climate, the countryside, and landscapes
The guest post below is by Robin Guenier, a long-time contributor of well informed and perceptive comments at Harmless Sky and elsewhere. Here, he sets out a very useful, and scrupulously referenced, chronology of the political alarm about anthropogenic global warming which effectively demonstrates that from the outset, the means of achieving the shared objective of the developed and the developing world has been incompatible and irreconcilable.
By tracing the inception of this particular environmental concern back to the Stockholm Conference of 1975 (previously there had been some concern about global cooling) his research also demonstrates that the political impetus to address this problem stems from a period of general hippy/greenness before there was any persuasive evidence that an increase of CO2 in the atmosphere might be a problem. Therefore, we are witnessing a movement the origins of which lie more in the realm of the social sciences rather than the natural sciences – a fashionable cause stemming from self-righteous, affluent western angst in search of a rationale. He explicitly poses the question; is it possible for the developed and developing nations to agree ways of implementing their mutually virtuous aspirations to save the planet that were formulated at the Paris Conference of 2015? He concluded that it is not, and shows that the disparity in objectives can be traced back to 1975.
Robin’s paper can also be read as posing a broader question. Given that the Stockholm Conference took place long before there was any real evidence that CO2 might be a problem, has the political movement that gathered momentum over the past four decades, culminating in the impasse reached at the Paris Conference, been inspired by science, or has climate science satisfied the requirements of a political movement? In that case there would be no problem to solve.
The main reason why, despite countless scientific warnings about dangerous consequences, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continue to increase is rarely mentioned. Yet it’s been obvious for several years – at least to anyone willing to see it. It’s this: most countries outside Western Europe, North America and Australasia are either unconcerned about the impact of GHGs on the climate or don’t regard the issue as a priority, focusing instead for example on economic growth. Yet these countries, comprising 84 percent of humanity, are today the source of 75 percent of emissions. Therefore, unless they change their policies radically – and there’s little evidence of their so doing – there’s no realistic prospect of the implementation of the urgent and substantial cuts in GHG emissions called for by many Western scientists.
To understand how this has happened, I believe it’s useful to review the history of environmental negotiation by referring in particular to five UN-sponsored conferences: Stockholm in 1972, Rio in 1992, Kyoto in 1997, Copenhagen in 2009 and Paris in 2015.
In the 1950s many Western environmentalists were becoming seriously concerned that technological development, economic growth and resource depletion risked irreversible damage to humanity and to the environment. Clearly a global problem, it was agreed that it had to be tackled by international, i.e. UN sponsored, action.
The result was the UN Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972. From its outset it was recognised that, if the conference was to succeed, an immediate problem had to be solved: the perceived risk was exclusively a Western preoccupation, so how might poorer countries be persuaded to get involved?
After all, technical and industrial development were essentially the basis of the West’s economic success and that was something the rest of the world was understandably anxious to emulate – not least to alleviate the desperate poverty of many hundreds of millions of people. The diplomatic manoeuvrings needed to resolve this seemingly irreconcilable conflict set the scene for what I will refer to as ‘the Stockholm Dilemma’ – i.e. the conflict between Western fears for the environment and poorer countries’ aspirations for economic growth. It was resolved, or more accurately deferred, at the time by the linguistic nightmare of the conference’s concluding Declaration which asserted that, although environmental damage was caused by Western economic growth, it was also caused by the poorer world’s lack of economic growth.
After 1972, Western environmental concerns were overshadowed by the struggle to deal with successive oil and economic crises. However two important European reports, the Brandt Report in 1980 and the Brundtland Report in 1987, dealt with the economic gulf between the West and the so-called Third World. In particular, Brundtland concluded that, because poverty causes environmental problems, the needs of the world’s poor should be given overriding priority – a principle to be enshrined in the climate agreement signed in Rio. A solution was the now familiar sustainable development.
Western environmental concerns were hugely reenergised in the late 1980s when the doctrine of dangerous (possibly catastrophic) global warming caused by mankind’s emissions of GHGs, especially carbon dioxide (CO2), burst onto the scene. As a result, in 1992 the UN organised the landmark Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) – the Rio Earth Summit. It was the first of a long series of climate-related international conferences that led for example to the so-called ‘historic’ Paris Agreement signed in 2015.
A key outcome of the 1992 Earth Summit was the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Adopted in 1992 and commonly known as ‘the Convention’, it’s an international treaty that came into force in 1994. It remains to this day the definitive legal authority regarding climate change. Article 2 sets out its overall objective:
‘The ultimate objective of this Convention and any related legal instruments that the Conference of the Parties may adopt is to achieve … stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.’
It’s an objective that’s failed. Far from being stabilised, after 1992 emissions accelerated and, by 2018, emissions per annum had grown by nearly 70 per cent. This was essentially because the Convention attempted to solve the Stockholm Dilemma by dividing the world into two blocs: Annex I countries (essentially the West and ex-Soviet Union countries – the ‘developed’ countries) and non-Annex I countries (the rest of the world – the ‘developing’ countries). This distinction has had huge and lasting consequences – arising in particular from the Convention’s Article 4.7:
‘The extent to which developing country Parties will effectively implement their commitments under the Convention … will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country Parties.’ [My emphasis]
In other words, developing countries were, in accordance with Brundtland’s conclusion, expressly authorised to give overriding priority to economic growth and poverty eradication – even if that meant increasing emissions. And that’s why the Annex I/non-Annex I bifurcation has plagued international climate negotiations ever since: for example, it’s the main reason for the Copenhagen debacle in 2009 and for the Paris failure in 2015 (see below).
Annex I countries had hoped – even expected – that the Rio bifurcation would be modified so that, in line with their development, major developing countries would eventually become members of the Annex I group. But such hopes were dashed at the first post-Rio climate ‘Conference Of the Parties’ (COP) held in Berlin in 1995 (COP-1) when G77 countries (larger developing countries) plus China insisted that, if the process was to proceed at all, there must be no new obligation imposed on any non-Annex I country.
This principle arose inter alia from ‘the Berlin Mandate’ – confirming the bifurcation and its associated ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ principle as institutionalised tenets of the Convention. And, before the next climate conference in 1996 (COP-2 in Geneva), G77+China made it clear that this should not be changed.
The impact of this was made harshly apparent at the next conference: COP-3 in Kyoto in 1997. Kyoto was supposed to be critically important – the original hope had been that negotiations would result in all countries accepting commitments to reduce their GHG emissions. But because the US had decided that it wouldn’t accept obligations that didn’t apply to other major countries and because of the Berlin Mandate, in the event the agreed Kyoto Protocol reduction obligations applied only to a few, largely Western, countries. As a result and because developing countries were refusing even to acknowledge that they might accept some future obligation, it was becoming obvious to some observers that the UN process was getting nowhere – somehow the developing countries had to be persuaded that emission reduction was in their best interests.
But how? The passage of 25 years hadn’t resolved the Stockholm Dilemma – difficult enough in 1972, the UNFCCC bifurcation and Berlin Mandate had made it worse. Yet it was recognised that, were it not for these, developing countries might simply refuse to be involved in climate negotiations, making the whole process meaningless – something the UN and Western countries refused to contemplate. So, if Kyoto was a failure, it was arguably a necessary failure if there was to be any prospect of emission reduction. And that was the story for the next twelve years: at successive meetings the major developing countries, ignoring increasingly dire climate warnings from Western scientists, refused to consider amending the UNFCCC bifurcation.
A result of that refusal was that developing countries’ economies continued their spectacular growth, resulting in rising living standards and unprecedented poverty reduction. And unsurprisingly, emissions also continued to grow: in just 12 years, from 1997 (Kyoto) to 2009 (Copenhagen), increasing by 30 percent.
In 2007, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC), a body that reports every seven years on the current physical scientific understanding of climate change, published its fourth report (AR4) – a report that intensified the West’s insistence that urgent and substantial emission cuts were essential.
A result was an ‘Action Plan’ agreed at the 2007 climate conference (COP-13) in Bali. It set out how it was hoped all countries would come together at Copenhagen in 2009 (COP-15) to agree a comprehensive and binding deal to take the necessary global action. Many observers regarded this as hugely significant: Ban Ki-moon, then UN Secretary General, speaking at Copenhagen said, ‘We have a chance – a real chance, here and now – to change the course of our history’’. And, as always, dire warnings were issued about the consequences of failure: UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown for example warned that, if the conference failed to achieve a deal, ‘it will be irretrievably too late’.
There was one seemingly encouraging development at Bali: developing countries accepted for the first time that emission reduction by non-Annex I countries might at least be discussed – although they insisted that developed countries were not doing enough to meet their Kyoto obligations. So the key question of how far the developing countries might go at Copenhagen remained obscure – for example was it at least possible that the larger ‘emerging economies’ such as China and India and major OPEC countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia might cease to be classified as ‘developing’? The EU and US not unreasonably thought that should happen: it was by then obvious that, unless all major emitting countries, including therefore big developing economies, were involved, an emission cutting agreement would be neither credible nor effective. Some Western negotiators hoped that the bifurcation issue might at last be settled at Copenhagen.
But it wasn’t. In the event, developing countries refused to budge, insisting for example that developed countries’ historic responsibility for emissions was what mattered. As a result, the West was humiliatingly defeated, with the EU not even involved in the final negotiations between the US and the so-called BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China).
One commentator noted:
‘There was a clear victor. Equally clearly, there was a side that lost more comprehensively than at any international conference in modern history where the outcome had not been decided beforehand by force of arms.’ 
The Copenhagen failure was a major setback for the West. It was now established that, if the developing countries (including now powerful economies such as China, India, South Korea, Brazil, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Iran) rejected a suggestion that their economic development be subject to emission control, that position would prevail. Yet by 2010 these countries were responsible for about 60% of global CO2 emissions  and, without them, major global emission cuts were clearly impossible.
The years following Copenhagen, from Cancún (COP-16) in 2010 to Lima (COP-20) in 2014, reinforced the West’s concerns as developing countries continued to insist they would not accept binding commitments to reduce their emissions.
It was becoming obvious that, if there was to be any prospect of emission reduction, there had to be some fresh thinking. So the UN proposed a new methodology for the summit scheduled for 2015 in Paris (COP-21): instead of an overall global reduction requirement, a new approach should be implemented whereby countries would individually determine how they would reduce emissions and that this would be coupled with a periodic review by which each country’s reduction plans would be steadily scaled up by a ‘ratcheting’ mechanism.
But, when countries’ plans (then described as ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’ (INDCs)) were submitted to the UNFCCC secretariat prior to Paris, it was clear that little had been achieved: hardly any developing country had indicated any intention of making absolute emission cuts. Instead their INDCs spoke merely for example of reducing CO2 emission intensity in relation to GDP or of reducing the percentage of emissions from business-as-usual projections.
In any case, other provisions of the Agreement signed in Paris in effect exempted developing countries from any obligation, moral, legal or political, to reduce their emissions. For example, the Agreement was described in its preamble as being pursuant to ‘the objective of the Convention [and] guided by its principles’ and further described, in Article 2.1, as ‘enhancing the implementation of the Convention’. In other words, the developed/developing bifurcation remained intact and developing countries could continue to give overriding priority to economic development and poverty eradication. Moreover, under Article 4.4 of the Agreement, developing countries, in contrast to developed countries, were merely ‘encouraged to move over time towards economy-wide emission reduction or limitation targets’. Hardly an obligation to reduce their emissions.
It was not an outcome many wanted. For example, when ex UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was asked in early 2015 what he would expect to come out of the Paris summit, he replied:
‘Governments have to conclude a fair, universal and binding climate agreement, by which every country commits to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.‘ 
And Western negotiators had intended that Paris should have a very different outcome from that achieved. Hence this 2014 statement by Ed Davey, then UK Secretary of State responsible for climate negotiations:
‘Next year in Paris in December … the world will come together to forge a deal on climate change that should, for the first time ever, include binding commitments to reduce emissions from all countries.’ 
But it didn’t happen. Developing country negotiators, led by China and India, ignored the West’s (in the event feeble) demands. And Western negotiators, determined to avoid another Copenhagen-type debacle, didn’t press the issue. Hence the Paris agreement’s failure to achieve the West’s most basic aim: that powerful ‘emerging’ economies should be obliged to share in emission reduction.
The Stockholm Dilemma was still unresolved.
Might that change in the future? Well, despite an IPCC ‘Special Report’ in 2018 recommending huge emission reductions by 2030, events since 2015 indicate that’s unlikely. For example, UN Secretary General António Guterres convened a climate ‘action summit’ for September 2019, calling for national plans to go carbon neutral by 2050 and new coal plants to be banned from 2020. But, in response, the environment ministers of the so-called ‘BRICS’ countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) reaffirmed their commitment to ‘the full implementation of the Paris Agreement adopted under the principles of the UNFCCC, including the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities’ principle. In other words, these five countries (the source of 44 percent of emissions) were insisting that they should continue to be exempt from any reduction obligation – whatever the IPCC might recommend.
Unsurprisingly Guterres’ summit was a failure: Japan, Australia, South Korea and South Africa were excluded because of their support for coal and the US, Brazil and Saudi Arabia because they’d criticised the Paris Agreement. Yet absurdly China and India were allowed to speak despite being the world’s biggest coal developers and despite India saying that it was in no position to enhance its NDC (the term now used for INDCs). And China’s representative said nothing about how or when Beijing might improve its NDC, let alone start a process of emission reduction.
It was not surprising therefore that COP-25 (December 2019 in Madrid) got nowhere, with China, India, Brazil and Saudi Arabia in particular indicating no serious intention of reducing their emissions. Might that change – might major developing countries enhance their NDCs as required by the ‘ratchet’ provision of the Paris Agreement? The test will be the next UN conference (COP-26) to be held in Glasgow in November 2021 – postponed from 2020 because of the COVID-19 crisis.
Nothing that’s happened recently justifies optimism. For example, coal consumption in developing countries, especially in India, China and Southeast Asia, is still increasing, as are overall global emissions. The early 2020 emission reductions caused by Covid-19 lockdowns seem likely to be short-lived: as countries emerge from the pandemic determined to strengthen their economies, emission increases will almost certainly continue.
The harsh reality is that nothing has really changed since the Copenhagen debacle over ten years ago.
At the time of the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 the West’s emissions were 46 percent of the annual global total – today they’re only 25 percent of a far greater amount. Thus it’s clearly impossible for the West alone to meet scientists’ calls for urgent and substantial emission reduction. That can only happen if the rest of the world reverses its climate policies. And that’s most unlikely. Yet this key issue is largely overlooked in the West – by left and right, by ‘denier’, sceptic, ‘lukewarmer’ and ‘alarmist’, by the mainstream media, most scientific papers, most blogs, all activists and many respected academic and scientific organisations, by politicians, governmental and non-governmental organisations and by financiers, banks, celebrities and social media.
What so many seem not to have noticed is that, over the past forty years, the nature of the climate debate has radically changed as a result of major political and economic developments throughout the world: what was once the Third World has for several years been powerful enough to ignore the West and take charge of environmental negotiation. The increasingly meaningless distinction between the ‘developing’ world and the ‘developed’ world initially introduced by the West as a way of getting poorer countries involved in climate negotiation has paradoxically become the reason why progress on GHG reduction has become virtually impossible.
And there seems to be little the West can do about it.
Robin Guenier, June 2020
Upload PDF: The West vs the Rest 2.1.1
Robin Guenier is a writer, speaker and business consultant – now retired. He has an MA from Oxford and is a barrister. After twenty years as CEO of various high-tech companies, he founded (1995) an independent business consultancy, Guenier Ltd, specialising most recently in project risk; an early assignment was as CEO of the Central Computing and Telecommunications Agency reporting at ministerial level to the UK Cabinet Office. He was founder chair of the medical online research company, MedixGlobal. He has been a regular contributor to TV and radio and has had speaking engagements throughout the world. He has various charitable interests and is a Freeman of the City of London.
Notes and references
Between January 2008 and January 2014 nearly 300 posts appeared at Harmless Sky, and these attracted over 21,000 comments.
It is probably fair to say that during this period attitudes to anthropogenic climate change were embedded in the minds of decision makers, the media, and the general public, and Harmless Sky was a significant player. The widespread impact of this developing apprehension was largely due to the alarmist and morally intimidating way in which the subject was presented by a group of vocal and very influential climate scientists, supported by belligerent activists who promoted their views and the mainstream media which was unwilling to apply normal standards of journalistic scepticism to a story with boundless possibilities. Questioning or dissenting from this new orthodoxy was widely portrayed as ignorant, stupid or just plain bad.
Meanwhile blogs such as Harmless Sky, Andrew Montfort’s Bishop Hill and Ben Pile’s Climate Resistance in the UK, and in North America Anthony Watts’ Watts Up With That? and particularly Steve McIntyre’s Climate Audit, ensured that there was still a minority of well-informed sceptics standing out against a global movement that increasingly looked like hysteria.
But by 2014, opinions were so polarised that neither side seemed to be listening to the others arguments any more, and blogging was becoming dull.
I had probably contributed over a quarter of a million words to Harmless Sky in the form of posts by then — the equivalent of four average length books — and the volume of comments that were posted, together with the site statistics, suggested that these had not gone un-heeded. But the expenditure in terms of time and effort — but not money of course — was enormous. The reputation of a climate sceptical blogger is permanently under heavy fire, and survival depends entirely on never making an error of fact, or putting forward a view that cannot be fully backed-up by credible evidence. Writing posts is only the tip of the iceberg; the submerged seven-eighths is sheer, dogged, time-consuming, bloody-minded, slogging, research.
So the debate had stalled, and my type of blogging, which concentrated on comment and analysis rather than breaking news, seemed redundant for the moment. A new approach was needed.
In my case this took the form of writing a book based on what I had learned about the role our highly privileged and influential national broadcaster, the BBC, had played in promoting alarm about climate change. This focused particularly on the way in which this immensely powerful organisation, with global reach, has exploited its reputation for impartial and authoritative reporting to the full in order to promote one side of a major controversy while denigrating or ignoring any opposing evidence and views. Once again, a huge commitment in time was required, but initially the outcome was gratifying: a fully referenced, evidence laden indictment of the broadcaster’s malpractice.
Two prospective publishers expressed enthusiasm at first sight, but on reflection both withdrew their offers of publication.
The first, a think tank with limited means, withdrew because it feared the reaction of the BBC. Of course there was no question of my text inviting an action for libel or defamation — as a blogger one is well used to avoiding such risks — but even dealing with a vexatious threat of action can be costly. Their concern was understandable as the BBC is inclined to be vindictive, and has its own well-staffed and funded litigation department.
The second publisher, with a reputation for shining light into corners that powerful forces would prefer to be left in darkness, withdrew even when a date for publication had been agreed. Very soon afterwards, the managing director, and the CEO of a think tank that was being lined up to promote the book, began to appear regularly on the BBC as pundits; particularly on Today and Any Questions. Such publicity has no doubt been most beneficial for both of them.
About eighteen months ago, the Harmless Sky website became inaccessible due to my failing to update obsolete software, and there was little incentive to rebuild it at that time. Now I have begun to do so.
I also decided to publish an Amazon version of my BBC book in the runup to the IPCC COP 26 conference in Glasgow this September, but that jamboree has been cancelled because of the Covid19 pandemic. It seems unlikely that anyone is now going to be very interested in predictions of a so-called climate crisis by the end of the century until economic recovery from the present very real global health crisis forces decision-makers into some hard choices. Do they make provision in the form of heavy expenditure for real threats, in the form of future and possibly even more lethal pandemics, or a putative crisis that is almost entirely based on the output of models?
Therefore publication must wait until climate change becomes a live issue again. In the meantime, as electronic publishing is new to me, I am revisiting some of the posts at Harmless Sky that seem to have withstood the test of time — not all of them about climate change — with a view to compiling them as The Harmless Sky Bedside Book, just as a practice run. For that reason, the blog needs to be back on its feet again, but perhaps more as an archive now than as an actively updated forum. The layout remains in its very dated 2008 format, but I think that, in spite of fashions having changed, it is still clear, easy to read and navigate, and easy on the eye too. In any case I have become quite fond of it.
If anyone has noticed this reappearance — welcome!
A Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
to all those of you who are still passing by, and there still seem to be quite a few.
(Photo by JudyN)
A Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to Everyone Photo by JudyN
Yesterday afternoon I received the very sad news from Tony Brown that the prolific commenter on climate sceptical blogs that we knew as ‘Max’ has died at the age of 82.
Reading each and every comment is one of the less well-recognised duties of a conscientious blogger, a task that can become very time-consuming and demanding. Moderation is of course one of the reasons for this, courtesy another, but also learning from others is a very important part of it, and Max’s comments always came under that heading. I must have read tens of thousands of words that he contributed from his home in Switzerland and always with interest and respect. I never needed to fear that moderation would be necessary because his tone was always courteous, even in face of the most severe provocation. His approach to any discussion, however heated and controversial, was calm, friendly, well informed, and utterly rational. One always knew that any argument or assertion that he put forward could be well supported with references and I do not remember any time when what he said was effectively overturned by others. Such characteristics as these must have done much to promote rational climate scepticism among those who had the good fortune to come into contact with Max.
As a blogger, I was always happy when a post passed muster with Max, and must admit that when drafting a new post it was not unusual to be assailed by the thought, ‘Max won’t let me get away with that’, and then settle down to further revision. It’s remarkable how the web can bring people into one’s life and allow them to become part of it to an extent that you would not think possible when you have never seen them, spoken to them, or come to know anything about their real lives.
At this sad time our thoughts and sympathy will be with Max’s wife. He will be remembered with respect and affection by many, and of course all those comments will live on as a very durable contribution to the great climate change debate.
UPDATE 08/06/2014 17:30
Robin Guenier has just reminded me of a time when two Harmless Shy contributors – with very different views on climate change and also very different blogging styles – decided that they should put their money where their mouths were. This is what Max told Robin, who had been involved in the discussion, in an email he received last year:
I recall our exchanges with P—- M—– (now tempterrain), and remember how certain he was that global warming would resume “with a vengeance after 2009”. We started off with a bet of $1,000 on whether or not the next 3 years (after 2009) would exceed the 1998 record temperature, using the HadCRUT3 surface temperature record. In our off-line exchanges, Peter then asked for the amount to be reduced to a token amount of $100, and we agreed that the loser would pay this amount to the charity selected by the winner.
I haven’t checked in a couple of days, but the last time I did the December 2012 figure still wasn’t published.
Robin tells me that a later update confirmed that $100 (Australian I suspect) was duly paid to the Salvation Army by the looser at Max’s request. In view of what I might be able to deduce about tempterrain’s views on organised religion from the many comments of his that I have read, I suspect that Max had a great big grin on his face when he chose that one.