Coffee House

Whatever Chris Huhne says, Durban hasn’t changed anything

12 December 2011

6:34 PM

12 December 2011

6:34 PM

This morning the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) told us that the climate summit in Durban, which concluded over the weekend, has been ‘heralded a success’. As
they say, the ‘talks resulted in a decision to adopt the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol next year in return for a roadmap to a global legal agreement covering all parties for
the first time’. Should anyone be heralding that as some kind of step forward? Was I wrong to be sceptical last week?

As it happens, the various parties were actually trying to secure that ‘global legal agreement’, covering all of them, two years ago in Copenhagen — not just talking about
securing it in the future. The new roadmap, the ‘Durban Platform’, merely pledges an agreement by 2015, and succeeds the Bali Roadmap that was agreed four years ago and pledged an
agreement by 2009. Richard Tol has written about this on his blog, and also notes that ‘Canada, Japan,
and Russia have already indicated that they will not take [the new Kyoto commitment period] seriously.’

So, for all the talk of ‘legal force’, the final result is to maintain the status quo. European countries — and particularly Britain, thanks to tougher targets and
policies like the carbon floor price which breach the Osborne Doctrine — will keep pressing ahead
rationing fossil fuel energy, while the rest of the world does not.


The reality is that even the pretence that Kyoto would be followed by another deal encompassing the other major emitters has now been abandoned. And the timing couldn’t be worse for those
backing our draconian climate regulations. Even if the new Platform is any more meaningful than the old Roadmap, they are going to have to sustain the political will behind these policies for years
while they get more and more expensive; while the people who pick up the bill are facing more and more pressure on their living standards; and while the rest of the world isn’t playing the
same game.

Citigroup put the investment in the energy sector alone required to meet our environmental targets at around £200 billion by 2020. Paying for that and other climate policies will be tough.
The Renewable Energy Foundation just released a new report looking at how ‘government
energy policies are likely to become a significant contributory factor to increasing the risk of hardship across the entire population, both through direct and indirect effects on bills, and
through macroeconomic effects reducing incomes and employment.’ Listening to the grim news from the Autumn Statement, who really thinks we can afford to pile that kind of burden on top of
already-pressured family budgets?

As academics like Gwyn Prins have been arguing for some time, the plan that politicians have been working to was quickly patched together from other initiatives that were felt to have worked in
addressing very different challenges, from nuclear disarmament to controlling CFCs. It just hasn’t worked. The approach I set out in Let Them Eat Carbon would be more productive: directly support research and development to make low carbon energy
cheaper rather than deploying it while it is so expensive; prepare to adapt to any changes in the climate; and build a society free and prosperous enough that it can respond well to whatever the
natural environment throws at it.

Heralding dubious successes at Durban won’t mean our climate policy makes sense. We need a more realistic approach that isn’t predicated on a grand global agreement.

Matthew Sinclair is director of the Taxpayers’ Alliance.

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Show comments
  • Andrew Shakespeare

    These climate-change conferences have made progress in a sense: Poznan … Copenhagen … Cancun … Durban … Bali, next time? How about the Seychelles?

    Why don’t they reduce their carbon footprint and just teleconference?

  • john williams

    Can’t help but notice that, so far, the Canadian withdrawal is not getting the same exhaustive exposure on the BBC as they gave to the “triumph” of European diplomacy claimed by the dreaded Huhne earlier………

  • Ghengis

    I see it reported that Canada has withdrawn -saying they cannot afford it.

  • Chris lancashire

    Durban was yet another expensive gabfest where self-important pratts like Huhne preened on the public stage, ate large dinners and issued communiques and achieved absolutely zero. Unfortunately the taxpayer was funding it.

  • Gwyn Jones

    The are many things that get me about politics these days but CO2 emissions driving climate change takes the biscuit. We are in desperate financial straits and yet idiots like Huhne cost us an enormous amount in taxes and lost jobs. China, India, Brazil must be laughing at their good fortune. When we are in desperate need to reduce our costs to survive and to be more competitive in the market place, these idiots are hell bent on ensuring our decline. My hearty congratulations to Canada that announced their withdrawl from the Kyoto Treaty today, saving at a stroke, 14 billion Canadian Dollars per year.

  • Daizee

    An interesting perspective Matthew and you are right to be sceptical. it seems to me that all that has happened is that the goal< a href= “; >-posts have been moved back four years and in 2015 we will be no further forward than we are now!!!

  • EC

    Durban – quote of the week:

    “The UN plan will shift wealth from the first world’s poor to the third world’s rich without making any difference in climate control.”

  • Robin Guenier

    In negotiation, it’s nearly always the party proclaiming success that has failed: why shout when you know you’ve won? China and India (and the US) have got what they want: all they’ve agreed is to take part in a “process” that may (or may not) lead to “an outcome with legal force” (whatever that means) by 2015 – effective 2020 (when the world will have changed utterly). Will it be about emissions – or something else? Unclear. If emissions, what are the targets? There are none. Will it apply equally to all? Doesn’t say so. What if China and India decide that, in the meantime, the West is not doing its bit – which of course it (especially the US) won’t be – can they back out? Unclear – and anyway what are the sanctions if they do? There are none. Yet it was Europe that said it would commit to an extended Kyoto only if there were a strong, specific legally binding deal applicable to all parties. It didn’t get it – but nonetheless it agreed to the extension.

    In other words, Europe blinked.

  • Matt

    Please, please Santa, please ask Mr Plod to take Huhne away

  • The Law – EitherNot Blind or Slow

    What precisely are the Crown Prosecution Service playing at? How long has this been dragging on for? Are they waiting for the coalition to have been voted out before proceeding? What are they afraid of? Ripe for an FOI request.

    Whatever happened to “without fear or favour”?

  • Faceless Bureaucrat

    “…As they say, the ‘talks resulted in a decision to adopt the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol next year in return for a roadmap to a global legal agreement covering all parties for the first time’.”


  • disenfranchised

    “heralded as a success” but only when completely ignoring the fact that the usual suspects won’t take a blind bit of notice of their protocols.
    i want this coalition to fall apart as soon as possible, if only to get rid of huhne before he can do any more damage.
    what he’s done so far has been disastrous for the country, not only for our beautiful landscape and pillaged coffers, but also for our personal wellbeing, like when we’re sitting shivering because his bleedin’ windmills are producing one candle power.
    my advice to him when he’s thrown out of politics would be to get the hell out of the country as well, because i would imagine there are one or two who won’t take kindly to the privations he will have caused…..

  • Hexhamgeezer

    I hope his 7 houses are all fitted with energy saving bulbs. Not to do so in his 7 houses could leave him open to charges of hypocrisy and self-indulgence.

  • Edward Sutherland

    Years ago at law school I was taught that “an agreement to agree” was no agreement. I think that’s still very much the case.

  • WIlliam Blakes Ghost

    Anyone who has ever worked in the Global environ knows that the greater the claims of success the more likely the whole thing was an abysmal failure.

    Why is it that Clegg and Loony Huhne have made us so isolated amongst the Global community world over this issue?

    nobody wants to follow their rabid extremist zealotry?

  • roger37

    Hopefully, Huhne will be in jail next year for his speeding offence so that should be the last of him.

  • Number7

    So it looks like the Big Players (US, Russia, China plus Canada and others) have kicked the ball into the long grass and Huhne et al are in (expensive) face saving mode.

    Could it possibly be that the countries which have stalled this charade are using their own scientists to do some genine research and, as a result, are just waiting for the whole scam to collapse?

  • Prodicus

    Please do not put up photographs of Mr Huhne. I sometimes browse your pages while eating. Thank you.