The Primate Diaries

The so-called “Danish Text” agreement that was leaked to the Guardian newspaper has resulted in a firestorm of controversy. By far the most hostile reporting about the outrage that poor nations have expressed has been from the Financial Times.

FT Commentator Fiona Harvey wrote yesterday that:

The more the spotlight falls upon this Danish text, the more like a Danish pastry it looks.

Here’s an assertion from Newsweek:

“Under the plan, by 2050 poor countries would have to limit per capita emissions at 1.44 tons, while rich countries would be given extra leeway at 2.67 tons per person.”

Really? Well, that would be absolutely shocking – if it bore any relation to the document.

So, where do those figures appear in the draft text?

Can you find them?

No, because they’re not there. The figures are supplied by NGOs, after the event. They don’t appear in the text. And nowhere are they sourced.

So neither you nor I can make any comment on their validity. Other than this – if these figures have a reasonable pedigree, why isn’t it quoted? If you had a case, why wouldn’t you make it?

The fact that figures are given no provenance, and the case is not made, gives little credibility to the conclusion.

This unsourced speculation – allusions to figures that are not available to scrutiny – does no favours to the originators. Some friends are worse than enemies.

I hope Harvey is prepared to be shocked.

Apparently Harvey is challenged by this issue in more ways than one. As the original Guardian story made clear, these numbers come from a confidential analysis done by developing countries, not NGOs, and were shown to the Guardian’s John Vidal prior to publication.

Nevertheless, these numbers have been independently verified by David Hone, Climate Change Advisor for Royal Dutch Shell. On his blog yesterday he outlined how the developing nations would have gone about calculating these numbers and concludes that they are correct in their analysis: wealthy nations would be allowed nearly twice the carbon pollution as poor nations under this draft proposal:

As has already been widely discussed by many parties and observers, the text proposes a 50% reduction in global emissions by 2050 when compared to 1990, with developed countries reducing emissions by at least 80% by 1990. That presumably leaves the balance to developing countries, which is where the arguments started.

According to the Guardian, developing countries took this to mean a limit on their emissions of 1.44 tonnes per person, but only 2.67 tonnes per person for developed countries, a situation that was seen as unfair. Based on International Energy Agency data I can’t reproduce this precisely because it depends on assumptions made about the location of non-energy emissions, but an approximate calculation shows the issue very clearly.

Assuming that emissions from deforestation are in developing countries and that international marine and aviation fuel use starts off largely allocated to developed countries but shifts increasingly to developing countries over 60 years, then my quick analysis shows a similar outcome – by 2050 developed country energy emissions are still nearly double per capita compared to developing countries, even though the developed countries have reduced emissions by 80%. The end result is that developing countries get a 16% increase in energy emissions by 2050 compared to 1990, but must reduce by about 45% compared to 2007 levels – and this can only happen if big reductions are made in areas such as deforestation. Hence the problem of “fairness”!

Ironically, Harvey subtitled her Financial Times piece “flaky, flaky, flaky.” A description that could be applied to her own shoddy reporting than any point she may have been attempting to make. What has been abundantly clear in the conservative commentary surrounding this issue is that they are dismissing out of hand any concerns that the developing nations might have. The next fifty years could very well be extraordinarily harsh ones for the Global South. As I pointed out earlier, the disproportionate effects of the climate crisis are expected to befall those nations least able to afford it. Finding solutions to global climate change is likely to be this generation’s most difficult challenge. But in order to do so an agreement must be reached that doesn’t further punish those nations that had no role in creating this crisis in the first place.