to a higher power, I suggest they check out recent events in the European Union.
As usual in these affairs, the role of the Great Satan was played by the United States. Canada was the mini-Satan, denounced by all the usual suspects in exchange for air time back home. (No one bothered to denounce Japan, because there's no air time in it.) At the end, Environment Minister Peter Kent said he was "cautiously optimistic" that a deal can be reached by 2015. This is diplo-speak for saying that no deal is remotely likely, but there's no percentage in telling the truth.
Personally, I'm relieved that Canada is doing nothing about climate change. According to the Swiss bank UBS, the European Union's carbon trading scheme has cost European consumers $285-billion, while having "almost zero impact" on carbon emissions. The scheme did, however, create a windfall for market participants. In other words, doing something can be a whole lot worse than doing nothing.
Despite the evidence, not everyone thinks Durban was a total flop. Paul Heinbecker, who led the Canadian delegation to the 1997 Kyoto talks, says the agreement was significant because at least it kept the negotiating process alive. "Had the talks collapsed in Durban, it isn't clear where the world would have gone next," he told the CBC. Thankfully, we now have an answer to that question. Next year, the world is going to Qatar.