Germany Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stands and claps during a plenary session at the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

 

The zeal of the virtuous is a mighty thing. It cannot be bruised by rank hypocrisy or the large-scale squandering of public funds. Then again, maybe Jet travel and 24-hour a day air conditioning are but a small price to pay for saving us from mass extinction. Maybe the fact wealthy Emiratis were footing part of the bill for this year’s Conference of the Parties (COP28) made the hypocrisy easier to swallow. At least the venue ensured the world’s most cherished climate activists wouldn’t have to debase themselves by staying at the Motel Six.

Actually, I doubt Dubai has a Motel Six. But they do have crew trailers for their quasi-slave foreign workers. Those barracks conform to environmental sustainability goals in that they lack air conditioning– despite being located in one of the hottest countries on the planet. Nevertheless, the crew dormitories probably don’t meet the sanitation standards expected by the enlightened jet- setting elite who travel the globe doing battle with climate change. Given the standard set at Charles III’s coronation, it seems doubtful the Canadian delegation bunked in the crew camps.

According to The Guardian, in the neighboring country of Qatar an estimated 6,500 construction labourers (mostly crew camp residents) died getting things ready for the 2022 World Cup. I wonder how many died over the years in Dubai building the luxury hotels and other facilities that hosted the virtuous at COP28. Of course, the purpose of hosting an illustrious event in support of saving the planet is that it helps wash away a country’s past sins.

The rarefied air in the luxury suites of Dubai’s 50-story plus hotels does not appear to improve brain function. COP28, like last year’s and the ones before it, generated a laundry list of platitudes and greenhouse gas reduction goals that experience shows will never be met. While the conferences presume to be the interface where climate science is melded with government policies, they are really more about international political grandstanding and jockeying on behalf of national self-interest.  Nonetheless there is usually a climate activist version of a motherhood and apple pie pledge shoehorned into the heralded summary statements.

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At COP27, the attendees were so bold as to propose that coal be phased out as an energy source at some point in the future. It is safe to say that goal remains somewhat fanciful. It sure hasn’t been achieved in Germany–one of the countries whose politics have been most influenced by the Green movement. Years after the patently stupid Green-inspired decision to close Germany’s nuclear power plants there remains a pressing need for coal. Construction of a big new German coal mine got underway just recently. Greta Thunberg shed tears.

The big achievement this time around was wording that stated the use of all fossil fuels should be reduced in support of the effort to achieve global net zero by 2050. Golly, why didn’t anybody think of that before? Another outcome of note was the revisiting of earlier pledges to provide poor countries with billions in compensation and aid due their presumed climate change vulnerability and the legacy of colonialism which has stymied their development. Yay Canada! Our environment minister Steven Guilbeault jumped to the front of that bandwagon, pledging several hundred million for the cause. Who could ever doubt that the money will be well spent?

Notwithstanding the Davos in the dunes extravagance attached to COP28, there is a much bigger problem that these conferences pose. The goals they embrace are so excessively ambitious that many are simply unattainable. Time and again the mere mortals who live and work in the real world have failed to meet the targets set by international climate summits. Only a scant handful of developed countries have had significant success in lower emissions and in a position to achieve net zero targets.

A number of columns appearing in Pipeline Online over the past two years have shown how the climate change goals and emissions reduction measures formally adopted by rich countries have not been met. Just this past year, ambitious plans for increased wind energy production, heat pump adoption, electric car mandates and subsidies to green businesses have gone sideways in some of the countries that have been the most vocal supporters of climate change mitigation agenda. Public opposition to that agenda combined with unanticipated technological and economic barriers have generated policy reversals in avowedly green countries like Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. Carbon taxes could well be among the next policy pillars to topple.

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From the perspective of western Canada’s fossil fuel industry, the two most egregious effects of the conferences are: 1) they inspire and sustain counter-productive and unachievable federal goals and policy measures, and 2) they have flavoured world opinion to the extent that green activist investors and banking policies enacted by some green governments have reduced the amount of capital devoted to financing new oil sands mines and conventional crude production on the prairies.

Nonetheless, 2023 has provided some good news. Canada’s Supreme Court sensibly trashed a portion of the federal environmental review process imposed by Bill C-69. And, more recently the Supremes overturned the federal plastics ban. There appears to be some good news emerging on the investment front as well. A number of the world’s major oil producers appear to have quit caving in to the demands of activist investors and have abandoned earlier positions that focused on transitioning out of fossil fuels. Now we just need to wait and see if the changes will manifest in share buybacks and mergers or actually result in more wells being drilled in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Even if climate alarmists exaggerate human-caused global warming effects, it is something that we need to prepare for and reducing increasing emissions is something that needs to happen over the long-term. The point is, excessively costly, overly-ambitious greenhouse gas reduction measures are frequently counterproductive. People tend not to support climate policies that threaten their livelihoods and raise the cost of living to unaffordable levels. Balance is required. People can only be expected to move as far and fast as their economic self-interest and the development of affordable new technology allow.

A truly just transition will likely require us to accept a certain amount of additional warming. But that’s okay, we can’t sacrifice a good outcome on behalf of a perfect outcome. Climate zealots, like Steven Guilbeault, think in linear black and white terms. Their goals seem so important to them they want to achieve them quickly and in as direct and straight a path as possible. It’s a damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead way of thinking. What is actually required are people who know how to finesse their way to publicly acceptable success. There needs to be give and take and greater understanding of your bargaining partners’ needs and aspirations.

 

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