Academic Freedom #1 : The United Nations isn’t working

A lot of people are going to be distressed when I say this, and tell me I have no right to say it – but honestly guys and gals, it’s time to tell the patently obvious truth : the United Nations process on Climate Change isn’t working.

Even if there is a way to construct a treaty with wording that all the country delegations can agree to (or at least not bitterly fight tooth and nail to their early graves), the basic premise of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is faulty.

Those responsible for the production of fossil fuels should be made to accept responsibility for global warming pollution, and take on the mission of changing the way they make the energy they sell the world.

I’m not calling for environmental fines. Environmental fines don’t work. They don’t stop pollution, they don’t prevent polluting activities, and they don’t provide enough monetary resources to clean up pollution.

I’m not calling for carbon tax, or other forms of carbon pricing. Those responsible for selling polluting energy would never pay the full carbon price – they always delegate extra costs to their consumers.

Carbon pricing and carbon taxation can never provide an incentive for meaningful de-carbonisation of the energy supply that we need. Cap and Trade does not appear to have altered the course of any region’s energy infrastructure development. The price of carbon always remains too low to stimulate real change.

I’m calling for the producers of the world’s coal, oil, Natural Gas and other hydrocarbons to take on the obligation to change their business – and I’m calling for the United Nations to oblige them to make these commitments through the Framework Convention.

At the moment, the United Nations UNFCCC passes round the hat at each meeting, begging nations to pledge greenhouse gas emissions cuts, hoping it might add up to enough spare change for a cup of coffee and a sandwich. This is the Kyoto Protocol style. This is never going to work.

Civil society campaign after campaign asks consumers to cut their consumption of energy. They ask nicely, and sometimes use manipulative techniques, but to no avail. All this activity doesn’t alter the fact that the First World is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels for energy, and the developing nations are rapidly increasing their fossil fuel energy consumption.

Governments simply cannot risk implementing mandatory energy demand reduction measures, for fear of losing the good will of energy companies and the voters. Britain’s housing stock, for example, is too expensive to insulate – and by “expensive” I don’t mean money.

The only significant way that the consumption of fossil fuels will be reduced is by the reduction in the production of fossil fuels – and that means OPEC; that means BP, Royal Dutch Shell and all the oil and gas and coal companies. And that also means the United States of America and Canada and other nations with internal fossil fuel production.

These institutions, countries and companies need to be in the dock of the world climate court – not being charged with fines, but being charged with making change – real change.

All the energy companies, and the oil- and gas-rich nations, should be mandated, legislated, to rapidly increase the amount of truly renewable energy they produce.

Until the United Nations has the remit to call the major polluters to the negotiating table, and demand a change in their business behaviour, the Climate Change Framework can never hope to succeed.

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