The mammoth COP21 circus will folds its tent after Paris, on December 11th. Already, it’s been a record-breaker, with thousands of journalists and the largest ever gathering of heads of states descending on Paris for the two week jamboree.
Conspicuously absent from the event were the tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of activists and demonstrators who had been planning for months to descend on central Paris to apply ‘street pressure’ on the politicians and policymakers to deliver a deal that, for once in 21 of these annual Conference of Parties mega-talking shops, just might actually mean something.
History suggests otherwise. Since this whole UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) was first mooted after the 1992 ‘Earth Summit’ in Rio de Janeiro, with the express aim of avoiding “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”, the emissions, rather than being stabilised or reduced, have in fact spiralled by over 60%.
Kenny dispensed with the hiatus and instead effectively completely retracted his entire three-minute speech on behalf of Ireland to COP21 an hour before he delivered it
This time the result will be different. Maybe. The last ‘make or break’ conference, COP16, took place in Copenhagen in a bitterly cold December 2009. Obama was then still wet behind the political ears, the Chinese were completely disengaged and, to make a bad situation hopeless, the dark money poured into the climate denial networks struck gold with the phoney ‘Climategate’ scandal which a credulous and lukewarm global media swallowed without even chewing.
An older, undoubtely wiser Obama was back, this time with his political legacy very much in mind, and the Chinese fully engaged. Joining the pantheon of statesmen for the opening day was our own Taoiseach, Enda Kenny. Given what we have come to expect from Mr Kenny, it may well be said that while he disappointed, he did not surprise.
Kenny usually waits a couple of weeks after his latest outing on the world stage before telling Paddy back home what’s the real deal. This time, most likely under acute pre-election pressure from the IFA lobby machine, Kenny dispensed with the hiatus and instead effectively completely retracted his entire three-minute speech on behalf of Ireland to COP21 an hour before he delivered it. This, even by his standards, was quite something.
Just before he addressed the Summit on World leaders’ day, Kenny told reporters that the targets for Ireland needed to be “fair” and “sustainable”, which is Kennyspeak for “meaningless’ and ‘unenforceable”.
“What we want is an understanding that we are serious about achieving fair and sustainable targets but we need space in order to achieve that…what we have to have is plenty of ambition but one that is tempered with reality”.
He went on to make the quite grotesque argument that we as a nation are just too poor to shoulder our share of the burden. “Ireland was not in a position over the lost last decade to plan for the future in the way we would like”. From here, Kenny started channelling Flann O’Brien: the recession, apparently had resulted in Ireland “not being in a position to invest in climate change mitigation and research”.
“Until we have an economic engine that will enable us to change structures – and to invest in research and innovation to invest in more sustainable ways of doing agriculture – it presents us with a challenge”. Linguistics departments are, even as I write, rushing to parse this last couple of paragraphs to see if even the slightest morsel of meaning was inadvertently trapped between the layers of waffle.
Kenny must have forgotten his IFA briefing notes – the ones that repeatedly brag about our world-beating levels of ‘carbon-smart’ agriculture, our amazing ‘carbon footprinting’ of tens of thousands of individual farms. Wandering dangerously off message from Farm Centre, Kenny admitted that we in fact have not developed any “innovation to invest in more sustainable ways of doing agriculture”.
Turns out all this ‘carbon efficiency’ is just more fairy dust being sprinkled around by the agri-industry spoofers and boosters. Lest this seem a little harsh, it’s worth considering what Kenny committed to the Green Climate Fund in time for COP21 – €2 million, or less than 50 cent per capita, and, by unhappy coincidence, precisely the amount of the payoff agreed between IFA president Eddie Downey and ousted general secretary Pat Smith.
Oisin Coghlan of Friends of the Earth correctly identified the apparent main purpose of Kenny’s talking down of the achievability of EU emissions targets for Ireland: Kenny is trying to get the goalposts moved so that everyone, bar the hard-case Irish can do their share. In the future, of course, things will be different, honestly: “As our economy and technology improves and smarter ways of doing production, we will have a stronger economy being able to make the changes after 2020”.
Translated, this sounds like Kenny code for: “I’ll be long gone by the time the emissions shit hits the fan, so long suckers!”. For the leader of a first-world country with a GDP per capita of almost €40,000 to have the gall to say it is too poor to shoulder its share of the critical burden of dramatically lowering greenhouse gas emissions almost defies parody; and may be unique.
Perhaps Malawi, with a GPD per capita of around €750, a negligible contributor (unlike Ireland) to current or historic global GHG emissions, should take the hit instead? Crazy, but this appears to be how Kenny’s logic works.
For COP21 to break the long and disastrous sequence of broken promises and missed opportunities to finally put a brake on runaway climate change, there has to be an agreement that we all jump together. As Barack Obama put it in his COP address: “One of the enemies that we’ll be fighting at this conference is cynicism, the notion we can’t do anything about climate change”. Little did he know that, as he spoke, Ireland’s leader had just come into the room having put a metaphorical bomb under Ireland’s entire national approach to the climate crisis.
Obama continued by quoting Martin Luther King that there really is such a thing as being too late. “And when it comes to climate change, that hour is almost upon us. But if we act here, if we act now, if we place our own short-term interests behind the air that our young people will breathe, and the food that they will eat, and the water that they will drink, and the hopes and dreams that sustain their lives, then we won’t be too late for them”.
Success in Paris, Obama added, can be calculated “in the suffering that is averted, and a planet that’s preserved… the knowledge that the next generation will be better off for what we do here – can we imagine a more worthy reward than that? Passing that on to our children and our grandchildren, so that when they look back and they see what we did here in Paris, they can take pride in our achievement”.
But then again, what’s all that when compared with Origin Green and flogging another container load of powdered milk to Chinese mums? WB Yeats, it seems, knew the Irish psyche only too well when he wrote:
“What need you, being come to sense, but fumble in a greasy till and add the halfpence to the pence, and prayer to shivering prayer, until you have dried the marrow from the bone; For men were born to pray and save; romantic Ireland’s dead and gone, it’s with O’Leary in the grave”.