IHS Chemical Week


After Copenhagen (Blog): What it Means for Industry, and Two Conspiracy Theories

12:08 PM MST | December 21, 2009 | By ALEX SCOTT

The climate accord agreed in Copenhagen on Saturday arguably will do little to protect the planet from anthropogenic climate change. As every face-saving politician that participated in the event will tell you (and there are quite a few of those), there is still much work to be done.
So what does it all mean for the chemicals industry? For a sector which saves three times as much CO2 as its products generate during production, the outcome at Copenhagen, predictable as it was, is nothing less than a huge opportunity lost.
As Steen Riisgaard, the CEO of Novozymes told me this past week in Copenhagen, the biomaterials sector has a huge opportunity commercially, but it also represents a major opportunity for carbon emissions reduction. In order for companies such as Novozymes (and other chemical producers) to have the confidence to invest their dollars in R&D they need to have a stable, predictable and internationally level regulatory environment. Yet the regulatory outlook, when it comes to climate change, remains in limbo. The biomaterials sector is at a threshold, but oh how it could have benefitted from the impetus of successful Copenhagen summit. Copenhagen might have been the place to agree to start building that first world-scale, multi-chemical biorefinery.
The $100 billion/year pledged by the richer nations to help the poorest nations adapt to climate change may yet fund chemical-based solutions to climate change. But it hasn’t yet been suggested.
So where did it all go wrong? One of the problems was that the negotiating system applied in Copenhagen featured two tracks of discussions; one track used a G20-style approach in which countries teamed up, hatched an agreement in a private room and then introduced it to the main floor. While this approach was taking place the other approach, a Kyoto protocol-style approach was also applied. The Kyoto-protocol approach provides all delegates with a common text full of brackets which all nations discuss and agree on. Using both approaches simultaneously caused many of the delegates from the smaller nations to feel like the process had been sabotaged. Politicians are now calling for a new type of approach which better lends itself to a deal between hundreds of different parties.
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, no fan of the U.S. before Copenhagen and certainly no fan after it, made one of the most telling statements of the two weeks by saying that “If the climate was a bank they would have saved it.”
Chavez is controversial in many circles, but in his oratory he also showed the anger and frustration of many of the smaller nations at the summit. Incidentally, he also takes the prize for attracting the largest crowds around the sea of flat screen monitors dotted around the Bella conference center in Copenhagen.

Summit failed to get off the ground.

As for the U.S. and China, they still have to take the terms of the Copenhagen accord back to their respective national politicians. Both have a body of politicians who remain sceptical about the presence of climate change and what to do about it.
As an example, a U.S. House of Representatives panel set out their stall in a press briefing in Copenhagen in an attempt to undermine the credibility of the science of anthropogenic climate change. They say that reducing carbon emissions will cost jobs in manufacturing, not generate new ones, and that as a result of this analysis carbon emissions reduction in the U.S. is unacceptable.
They cited the case of leaked emails from scientists at the University of East Anglia (Norwich) Climate Centre, which were accessed illegally by hackers and leaked to the press days prior to the Copenhagen summit. The U.S. politicians on the panel say that the existence of these emails, which suggest but do not necessarily prove intent to manipulate scientific proceedings, shows that there is a culture of corruption throughout climate science and that none of the science which led to the Copenhagen conference can be trusted and that all of the science should be reviewed by a newly appointed independent scientific body.
To put it into perspective, the East Anglia climate center has a handful of scientists and there are literally thousands of other scientists who have contributed to the body of climate science that demonstrates that anthropogenic climate change is real and needs to be tackled. This appears to make the case that all climate science is fraudulent very unscientific.
But let us suppose for a moment that this House of Representatives panel is correct and that climate scientists are endemically corrupt. Then let us suppose for another moment that the individual that hacked into the East Anglia email system is not a loner or a lucky email hacker but part of an organized group that was paid to systematically hack into the email systems of hundreds of climate research groups around the world. This is not so far fetched given the amount of money tied up in oil or coal or other highly carbon intensive industry sectors.
Yet if both of the above assertions are correct wouldn’t the email hackers have leaked these emails from all of these other hundreds of corrupt climate research institutes showing that all climate science was indeed a fix? Why would they wait until after Copenhagen when they could have killed off the event before it even started? My hunch is that the East Anglia emails are all the hackers could find despite an exhaustive search. It’s only a hunch though–I am far happier sticking to the science.
While I am at it, here’s another hunch for you: The organizers of the climate summit deliberately excluded delegates from the press and from non-government organizations (NGOs) in order to take the pressure off the event, to detract from the lack of real progress among the negotiators and even to sideline some national negotiators. Several journalists I spoke with were excluded from entry for three days despite queuing for several hours on the first two days and gaining entry on the third day after queuing for five hours.
The organizers chose to have one entrance both for journalists and NGO delegates as well as delegates of the negotiating parties. There was one booth to collect your pre-registered pass from, which was manned by one or two people. There were 3,500 journalists and many more NGO delegates. To put this into perspective there are tens of badge pick up booths at, say, the annual Informex show. And yet the Copenhagen conference was supposed to be the most important peace time meeting in the past 50 years!
The result was major disruption. Reportedly, CNN and BBC tv crews- and many others queuing with cameras that I did see, were held up for hours and hours in the queue to the event. It wasn’t a security issue; there were several security scanners and gates set up which I never saw being used.
“The input of NGOs has been seriously hampered because of exclusion from the Bella center,” said an angry Lasse Gustavsson, CEO for WWF in Sweden, during the second week of the summit.
The biggest casualty though has to be that of the lead negotiator for China who reportedly failed to gain entry into the event for three days. Now is that really a coincidence? Would that have happened if it was the lead negotiator for the U.S.? Or was there something far more sinister going on?
My final word on Copenhagen has to go to the demonstrators. In one event during the second week of the conference they showed themselves to be as disorganized and ineffective as the organizers of the conference itself: They had pledged to “take control” of the negotiations by gaining entry to the center. One of the demonstrators was shouting out instructions through a megaphone: “We’re now all going to push through the line of police,” she said. “We’re now all going to push through the line of police,” the crowd repeated. It was like something out of Monty Python’s film ‘Life of Brian’ as the crowd in unison inanely repeated the commands. The demonstrators ended up running predictably into the wall of burly riot police who dutifully responded with their batons. The one demonstrator to slip through the cordon climbed onto a police van and was then brutally, and unnecessarily beaten down from it.

Did nothing at this conference go the way it should have done?

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