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Think politics is frustrating? Welcome to climate negotiations

The latest climate negotiations in Bonn have been stalled for two full weeks and climate multilateralism is in crisis mode leading up to the next major gathering in 2015. So, what is the problem? There…

It’s hard to go places when no-one can agree on the road rules. Flickr/mike nowak

The latest climate negotiations in Bonn have been stalled for two full weeks and climate multilateralism is in crisis mode leading up to the next major gathering in 2015. So, what is the problem?

There is an inconvenient truth that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has been operating for almost 20 years without any official rules of procedure. This little known fact has repeatedly re-emerged to haunt the negotiations, including in the most recent round of talks. It is also a fact that could help save the climate talks and the atmosphere.

The adoption of rules was vetoed by Saudi Arabia back in 1992 due to a dispute over voting measures. This left the negotiations in a legal void where consensus (which is undefined but generally seen as the absence of objection) is informally used as the main rule for decision-making. Some parties are now making use of this to veto and slow the talks.

The Russian Federation is currently blocking the adoption of the agenda for one track of negotiations unless a discussion on rules and decision-making is included. Without an agenda, negotiations cannot unfold.

Unfortunately, this is a conversation that many countries, like oil producing ones who favour consensus, don’t want to have. Others don’t want to set a precedent by caving in to Russia’s demands. The result is a stalemate and a process that is dead in the water.

This strand of negotiations (the “Subsidiary Body for Implementation”) will now be closed after two weeks of delay, without ever having started. Progress is unlikely to occur until the next summit in Warsaw in December.

Russia’s objections are political in nature. At the last climate summit in Doha the end document was approved and consensus declared despite the loud verbal dissent from Russia. The Qatari president of the summit ignored Russia in order to proclaim a fake consensus and prevent a collapse of talks. Russia has taken this as public insult, and hell hath no fury like a superpower scorned.

They are now making use of consensus to block the talks both for revenge and to show that they are an international power who cannot be simply overruled.

While many have lamented the lack of work, there are some positives coming from the current crisis. Crisis is, as the Chinese character for it (危机) denotes, both a danger and an opportunity. This blockade has brought a good deal of attention to an issue that has been swept under the rug for too long now. It simply is unacceptable and counterproductive that the climate negotiations have operated for its entire existence without any official rules. More importantly, consensus as a decision-making method is clearly condemning the world.

Many of the most recent failures internationally can be linked to consensus. In Copenhagen the negotiations fell apart due to the dissent of a handful of smaller countries. In Cancun the outcome was almost derailed by the objection of one extreme and minor party: Bolivia. As with the most recent summit, an agreement was only reached by gavelling over the protesting country. What we have is a past littered with diplomatic wreckages due to a misguided persistence to reach consensus amongst 195 countries. Despite the illusions, we actually have not reached consensus over the last few years.

Russia has now clearly demonstrated what should be common sense: giving every country a veto will lead to lowest common denominator outcomes and deadlock.

Yet there is a rose amongst the thorns. This discussion could lead to the climate negotiations finally agreeing to its rules. Doing so could lead to some form of majority voting, perhaps even before the next global agreement in 2015.

In this light, the current crisis could very well be the best thing to have happened to the negotiations in an age.

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61 Comments sorted by

Comments on this article are now closed.

  1. Stephen Ralph

    carer at n/a

    Why is this article's information not surprising.

    It demonstrates the inability of the world's "leaders" to address the most important issue yet faced by humans.

    I would use the Catholic method of locking the participants in a room until they reached meaningful strategies and answers - and the white smoke could could billow forth.

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    1. Wade Macdonald

      Technician

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Perhaps when the U.N. and nation leaders stop using the environment as a control mechanism through unsound policy reform that criminalizes local communities it may get supported holistically.

      Currently, with oil board and investment banking board members sitting on ENGO boards conservation policy is about resources being used as a bag of carbon trading scheme lollies.

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    2. Dalit Prawasi

      Auditor, Accountant, Trade Teacher

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      yet faced by living things taht are carbon based. One day I worked out my Carbon tax and it cmae to about19cents(based on my carbon weight of the day). I definitely wanted to pay and they said I am not one prescribed CT payer.

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  2. Peter Lang

    Retired geologist and engineer

    The 'Catastrophic AGW' doomsayers' day is done. The scare is over. It has no traction any more. Most people will to listen to those who have rational policies to offer from now on.

    Rational policies do not include carbon pricing nor mandating and subsidising high cost, unreliable renewable energy technologies.

    People are switching off from the doomsayers' preachings. The trend is clear. You can see it here: http://climatechange.carboncapturereport.org/cgi-bin/topic? Look at the 'Activity Timeline' chart. [Most people should be able to interpret the meaning of that chart.]

    The trend of the carbon price on the Chicago Carbon Exchange (now closed) and the EU carbon price (on its way to collapse too) all send the same clear message. The big scare is over. It's time to get rational.

    A few young and gullible people are hanging on desperately to their belief, but for how much longer?

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    1. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Ian Alexander

      Well Ian, just like nations basically having a vetoe on consensus by merely objecting and then some conference Presidential guy declaring a false consensus, you need to understand that in many countries retired peoples' opinions do count and unless you are extremely well read of all climate change studies, retired people might even have a much greater appreciation of climate change and the politics of it than you will ever imagine until you get to a retirement age yourself.

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    2. Phil Dolan

      Viticulturist

      In reply to Greg North

      'until you get to a retirement age yourself.'

      That's what young people aspire to. Our generation might make that a bit difficult for them to achieve that though.

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    3. Andrew Stiles

      Teacher

      In reply to Ian Alexander

      There's a lot to be said about the responsibility of those alive today to caretake the world for future generations. However of all the things you could have said Ian, I can't see anything in your post that is meaningful. It's just a personal attack. It basically knocks out any retired people from commentating even if they agree with you. When you reach retirement age apparently you won't be able to contribute either.

      Since the human condition is fairly constant, then were this generation swapped…

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    4. Daniel Boon

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Peter Lang

      And it appears a few older folk are likewise clinging to their 'head in the sand' stand ... do some research in the extra spare time you have and stop giving older people a bad name

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    5. Daniel Boon

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Greg North

      I believe Peter Lang is an exemplar of disproving your observation Greg ...

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    6. Daniel Boon

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Andrew Stiles

      Andrew, one of the problems with older aged people who have lost the fire or are called on to think about the possibility their opinions were never really their own, paradoxically have a problem with black and white issues.

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    7. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Daniel Boon

      In defence of "old" men.....what gives here.

      Age has nothing to do with it.

      There are just as many young stupid men out there in today's world.

      In fact the daily media is full of articles on the crimes and misdemeanours of the young.

      How about a little perspective, and focus on the argument and not the :"man".

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    8. Daniel Boon

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Stephen ... young blokes have got an excuse ... we older blokes don't ...

      That's what the problem is these days ... people side-stepping responsibility ...

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    9. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Daniel Boon

      Perhaps....but still say stupidity and closed-thinking knows no age group.

      The world needs a combination of youthful enthusiasm and aged wisdom!!!

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    10. Daniel Boon

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      so we agree ... what's needed is enthusiastic older people ... : )

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    11. Roger Davidson

      not really a Student

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      In my observations, the overwhelming majority of deniers are rather elderly. Why? I don't know but it certainly appears to be the case as others have said of winning the climate change war "one funeral at a time"

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    12. Daniel Boon

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Roger Davidson

      'your observations' ... 'overwhelming majority' 'others have said' ... you a student hey: in what exactly, fish mongering?

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    13. Daniel Boon

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Roger Davidson

      the 'offence' is that you appear unable to qualify your comments; by all means question, tease out ignorance and 'we' all will (try to) stamp it out ... don't make closing statements, make questioning statements ... can you see that how that might facilitate participation?

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    14. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to Peter Lang

      The conversation is about climate negotiations, official rules of procedure, how a veto should be used, and the use of consensus to achieve a majority vote so that a binding framework will help us avoid the worst predictions of climate change in the future.
      It is not about the existence of climate change, doomsayers, the big scare, gullible people, deranged hysterical panhandlers, the failure of this jolly in Bonn, the brainwashed, zealots and extremists, the folly of renewable energy.
      There is no debate at these conferences about the existence of climate change. I see no point here either. Why waste time on stupidity, and stick to the conversation, which is how to avoid the worst aspects of veto, and the best aspects of reaching majority consensus and binding targets.

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  3. Leigh Burrell

    Trophy hunter at Trophy hunter

    The CAGW doomsayers are still naive to the reality of international policy "negotiations". The major players and adults involved never have and never will buy the idea that it's a genuine threat and, frankly and quite rightly, do little more than pay lip service to the doomsayers.

    Don't imagine, Luke, that these so-called negotiations constitute anything more than a sane person's slow, calm, careful retreat from a deranged, hysterical panhandler on a street corner.

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    1. Peter Lang

      Retired geologist and engineer

      In reply to fret Slider

      Fred Slider, hearing what the delegates to the collapsed Bonn Climate talks have to say (including Australia's delegate), I think there is a case to be made fro raising the voting age to 40 - for the sake of the planet and future generations. :)

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    2. Gary Murphy

      Independent Thinker

      In reply to Leigh Burrell

      You mean that lunatic on the corner always going on about conspiracy theories and who claims he knows better than the world's best scientists? Yes - we should be walking away from such idiots.

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    3. fret Slider

      Developer

      In reply to Peter Lang

      Wasn't that just incredible, Peter.

      Still, whatever they say, the science of AGW is merely a fig leaf. The South Sfrican delegate said: "we don't believe [the hiatus] is significant in dissuading us from our global goal."

      So what is this global goal?

      "Basically it’s a big mistake to discuss climate policy separately from the major themes of globalization. The climate summit in Cancun at the end of the month is not a climate conference, but one of the largest economic conferences…

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    4. Glenn Tamblyn

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to fret Slider

      fret Slider

      What hiatus. Do you mean the rate of 320 TeraWatts at which energy is being added to the oceans as we read this? That is nearly 5 Hiroshima bombs per second. Or enough energy to boil Sydney Harbour dry every 6 hours. Hasn't slowed dowm, hasn't stopped, no Hiatus

      And Global Warming causing cooling. Yep. You do understand the difference between a global average and local conditions don't you? And you have been following what is happening to the Polar Jet Stream haven't you?

      A…

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  4. James Jenkin

    EFL Teacher Trainer

    Indeed, the consensus decision making described in the article seems 'inefficient'. But doesn't it ensure all states are equally represented, and there's no dominance by one group of powerful countries?

    What would be a better alternative?

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    1. Gary Murphy

      Independent Thinker

      In reply to James Jenkin

      Trying to get complete consensus is extremely difficult and probably should not be a requirement. There will always be some destructive and unprincipled scumbag politicians from somewhere that will try and hold the process to ransom.
      If one country behaves like a spoilt child and refuses to act responsibility they should not be able to derail the entire world's efforts.

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  5. Greg North

    Retired Engineer

    " This strand of negotiations (the “Subsidiary Body for Implementation”) will now be closed after two weeks of delay, without ever having started. Progress is unlikely to occur until the next summit in Warsaw in December.

    " “Subsidiary Body for Implementation” " sort of has a ring to it and perhaps a bell has rung for something like storm troopers ringing St. Petersburgh with Russia's political objections, Warsaw also having a similar history.

    I really wonder about the aptness of choosing…

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  6. Leigh Burrell

    Trophy hunter at Trophy hunter

    If you think the politics are dysfunctional, a reminder of the economics:

    "True cost of Britain's wind farm industry revealed

    A new analysis of government and industry figures shows that wind turbine owners received £1.2billion in the form of a consumer subsidy, paid by a supplement on electricity bills last year. They employed 12,000 people, to produce an effective £100,000 subsidy on each job.

    The disclosure is potentially embarrassing for the wind industry, which claims it is an economically dynamic sector that creates jobs. It was described by critics as proof the sector was not economically viable, with one calling it evidence of “soft jobs” that depended on the taxpayer."

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/windpower/10122850/True-cost-of-Britains-wind-farm-industry-revealed.html

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Leigh Burrell

      At least it's only money.......

      Think of the savings in pollution and the environment - priceless.

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    2. Peter Lang

      Retired geologist and engineer

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Stephen John Ralph,

      You are wrong. It is not "only money" being wasted by the policies you advocate - it is human lives and human well-being too.

      And it is also damaging to the environment.

      First: human Well-being:

      Labor's climate policies if they continued would waste $20-$30 billion per year. They would make no difference to the climate. That is more than Gonski, NDIS and a host of other policies. Think what $20 to $30 billion could do if spent in Health, Education, cities…

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    3. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Peter Lang

      Wind farms will not control the climate - they will help to reduce pollution from our current methods of producing electricity.

      Pollution is causing millions of people around the world to suffer from chronic diseases - there's many billions of dollars right there.

      Nuclear energy would be fine, but whilst it continues to produce residues that have the potential to be catastrophic, we need to be very careful of going down that path.

      If climate change will be a radical as most scientists are predicting, then the "fallout" from this will mean nuclear plants could be even more susceptible to damage from natural events.

      Solar and wind, and even ocean wave technology (plus whatever else scientists may come discover) seem to me to be the best way to go to give us pollution and catastrophe free energy.

      It just make so much sense......why waste billions when the answers could be right before us, AND pollution free.

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    4. Peter Lang

      Retired geologist and engineer

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      >"However, the central point is quite clear: Objectively speaking, intermittent renewables are still very far from challenging fossil fuels as the preferred energy source of our industrialized civilization. Some tremendous technological breakthroughs will be necessary to change this outlook and such amazing advances, if they are even possible, are likely to require many more decades of basic R&D."
      http://theenergycollective.com/schalk-cloete/235431/renewable-energy-grid-parity-reality-check-part-1?utm_source=tec_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter&inf_contact_key=5b2fbf0389cbd79756d5cf513912287cbbcb51017bf6a87514e22b2dc5395216

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    5. Peter Lang

      Retired geologist and engineer

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Wind Realities – Response to ‘Woppers’ published on ‘RENewEconomy
      “How wrong can a press release for anti wind rally be?”
      http://reneweconomy.com.au/2013/how-wrong-can-a-press-release-for-an-anti-wind-rally-be-26047

      The first thing to recognise is that Giles Parkinson owns the ‘RenewableEconomy’ web site. He used to be Editor of “Climate Spectator”. He is a dyed in the wool climate doomsayer and renewable energy zealot.

      It is astonishing how confident wind advocates are, when the facts…

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    6. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Peter Lang

      Wind farms work......they generate electricity.
      You are talking money and subsidies - different thing.

      Like many things, technology over time will very probably reduce the cost and efficiency.

      Coal generated electricity plants and nuclear energy plants cost billions also - plus are potentially lethal.

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    7. Peter Lang

      Retired geologist and engineer

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      You are chanting a mantra like zealots and religious extremists. Your comments are silly. Nuclear is about the safest way to generate electricity (on a full life cycle basis; i.e. everything included): http://nextbigfuture.com/2012/06/deaths-by-energy-source-in-forbes.html , much cheaper than renewable energy and fit for purpose (unlike the unreliable renewables).

      You really have not a clue what you are talking about; further more, your comments suggest your mind is closed to any information that does not support your ideological beliefs.

      Have I misjudged you?

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    8. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Peter Lang

      Thanks for the nice comments - "You are chanting a mantra like zealots and religious extremists. Your comments are silly. "

      is exactly what I could say to you......as well as

      " your comments suggest your mind is closed to any information that does not support your ideological beliefs."

      Why are you so obsessed with nuclear energy - when solar, wind etc have so much value - the initial source is free, so why not invest in improving the technology to the point where it is economically viable.

      You seem to want to pursue methods that have inherent problems or risks. No matter how you praise it, nuclear has not proven to be risk free over the past decades. That is a fact is it not.

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    9. Phil Dolan

      Viticulturist

      In reply to Peter Lang

      Digging stuff up from the ground and using it once, or even a couple of times to do anything is not sustainable forever.

      Everything, except wind, wave power and sun, have a limit. Not in our lifetime of course so let's just carry on. There's all the reasons in the world not to do anything about it, but it mainly comes down to 'I don't want to change. It's too scary. Things will cost more.'

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    10. Peter Lang

      Retired geologist and engineer

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      You simply don't understand, and haven't even tried to get your head around it.

      >"Why are you so obsessed with nuclear energy" - Misrepresentation. I am advocating rational policies. That is, I advocate least cost energy. With nuclear costs forced to be too high by the anti-nukes' opposition to it, then fossil fuel will remain the least cost energy. so we will keep using fossil fuels until the 'progressives' stop blocking progress. Surely that is not too hard to understand, is it?

      >"when…

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    11. Gary Murphy

      Independent Thinker

      In reply to Peter Lang

      Recent studies from the University of NSW and the Australian Electricity Market Operator have demonstrated that renewables can supply 100% of Australia's electricity demand at a cost of less than $150 / MWh - with currently available technologies.

      That is an increase of around 5c / kWh on current electricity prices.

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    12. Andrew Stiles

      Teacher

      In reply to Phil Dolan

      Phil Dolan, I agree, but it would take a leader with real guts and charisma to lead us into such a war. Right now, our leaders are ruling as if the most important and urgent matters hardly exist and it's basically just business as usual. Our times are changing, but it seems leadership remains stuck in past ways of doing things and they just don't know how to adapt.

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    13. Andrew Stiles

      Teacher

      In reply to Peter Lang

      Nuclear is another energy cul-de-sac. People are suggesting it as a stop gap but you know what will happen is that it will just allow us to keep living as if economic growth can carry on eternally. We'll have more roads and factories built, more suburban sprawl as well as more urban infill and more idiots like Peter Costello urging people to have more children.

      And what happens when Uranium becomes harder and more expensive to mine?

      If the entire world switch over to Nuclear, and barring accidents…

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    14. Dianna Arthur

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Well said, Stephen.

      Why tolerate pollution when we have other means? (I actually mistyped 'polllution' as 'poolution' and debated with myself on leaving it uncorrected.)

      Why continue to dig up remaining fossil fuels when we have alternatives?

      Whose interests are best served by continuing to burn fossils fuels?

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    15. Grant Burfield

      Dr

      In reply to Andrew Stiles

      "And what happens when Uranium becomes harder and more expensive to mine?"

      Google thorium, deuterium and tritium.

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    16. Chris O'Neill

      Retired Way Before 70

      In reply to Grant Burfield

      "And what happens when Uranium becomes harder and more expensive to mine?"

      A 1 GW breeder reactor power station needs a milk crate worth of natural Uranium or Thorium per month. At that rate, it won't be running out any millenium soon.

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  7. ian cheong

    logged in via email @acm.org

    Welcome to the real world. International climate negotiations are politics.

    To look at a real world example, look at privacy law. The OECD endorsed a privacy regime in 1980. Australia was a signatory. Members committed to legislating a privacy regime. Australia enacted Commonwealth privacy legislation limited to public sector by 1988. It took until 2000 for commonwealth legislation to be expanded to cover the private sector. To this day, we do not have australia-wide state-based privacy legislation.

    http://www.oaic.gov.au/privacy/other-privacy-jurisdictions/state-and-territory-privacy-law

    It is more likely that mainstream science will demonstrate that nothing much we do on earth can actually change the earth's radiative equilibrium temperature, than we will see uniform international action on CO2.

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  8. Garry Baker

    researcher

    There's not a shadow of doubt that human kind will be running on plan B from the outset, and plan A might have done some good if ever its ideas were implemented, but the decision makers(those who hold the purse strings and put politics before science) fumbled the ball.

    Professor James Lovelock predicted all of this decades ago - saying, most of our energies will be spent on baling water from a sinking ship.

    Unfortunately far too many think the Anthropocene is more about pop culture than hard science - They, expecting a few geologic markers to define its beginnings, as if it were an era spanning tens of thousands of years. The reality is, the industrial age commenced about 250 years ago - a mere punctuation mark in time - yet one that should see our demise.

    Cause of death - "Apathy and Conceit

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  9. Mark Lawson

    senior journalist at Australian Financial Review

    I was astonished to read that these climate talks still don't have an official rules of procedure. What? At the time of the Copenhagen Conference I wrote that I could not see how the talks would be of any use, certainly not in the time frame the climate guys are insisting is required But the fact that they still don't have any rules of procedure emphasises their total uselessness. How long has this being going on? What a waste of time.

    So never mind these endless arguments over the effects of emissions. Let us now proceed on the assumption that there will be no effective, enforceable international agreement on emissions, and work from there. The obvious policy result is then to dump most of the efforts to limit emissions and start funds that may help with adaptation - that is deal with the effects of change if and when its occur, rather than rely on forecasts.

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  10. Kate Newton

    logged in via email @ymail.com

    I wonder how come there are so many blokes on TC blogs; also blokes getting into silly arguments.

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    1. Daniel Boon

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Kate Newton

      Silly? As adjudged by who, You Kate?

      "The world owes all its onward impulses to men ill at ease (The happy man inevitably confines himself within ancient limits)" Nathaniel Hawthorne (or it could have been his Missus)

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    2. Dianna Arthur

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Kate Newton

      Kate

      Now you've gone and done it - these fellas are easily startled, need to be approached carefully, from the side.

      Remember women have no place being critical of men ever. Ask Julia.

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    3. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      Diana and Kate, hello out there, Putin has to go, another horrible bloke standing in the way.
      I will never despair because the worse the inaction, the more likely the results of inaction will become apparent , and the likelihood of a ground swell of public opinion will take over. Those displaying such a broad spectrum of lack of insight here on the conversation I'm sure will become less important and entirely redundant to these arguments within the next ? years. I'm not sure when.
      When considering binding frameworks and agreement between countries I think the same applies. 5-10 years? I hope more starts to happen.

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