Thursday, December 10, 2009

COP15: Nuclear Energy, Reparations and Gov. Palin

US-ENVIRONMENT-WHALING-IWC-PALIN Well, almost a decade. The Kyoto Protocol did not have much use for nuclear energy and excluded it from favored energy sources. However, the leaked Danish accord – which seems unlikely to become the final document – see our post below for more on that – does not try to pick winners and losers:

The international community can only be fully successful in addressing climate change if it is able to effectively develop, diffuse and deploy existing climate friendly technologies and rapidly innovate new and transformational climate-friendly technologies.

World Nuclear News picks up on the nuclear thread:

In a comment piece in the OECD Observer Luis Echavarri, head of the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, complained about nuclear power's exclusion from two Kyoto Protocol flexibility mechanisms - the Joint Implementation and the Clean Development Mechanism - despite 'negligible' emissions compared to fossil fuels and its potential for direct foreign investment and technology transfer from rich to poor nations. He  wrote that "it is now time to recognize the value of nuclear energy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the legal and institutional framework to be developed in Copenhagen and beyond."

We agree, but see the connection here as somewhat tenuous. If the final report remains as non-committal as the Danish document, nuclear energy – and every other energy source – will take care of itself. Echavarri is not engaging in special pleading; he’s worried that nuclear energy will get the same backhanded treatment he feels it got in Kyoto.

We wonder, though, whether the passage of time (let’s use Chernobyl as Year Zero in this configuration) is taking care of that – nuclear advocates have made the strongest possible case in the last decade and countries are moving forward with new plants (or, like Germany, drastically rethinking how long to keep nuclear energy around). We appreciate Echavarri’s frustration, but feel more sanguine about nuclear energy going forward.

We’ll all know more next week.

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The problem with any U.N. conference are the competing interests of various countries or groups of countries – with COP15, the interests, in broad terms, are those of the developed and developing world, since the latter doesn’t want to bear the brunt of severe industrial upheaval while they’re trying to, well, develop.

The top American envoy to climate talks here flatly rejected arguments Wednesday by diplomats from poor lands that the United States owes a debt to developing nations for decades of American emissions that contributed to global warming.

The diplomat, Todd Stern, may have had these words fall on deaf ears:

“I actually completely reject the notion of a debt or reparations or anything of the like,” he said. “For most of the 200 years since the Industrial Revolution, people were blissfully ignorant of the fact that emissions caused a greenhouse effect. It’s a relatively recent phenomenon.”

What he’s missing here is that the developing world didn’t enjoy an industrial revolution – it’s what they’d like to have now and what they worry they will have to miss.

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To be honest, we can’t help but wonder if Stern is being pilloried unfairly in the New York Times account by Andrew Revkin and Tom Zeller, as most of his quotes in this story seem exceptionally tin-eared. For example:

Mr. Stern also demurred at a persistent proposal among some larger developing countries that the United States and other major emitters of long standing provide financial aid to emerging economic powerhouses, particularly China, to shift to cleaner energy technologies.

“China has $2 trillion in reserves,” said Mr. Stern, whose arrival in Copenhagen on Wednesday suggested that the talks, which run through Dec. 18, were moving into a more significant phase. “We don’t think China would be the first candidate for public funding.”

Is it really China (or India) that’s the issue? We imagine Africa and Southern Asia are the areas that stand to be big losers. We also think Stern knows that. The story raises a lot of flags in our mind – we’ll file this one under Subject for Further Research.

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The Washington Post put up an op-ed by Sarah Palin yesterday that takes a very odd approach: instead of choosing one argument to promote her view that Copenhagen has the potential to create economic chaos, she uses two arguments that are mutually exclusive.

Here’s the first:

What's more, the documents [the stolen emails from the University of East Anglia] show that there was no real consensus even within the CRU crowd. Some scientists had strong doubts about the accuracy of estimates of temperatures from centuries ago, estimates used to back claims that more recent temperatures are rising at an alarming rate.

Which seems to mean that the jury is out as to whether global warming is occurring.

Here’s the second:

That's not to say I deny the reality of some changes in climate -- far from it. I saw the impact of changing weather patterns firsthand while serving as governor of our only Arctic state. I was one of the first governors to create a subcabinet to deal specifically with the issue and to recommend common-sense policies to respond to the coastal erosion, thawing permafrost and retreating sea ice that affect Alaska's communities and infrastructure.

But while we recognize the occurrence of these natural, cyclical environmental trends, we can't say with assurance that man's activities cause weather changes.

So global warming is happening and Palin responded to it responsibly (we don’t quite understand “one of the first governors to create” since one is either first or not first), but human beings are not contributing to it.

Palin’s core argument is that the East Anglia emails are determinative and should dictate the outcome of COP15.

In his inaugural address, President Obama declared his intention to "restore science to its rightful place." But instead of staying home from Copenhagen and sending a message that the United States will not be a party to fraudulent scientific practices, the president has upped the ante.

This is a very expansive reading of the emails – and a rather drastic response to them. No one has shown the emails to demonstrate fraud – pettiness and backbiting, sure – so this represents for us a way to use what’s available – the emails - to press home a dubious series of points – global warming is not happening, is happening but not due to human activity or is happening but the science is too tainted to draw conclusions.

Call it a rush to non-judgment.

Sara Palin wants you to know.

3 comments:

Brian Mays said...

Perhaps I missed something, but where does Palin claim that "global warming is not happening"?

I believe her actual words refer to doubts about "claims that more recent temperatures are rising at an alarming rate." Claiming that something is not alarming is not the same as claiming that it doesn't exist.

DocForesight said...

It seems to me the "developing" world benefits from what the developed countries have already endured - burning low-grade coal initially then advancing to low-sulfur coal; investing in the R&D of scrubbers to meet Clean Air Act regulations; investing in the R&D of nuclear technology for near-zero-emission energy; R&D of more fuel efficient motors - gas and diesel, etc. So they get to "leap frog" over all that waste and pollution without creating the technology. Call it even.

Secondly, considering how any politician is pilloried for even questioning AGW, at least until the leak/hack of the CRU emails, codes and data, perhaps the only realistic response is to appoint some agency or commission to investigate on behalf of the state. Even if someone agrees that global warming is happening, but is not convinced it's due entirely to human activity, that person is accused of being a shill for Big Oil or scientifically ignorant.

Granted, Palin didn't construct her response in the most cogent manner. Al Gore also recently claimed the earth's core to be "millions of degrees" only a few kilometers below the surface. Now, who sounds more ignorant?

Anonymous said...

The Climategate emails prove, at least, that there was on overt attempt to influence the scientific process to their benefit.

With that being the case, its hard to draw a line connecting the dots from the "earth is warming" to "caused by man made CO2."