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UN climate delegates failing everyone

By Tom Harris and Madhav Khandekar - posted Monday, 25 November 2013

Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!

Sir Walter Scott (1771 - 1832)

For many years, our representatives to the United Nations climate conferences have behaved as if they could make dramatic, headline-grabbing commitments without serious long term consequences. Perhaps they hoped people would forget about their agreements as the years went by and other pressing issued arose. Or maybe they assumed they would no longer be in office when the impact of their decisions would be felt.

The UN climate conference in Warsaw, Poland over the past two weeks has clearly demonstrated that their chickens are finally coming home to roost. UN delegates are actually being held accountable for the climate change problems which those representatives years ago claimed the developed world to be causing.


Developing countries are now demanding that we have an obligation to pay them trillions of dollars for loss and damages, since much of the extreme weather and other problems they are experiencing are supposedly our fault.

Logically, morally, and perhaps even legally (though not scientifically), developing nations have a solid argument.

It would indeed be inconsistent with the normal standards of law and ethics as observed in most of the world if we did not compensate those affected by our misdeeds. So in unjustifiably accepting the blame for climate change, and the extreme weather, rising sea levels, species extinction, and other calamities that climate change supposedly causes, our representatives set us up for the dilemma we now face: pay up, or risk the wrath of much of the world for irresponsible and possibly criminal behaviour.

The problem started in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, where representatives of nearly every nation agreed to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC). Under the Framework, which was eventually ratified by the governments of 195 countries, developed countries promised to "take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof." The FCCC's "ultimate objective" was nothing less than "stabilization of greenhouse gas [GHG] concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic [human-caused] interference with the climate system."


That no one had any idea what, if any, GHG concentration level would cause "dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system" was immaterial to national representatives seeking approval from green activists. They could have cited the UN's own climate science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which declared in their First Assessment Report in 1990:


"It is not possible at this time to attribute all, or even a large part, of the observed global-mean warming to (an) enhanced greenhouse effect on the basis of the observational data currently available."

Instead they ignored this important statement, as pandering politicians were more interested in proving their green credentials. With an election only five months away, President George H.W. Bush said:

"I am happy to report that I have just signed the Framework Convention on Climate Change. Today, I invite my colleagues from the industrialized world to join in a prompt start on the convention's implementation…. Let us join in translating the words spoken here into concrete action to protect the planet."

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About the Authors

Tom Harris is an Ottawa-based mechanical engineer and Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition.

Madhav Khandekar is a former Research Scientist with Environment Canada. He was an Expert Reviewer for the UNs IPCC 2007 Climate Change documents and continues to contribute to the report "Climate Change Reconsidered" (Published by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change). He has been on the Editorial Board of the Journal Natural Hazards (Kluwer, Netherlands) since 2000.

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Tom Harris
All articles by Madhav Khandekar
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