The signals preceding today’s ( Jan. 12, 2006) meeting of the Asia-Pacific climate summit are ominous. The principals – U.S., Australia, Japan, India, South Korea and China – have made clear in advance that they reject any mandatory timetables for reducing greenhouse gases.
They have invited 120 industry observers – primarily from oil and coal interests – to provide input – while locking out environmental organizations whose voices traditionally have provided valuable corrections at other international climate meetings. The U.S. and Australia acknowledge they will be recruiting other countries into the APAC group. That, in turn, will dilute if not completely negate those countries’ commitments to the United Nations under the Kyoto Protocol. And they will be promoting a host of technologies designed not to pacify our inflamed climate but to provide a facade of acceptability for the continued use of coal, the most climate-destabilizing of all fuels. This gathering is the latest manifestation of the Bush Administration’s six-year campaign to undermine and marginalize the UN and its mission of promoting a more sustainable and equitable world. It is also profoundly anti-democratic in its drive to put the world’s great energy companies in charge of the world’s climate policies. There is no argument that the current goals of the Kyoto Protocol are inadequate, judged against the demands of nature. For one example, nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 1995 and the planet is heating at a rate faster than any time in the last 10,000 years. But, judged by the history of human political achievements, the Protocol provides a groundbreaking framework to bring the nations of the world together in a common project to rewire the planet with clean energy. That is not what will emerge from the APAC summit. Given the input of companies like Peabody Energy, Rio Tinto and Chevron, the summit will be promoting a batch of sleight-of-hand, short-term technological fixes.
Clean coal technology, with its reliance on hugely expensive geo-engineering projects like mechanical carbon sequestration, basically represents a full-employment act for companies like Bechtel and Halliburton. These projects are also wasteful in the extreme. Given their huge pricetags, the same amount of money would generate far more electricity per dollar were it to be spent on constructing windfarms. A real “pro-technology pro-growth” initiative would center on a worldwide project to replace every coal-burning generating plant, every oil-burning furnace, every gasoline-powered car with clean, climate-friendly energy technologies. The construction and installation of windmills, solar panels and tidal power devices, coupled with the construction of an infrastructure for a hydrogen economy, are far more labor intensive than the extraction of coal and oil (which are heavily automated). There are, to be sure, problems with the Kyoto framework. Its goals are too modest and its timetable too slow to match the escalating pace of climate change. But given the flexibility built into the Protocol’s design, it will be easy, when the time comes, for delegates to increase the targets to match the scope and urgency of the threat. As several oil company presidents have said off the record, any meaningful effort to avert climate chaos requires the governments of the world to impose binding and enforceable timetables and goals on the energy industry. That sentiment was echoed publicly by executives of some of America’s largest utilities including Cinergy Corporation – as well as by the investment banking firm of Goldman Sachs. And that approach is at the heart of the Kyoto Protocol. By contrast, the real agenda behind the APAC summit involves a new framework—the emergence of a global corporate state whose goals are determined by short-term profit calculations rather than an authentic concern for our common future or our common planet.