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January 2010 newsletter
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January 2010 printable subscriber newsletter

Ecologist

5th January 2010

In this month's newsletter, we ask whether greens have got it wrong about tar sands, learn from a remote Scottish community, look at land struggles in Africa, examine the claims for carbon capture, and look at whether sugar might be the new oil. To download, log-in and scroll to the bottom of the page...

And so, after the crushing disappointment of the Copenhagen climate talks, comes the mud-slinging.

UK environment secretary Ed Miliband’s opinion piece for the Guardian newspaper the day after the conference closed fingered China, Sudan and Bolivia for knobbling any chance of a strongly worded commitment from world leaders.

This was followed by an ‘eyewitness’ article on the Guardian website from environmentalist Mark Lynas, who attended the talks as an advisor to the Maldives’ delegation.

Lynas damned China for not only refusing to allow any country to mention binding greenhouse gas targets in the final agreement, but also for playing aggressive diplomatic games such as sending second-rate bureaucrats to negotiate opposite Obama, Brown and Merkel.

Lynas also took a swipe at NGOs that he saw as allowing China to get away with such tactics through a lack of political pressure:
‘Campaign groups never blame developing countries for failure; this is an iron rule that is never broken,’ he wrote.

A backlash then followed from readers of Lynas’ article, pointing out that there was no reason for China to agree to anything when Obama had put such measly cuts on the table – emissions reductions of just four per cent on the baseline year of 1990.

And of course, said others, in terms of historical responsibility and per capita emissions, it should be clear when the ‘blame’ for climate change most lies.

Other readers posted comments on Lynas’ article talking about trade embargos and tariffs – the most powerful diplomatic weapons available in today’s globalised world.

But the idea is wracked with difficulties. The west is in thrall to China’s cheap goods, and has been for decades. A cursory glance at the labels inside our clothes, the small print on the bottom of our children’s toys and the text on the back of our television sets should pretty quickly indicate the enormous problems with slapping on punitive economic sanctions, should China continue to refuse to sign a climate agreement.

Copenhagen was never going to deliver what everyone wanted: not the EU’s 40 per cent by 2020 cut; nor the island nations’ 1.5˚C temperature rise limit; nor the environmentalists’ dream of a 350 parts per million greenhouse gas atmospheric concentration target.

But few could have expected that it would serve up such an awkward situation. Some, including the Financial Times’ environment correspondent Fiona Harvey, are predicting that 2010 will come and go without a Chinese signature on a legally binding treaty.

It’s clear that we’ll be waiting some time for the international agreement to come; let’s in the meantime put down our handfuls of mud and concentrate on making some meaningful progress at home.

Mark Anslow,
Editor

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