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William O'Keefe
CEO, George C. Marshall Institute

William O'Keefe

William O'Keefe is CEO at the George C. Marshall Institute, a think tank that promotes better use of science in public policy. He is a former COO at the American Petroleum Institute. ALL POSTS

Surely not the real deal

Q: Is the Copenhagen Accord a real deal? Are there any beneficiaries of this decision? What responsibilities do nations have going forward?

Developing countries got an empty promise of a lot of money which they probably will never see. Given the governance of many developing countries, whatever money flows their way will probably end up in the pockets of corrupt rulers. And, funding for climate actions will probably come from reducing funding for aid and development. In today's economically fragile world, funding is probably a zero sum game.

The tragedy of the $100 billion promise is that it once again ignores a real problem in pursuit of what is likely to turn out to be a hobgoblin. There are about 2 billion people in developing countries who have inadequate diets, high disease and mortality rates, and who lack access to potable water and commercial energy. Those are real human and environmental problems that we know how to solve but fail to undertake the hard work to do so. People who are dying of malnutrition, malaria, and other diseases are not very interested in what the climate may do 50 or more years from now. They are interested in survival and a better life. That should be our focus.

Until progress is made with institutional reforms in many of those countries to protect property and individual rights and contracts for private investments, they will struggle with survival and little will be done to mitigate their emissions.

The EU-15 was pushing for a legally binding extension of Kyoto mandating cuts that could never be realized. Since they didn't achieve their Kyoto targets and in the process used a lot of gimmicks to mask their failure, the call for even more severe cuts is hollow indeed. Their rhetoric was an example of organized hypocrisy.

President Obama got to claim a face saving historic breakthrough by obtaining a vague agreement from China and a few other countries. The price he accepted to get that agreement was several snubs by the Chinese leader. The description the President gave of his hard earned agreement sounded very much like a Pledge and Review approach under the Rio Treaty Framework. That would certainly be a step forward if he follows through with that "new" approach.

For the last several years, the Asian Pacific Partnership and the Major Economies process have been moving in the direction outlined by the President. So what he called a breakthrough was just the validation of a process that works from the bottom up and not from the top down in the form of global mandates.

The Senate's cap and trade proposal was supposed to be predicated on other nations adopting binding commitments. Since that did not happen in Copenhagen, the Senate doesn't have a foundation for imposing energy rationing on our economy. If it accepts that reality and starts over with an approach that is more rational and consistent with energy, economic, and technology realities, then Copenhagen will have been a great success for the US.

By William O'Keefe  |  December 23, 2009; 7:18 AM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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