Do climate talks just get in the way of climate progress?
GREEN STATESMAN: Hermann Scheer (1944-2010), German parliamentarian, solar advocate and father of the feed-in tariff. (Photo: Ashley Bristowe)
I’m on the road this week in southern Ontario, making a series of presentations about what I call “The German Leap.” The title is derived from my new book, and I’m speaking mainly about the way that Germany’s pioneering feed-in tariff, passed in 2000, has vaulted the country to the global lead in cleantech innovation and implementation and radically transformed its industrial base.
There were of course many factors in Germany’s transformation, but if you had to put a single face on it — the visage of the guy who did the very most to guide Germany’s energy policy to the green path — then that face would be Hermann Scheer’s. In 1998, Scheer’s party, the old-left Social Democrats, united with the upstart German Green party to form a “Red-Green Coalition” in the Bundestag (Germany’s parliament) and set about turning a simple municipal solar incentive into the backbone of Germany’s federal energy policy.
Why should we expect comprehensive, fast and effective policy responses to emerge from what is the most long-winded political decision process imaginable, namely consensus-orientated negotiations between the parties to an international treaty? What were the reasons for the success or failure of other international treaty negotiations? But above all, is it even possible to achieve international agreement on the technological and structural transformation of the energy sector that a successful climate change strategy would require?The conference process has given governments a perfect excuse to postpone any environmental overhaul of their respective domestic energy sectors until a global treaty has been agreed and ratified, on the pretext that a global framework is essential to preserve international competitiveness. Governments have thus largely been able to forestall taking swifter action at national level – such as increased taxation on fossil energy – while still protesting innocence on the global stage. The effect of the climate change negotiations has thus been to preserve the status quo.
Humanity stands on the threshold of an era of unprecedented opportunities. In the past decades, many innovative new technologies have become available and affordable that can transform our current economies based on polluting fossil fuels into sustainable renewable energy economies. This transformation will provide millions of new jobs. It will halt global warming. It will create a more fair and just world. It will clean our environment and make our lives healthier. However, for all this positive change to happen, we don’t need an international climate treaty. We don’t need a Copenhagen Protocol, just like we didn’t need a Kyoto Protocol. In fact, these international attempts stand in the way of the progress almost all of us need.
The protocol starts from the premise that the solutions to climate change will be an economic burden. So it is all about how we share this burden. But it is not an economic burden; it is a new economic opportunity. So I don't accept the idea of issuing emission rights that can be traded. It is like giving rights to trade in drugs, and saying drug dealers can buy and sell those rights.
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