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Go Back: Home > Earth Island Journal > Issues > Summer 2009 > Temperature Gauge

Temperature Gauge

Notes from a warming world

Who, Us?

Our relentless consumption of oil is not to blame for climate change. This news flash comes to you courtesy of … the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

In a statement that gives new meaning to the word “chutzpah,” Abdullah al-Badri, the cartel’s Secretary General, told reporters at the International Oil Summit in April that “oil is not responsible” for climate change. Al-Badri then went on to criticize the subsidies industrial countries are offering poorer nations to promote wind and solar power.

Although OPEC has endorsed the Kyoto Protocol’s reductions in CO2 emissions, the cartel opposes plans to reduce oil consumption. In the US, auto emissions (from the burning of oil, of course) account for 20 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas pollution.

It’s obvious enough why OPEC would want to deflect blame. A decrease in global petroleum consumption would all but wreck the economies of the organization’s oil-reliant members.

Sure, for island nations such as the Maldives and Tuvalu, climate change poses a very real existential danger as rising sea levels threaten to wipe their territories off the map. But what about the Saudi Arabian economy?

“It’s a matter of survival for us, also,” Mohammad Al Sabban, the kingdom’s lead climate negotiator, has said. “We are among the most vulnerable countries, economically.”

More Crocodile Tears

photo of a building with a banner in German© Bert Bostelmann / Greenpeace The international language of indignation toward investors:
“If the world were a bank, you’d have rescued it already,”
the banner says.

Once you’re finished feeling bad for the petrol-crats, you might want to turn your sympathy to the suffering bankers on Wall Street.

As if being submerged by billions of dollars of bad debts from mortgage-backed securities, credit default swaps, and other dodgy investments weren’t awful enough, the financiers in lower Manhattan (who have long provided capital to the fossil fuel industry) may find their offices underwater someday soon.

According to a recent paper in the journal Nature Geoscience, a predicted slowdown in Atlantic Ocean currents will cause sea levels along the eastern seaboard to rise twice as fast as the global average. By 2100, average sea levels are expected to rise anywhere from seven to 23 inches. That’s bad news for the US’s financial center, which lies barely three feet above water. Researchers say that the bottom tip of Manhattan will have a 10 percent chance of flooding in any given year.

Call it delayed karma.

Not It

So who should pay for the costs of capping carbon emissions and ensuring that stockbrokers won’t be making trades wearing floaties? The core question of who bears responsibility for carbon emissions continues to bedevil international negotiators as they approach the crucial climate talks coming up in Copenhagen later this year.

Recently, the Chinese (who are either the number one or number two greenhouse gas emitter, depending on whom you ask) tossed a new complication into the mix when they suggested that countries that import goods made in China should cover the carbon tab for those products.

According to Beijing, Chinese factories making products for export to richer nations account for between 15 and 25 percent of China’s carbon emissions. If much of the plastic junk lining the shelves at Wal-Mart was made using coal burned in China, who should pay the climate bill for that? American consumers? Or Chinese producers?

“This share of emissions should be taken by the consumers, not the producers,” Li Gao, the director of China’s Department of Climate Change, argued at an April meeting in Washington. “It is a very important item to make a fair agreement.”

Not so fast, say richer nations. If they are going to pay for Chinese emissions, they want the ability to regulate how goods are produced, an intrusion into national regulations that the Chinese may not tolerate.

“We would also like to have jurisdiction and legislative powers in order to control and limit those [emissions],” the EU’s top climate negotiator, Artur Runge-Metzer, says. “I’m not sure whether my Chinese colleague would agree on that particular point.”

   

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