US tastes cream paste

 
By Anil Agarwal
Last Updated: Thursday 11 June 2015

smack! A pie in the face of Frank Loy, the leader of the us delegation to the conference on climate change in the Hague. A young British girl threw the organisers into a tizzy, and immediately the civil society became a security risk. A Bangla-deshi non-governmental organisation ( ngo ) and Greenpeace, without consulting anyone else, rushed to apologise.

Their apology wasn't necessary. The girl's action was merely a crude but strong reflection of the popular feeling of the 5,000-odd delegates. The apology should have come from Loy himself. The us delegation had come to the Hague with a series of demands, to which the rest of the world had to give in. There was no small anger against the us amongst the civil society and government delegations for turning the entire Kyoto Protocol to cut gases that cause global warming into a farce. The European Union ( eu ) put its foot down and negotiations were at best limping when Loy tasted cream pudding.

What was even more ironic is that nobody knew whether giving into the us would bring any results. Firstly, it is still unclear who the new us president is and even if the new president is favourably inclined towards the protocol there is every chance that of it getting rejected by the us Senate. But still millions of dollars and sleepless nights were spent by people from all across the world to try and get the us on board, but it refused to oblige.

While all this drama was happening, it was interesting to read British and us newspapers reporting the developments. The International Herald Tribune ( us ) never told its readers how the us was being viewed by the rest of the world. And, on November 20, for instance, The Daily Telegraph of the uk reported with a headline ' us blamed for climate treaty talks deadlock'. The Independent said, ' us blocks attempts to cut global warming'. But on the same day, the International Herald Tribune reported, ' us takes new stance on greenhouse gases'.

This is not the first time the us media has blatantly avoided telling their people the reality. Howsoever open and democratic the us media may be, when it comes to domestic politics, every time there is a climate change conference I have found that they immediately turn into a propaganda rag for the us government -- an amazing kind of self-censorship. How can the us public be told how outsiders view their government -- a government, as the us media itself and its politicians repeatedly tell us, which leads the world. How selfish is that leadership, as viewed by the rest of the world, is not something to be told to the us public. The pie in Loy's face received no attention by the us media. But what if an ngo had thrown some curry into the face of the Indian minister present here, how would the Indian media have reported it?

So what were the issues of contention? In Kyoto, the us had agreed to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases by less than seven per cent compared to its 1990 levels. But there were too many new things in the protocol, which had to be sorted out in greater detail in the Hague. One, the us wanted a global carbon market to be set up. If it was cheaper to reduce emissions in developing countries because of their high level of energy inefficiency. The us sought the freedom to reduce emissions in those countries and take credit for that reduction as its own -- a mechanism known as emissions trading. Most ngo s and the eu was not in favour of unrestricted freedom for the us because it would mean no action at home to reduce carbon emissions. The eu wanted a minimum 50 per cent reduction through 'domestic action'. Secondly, the us also wanted to take credit for the amount of carbon it got out of the atmosphere by improving its forest cover and vast grasslands -- an activity known as enhancement of carbon sinks. The trouble with this activity is that it is still very difficult to verify how much carbon has actually been removed from the air.

Between emissions trading and sink enhancement, several people in Europe believe that the us will be able to meet its entire Kyoto commitment without making any effort to reduce emissions from its innumerable cars and coal-based power plants. With green ministers at the helm of the environment ministries in France and Germany, two of eu 's leading member-states, even the standard us broker, British deputy prime minister John Prescott, could not make the eu budge. Economically, too, the eu would have run into problems. The eu does not have much land to enhance its sinks. It would, therefore, have to reduce its emissions mainly through improvements in automobiles, power plants and industries. As most of the eu nations are already much more energy efficient than the us , the eu would have to make very high investments without a corresponding effort in the us . This would leave eu industries less competitive than us one in an open global economy. Thus, green morality and good economic sense merged well for eu green leaders to put their foot down for the first time in the history of environmental negotiations and tell the intransigent us to pack its bags and go home. The Hague conference, thus, collapsed.

How did the cnn report the collapse? With not even a word about the world's anger towards the us . Just a bland statement from Loy that we should have had longer time to negotiate. Indeed! A process that has lasted three years is not enough.

-- Anil Agarwal

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