Citizens around the world have been reacting excitedly to the news of a measly compromise struck by their governments at the recent UN climate talks in Warsaw. Delirious from lack of sleep, delegates of the world’s governments agreed in the dying moments of the conference that they will no longer be making commitments to one another about action on climate change but will instead propose “contributions”. Worse, they went on to agree that these “contributions” should be put forward by early 2015, but “only by those Parties who are ready to do so”.  So it’s whatever you want, whenever you want.

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Unprecedented mass weddings have been held this week, as couples rush to tie the knot by making “contributions” instead of commitments

Inspired by this agreement, people everywhere have been rushing to apply the new international norm in all aspects of their lives. Many countries have seen a stampede of wedding applications this week, with thousands of young couples finally agreeing to make the leap now that they no longer need to make commitments to one another, choosing instead to propose vows based around contributions.

Governments themselves are even taking advantage of the new trend. For months the British government has been wondering how it can justify its u-turn from its 2010 election commitment to be the “greenest government ever” to its recent alleged efforts to rid itself of “green crap” policies. Easy!  Those weren’t really commitments, you see, just contributions. And the contributions have got a bit smaller. Certainly no more huskies around.

Across the business world, bosses of small firms have been taking the opportunity to rid themselves of lazy staff members without needing to go through termination formalities.  “You have an employment contract, you say? Oh that wasn’t really a commitment, we were just choosing to contribute your salary and now we’ve decided not to”.   Meanwhile, in the corporate stratosphere, Vodafone reacted coolly to the world-wide frenzy. “This doesn’t change anything for us”, said a spokesperson, “we have always considered taxes to be a voluntary contribution, so what’s new?”

Across the pond, however, it seems that even Hollywood has proven fickle to this intercontinental vogue. Tinseltown has been awash with rumours that a remake of the famous 1991 movie about an Irish soul band is now underway, with a release of  “The Contributions” scheduled for next year (but, the producer is said to have added, “only if we are ready”). The new film’s soundtrack is expected to include the hapless Dubliners playing covers of Carole King’s “It’s too late”, REM’s “It’s the end of the world as we know it” and “Here comes the flood” by Peter Gabriel.

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The coalition of large developing countries largely responsible for the wording change pose for a group photo shortly after negotiations concluded in Warsaw

Lofty columns marking the entrance of the ancient site

Seen better days: Lofty columns mark the entrance of the archaeological site, their former glory shrouded from view

A select group of archaeologists gathered last week in Barcelona to explore an ancient site where the remains of a formerly opulent carbon market society have recently been exposed. Although the organisers were expecting a large turn-out of reputed experts at the meeting, the final turn-out was rather smaller than hoped.

Nevertheless, as excavations progressed the diggers began to uncover relics offering fascinating insights into the civilisation that made such a prosperous living out of the thriving carbon market of yesteryear. Shards of glass resembling champagne flutes suggest that the society once had much to celebrate and regularly toasted one another’s success with champagne, something unimaginable in modern times.

Roof fallen in: Columns hint at former splendour of the market

Roof fallen in: Columns hint at ancient splendour of the market

Ancient scraps of papyrus inscribed with curious hieroglyphs known as “emissions reduction purchase agreements” have also been found, featuring astronomical financial figures amounting to €15 or €20 per tonne, or even more. Curiously, everywhere the archaeologists looked they came across vast quantities of semi-preserved remains of strange round articles that vaguely resemble modern-day hamburgers, except that they are far too small.  Dr. Firk Dorrister, former White House archaeologist who is leading the excavations, said “these strange miniature ‘mini macs’ have led us to believe that the people of the former carbon market civilisation were either much smaller than we are today, or that they had really tiny mouths.”

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Perspective problem: artist’s reconstruction of how the microscopic burger-like objects would appear next to a modern-day, normal-sized adult hand

“Come to think of it, perhaps this means that only children were involved in the ancient carbon market, and that all this carbon play was but a game”, he added thoughtfully.

As more of the rich seam of artefacts is uncovered, experts are now pointing to signs of a potential resurgence of the ancient civilisation, rising out of its ashes to re-establish itself as a prosperous and exciting market in far-flung lands.

Sky high: The Keeling Curve about to hit 400 ppm

The first round of 2013 UN climate negotiations kicked off this morning with a stirring call to urgent action by UNFCCC Chief Christiana Figueres: the world’s average atmospheric CO2 concentration is on the verge of passing the landmark level of 400ppm, with no sign of a noticeable let-up.  Many scientists have long-since held that 400 and above represents serious danger of disastrous changes to the climate system. The godfather of climate science, James Hansen, has always maintained that 350ppm is the only safe level. Entire movements have been founded on this basis.  Passing 400ppm is a sobering moment indeed.

Faced with this dire warning from scientists transformed into the inspiring oratory of Ms Figueres, the governments of the world duly stepped up and responded by not flocking to Bonn in record numbers. Crowds of excited negotiators could not be seen thronging the corridors of the old West German Parliament building, temporarily hosting the talks to give everyone a break from the ’80s monotone of the nearby Maritim.  Hordes of clamouring journalists were not to be seen generating a near total lack of buzz in the world’s media. The sense of urgency was palpable but only when it was time for lunch. Sometimes it felt as though there were more people in bedroom last night than attending the talks.

Plenary about to kick off at the epicentre of the world’s action on climate change   (photo – http://adoptanegotiator.org/ )

In fact it was just another day in sleepy Bonn, with the coal barges gurgling past along the Rhine and the thick sausages sizzling in the canteen. Rumours that entire delegations had not been informed about the venue change and are waiting patiently at the Hotel Maritim appear to be unfounded.

And so the UNFCCC  juggernaut rumbles into motion, beginning its 2013 programme of mud slinging, procedural wrangling and communal wringing of hands about the inadequacy of the world’s response. Is this really the world’s best hope to avoid climate catastrophe? Let us hope not.

Shock and dismay were rippling through the Qatar National Convention Centre today after it emerged that an unfortunate translation error is to blame for the Emir of Qatar’s hitherto unexplained  enthusiasm to host the 2012 UN climate talks.

Seemingly, a careless translator mistook “climate change”  for “climate control” which was then translated into Arabic as  “air conditioning”, thereby presenting the Emir with an invitation for bids to host the 2012 United Nations Air Conditioning Conference.  On admitting the error, a senior minister said “we thought we would be welcoming the world’s best air conditioning manufacturers to our sandy shores. That’s something we can really relate to. I can’t believe you guys at the UN didn’t spot the error. What, you really thought we were interested in hosting a major environment conference? Seriously?”

Proposed air-conditioned stadium

Proposed air-conditioned stadium

The Minister went on to explain that whilst Qatar is already a major importer of finest-quality air-conditioning equipment – given its recent construction boom and scorching summer temperatures –  the trade is set to soar as the Emirate prepares to host the 2022 football World Cup. Given mounting fears that not even the Qatari national team (if such a thing exists) will be able to cope with the fierce heat, entire air-conditioned stadia are being planned. With this in mind, he said, the choice to host the 2012 conference was perfectly logical.  On the other hand, the minister explained that they are not really too interested in climate change:  heat, used to that; desertification, been there done that some time ago; water supply, gas-fired desalination galore; sea level rise, only 120,000 citizens and plenty of land and so on ad nauseum.

Rumours that the Qataris mistook the competition to host the 2022 football World Cup for that of the annual desert camel-racing championship are

Training for the 2022 camel race

Training for the 2022 camel race

unfounded. Nevertheless notorious climate sceptic “Lord” Monckton appears to be already in training for that event, where he will be representing Myanmar.

A convoy of UNFCCC delegates making the long and arduous journey between zones of the conference centre

A convoy of UNFCCC delegates making the long and arduous journey between zones of the conference centre

Fears are growing that a COP18 delegate, missing since  Friday afternoon, may have perished, alone and lost somewhere in the bowels of the gigantic Qatar National Convention Centre.  According to colleagues, the negotiator left their delegation office at around 1pm because they were due in a negotiation session on the other side of the building at 2.30pm, and it is widely known to take at least 1.5hours to walk from one end of the building to the other.  Tragically, the delegate never arrived at the negotiation session, and colleagues raised the alarm shortly before nightfall. The delay in signalling the absence may be because the delegate is from a major developed country, whose negotiation team runs to thousands of members, making keeping track of personnel difficult.

Several theories abound as to what may have befallen the hapless delegate. The distances involved are known to be huge, and many delegates have followed safety advice by setting out to transfer between negotiating rooms only in convoys, employing local guides and taking emergency supplies of food and water. Although water stations are provided along the route, some commentators are saying that the stations may be too far apart or that the thirsty delegate may have arrived at one such oasis, only to find that it had run dry.

A delegate rests gratefully at one of the water stations

A delegate rests gratefully at one of the water stations

Others think that the delegate may have accidentally opened a door into a hitherto uncharted and unexplored zone of the conference centre, having become confused and disoriented on attempting to consult a hopelessly complex map board. As such the official may be still wandering alone in unknown corridors, desperately searching for an exit or any sign of human life.  An exploration team is preparing to depart to the nether regions of the centre, although preparations have been delayed after an admission by the Qatari hosts that nobody has ever actually been to the far extremities of the building, and it is not known how far into the desert the seemingly endless series of cavernous conference halls may extend. This gives some credence to the rumour that the QNCC is the only man-made structure visible from Mars.

Hopelessly disorientating map board

Hopelessly disorienting map board

Optimists are still hoping for a happy outcome. Sources close to the delegation  suspect that the negotiator may in fact have fled the country, disguised in a head-to-toe black burqa, overcome with a mix of unbearable frustration at the pace of the talks and a burning desire for a good glass of wine. If this is indeed the case, the negotiator’s Head of Delegation, speaking from a shuttle bus stuck that has been stuck in traffic since Thursday, has implored the delegate to get in touch to confirm their well-being (but to please not make us jealous about the wine).

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Suspicions aroused over the motivations of so-called grandmother

As the climate negotiation tribe gathers once again for the annual ritual of sleep deprivation and lengthy speeches, an unusual unrest has been starting to spread through the ranks of gathered officials. Rumours have been heard that a leading chairperson in the process, known as Grandmother, may not be everything “she” appears to be. One prominent negotiator, wearing a trademark hooded red coat, said that she was becoming suspicious of the meaning behind Grandmother’s words, and was particularly alarmed by the size of Grandmother’s eyes. But on raising a point of order to ask “Oh! Grandmother, what big eyes you have!” she was quickly reassured that nothing was amiss. However, as tensions mounted later on in the plenary negotiations, the negotiator was forced to intervene again, exclaiming “Oh! Grandmother, what big teeth you have!”. At the point the Chair led the individual in question outside for a backroom bilateral, the outcome of which remains unknown. Rumours abound that the meeting was neither particularly long-term nor co-operative. Meanwhile, questions are also being asked about the motives of the owners of this year’s negotiation venue, known to be a neighbour and close ally of Grandmother.

In other news, the Goldilocks Foundation has released an alarming report stating that for the past several years, not even a single bowl of porridge has been found that demonstrates temperature properties said to be “just right”. In a marked departure from what used to be thought of as normal, all samples examined were either “too hot”,  “too cold”, or even “too lumpy”, a condition thought to be caused by unprecedented extreme weather events impacting porridge production . 

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I’ll huff and I’ll puff…

Elsewhere, Little Pig #3, known to his former friends as “Mr Smug”, was unavailable for comment as his brick house, located as it was on the New Jersey coastline, has been smashed to pieces by Hurricane Sandy. Eye-witnesses say it collapsed in seconds, “almost as though it had been built out of sticks or even straw”.  

Posted by: carbonara | September 4, 2012

UN climate negotiations: last few optimists abandon hope

An optimist contemplates changing his mind

[Bangkok, 4 September]  Stark new facts have emerged concerning the international climate change negotiations  process, causing the last few diplomatic optimists to despairingly abandon any hope of an eventual successful outcome. A raft of new reports on unprecedented declines of Arctic sea ice this summer have appeared at the same time as the climate negotiating positions of key countries become ever more entrenched and regressive. The clarity of the data led to some of the only remaining optimists to publicly declare that they have had no choice but to change their long-held views to fall into line with majority of scientific and diplomatic thinking. Although small in number, this last bastion of believers numbered a few loyal employees of the UNFCCC Secretariat, dogged government delegates from small vulnerable countries and a smattering of well-meaning environmental NGO workers.  Speaking of his newly declared pessimism, one UNFCCC official said: “For many years I had been convinced that the UN negotiation process was an effective means to prevent global climate catastrophe. But my latest empirical analysis of the data shows that, beyond reasonable doubt, this is no longer the case. The facts have changed and so must I change my opinion”.

Delegates arrive at the conference, shepherded by carefully attentive police

Negotiators at the latest “informal” session of negotiations in the Thai capital – sporting a distinct lack of ties and jackets as well as any noticeable intention to agree on anything – were quick to lament these findings. Said all negotiators from every country, “It’s a terrible state of affairs. We realise how serious the climate change situation is, and how lamentable progress has been in these negotiations. But it’s not my country’s fault – it’s the fault of all the other countries and their unreasonable negotiation positions”. All agree that their own position is perfectly reasonable, and they would be keen to do so much more if it wasn’t for the insufficient pledges of all other countries.  All agree that the important time to discuss this is not now but at the next negotiating session.

The public change of heart of these final believers comes on the back of other recent U-turns from prominent figures in the climate change arena, such as Prof Richard Muller who also made a sudden and public reassessment of his views based on new data.

All is not totally lost however. As the international process continues to falter, many are turning their attention to the national level, pointing to  relatively progressive policy-making in countries as diverse as Australia, China and Korea. Not to mention the world’s 8th largest economy, where a binding cap-and-trade regime is on the cusp of being implemented (California).

Despite disappointment over the absence of many Heads of State, one particularly senior representative is seen here looking down over events

Heads of State from small vulnerable countries are meeting with middle-ranking ministers from big polluting nations in Rio de Janeiro this week in an attempt to secure the future of the world by agreeing on everything imaginable, all at once.  UN bureaucrats have steered country officials through months of preliminary negotiations by downloading the entire content of Wikipedia and seeking agreement from all countries on all articles. In alphabetical order. From the beginning.

Going into the high level segment this week, observers are appalled that only 154 of the 3900000 articles have yet been agreed, with delegates having spent an entire week of negotiations debating the native distribution of the aardvark and the specification and origins of the AAA battery.  One exasperated delegate commented, “at this rate we’ll never even get close to negotiating the woolly definition of “green economy”. Some still see it as an economy in an acute state of envy, such as when the Greeks look at Germany”.
Looking ahead to the arrival of ministers, many have criticised the Heads of State of major economic powers for not attending in person. Asked if he would be going to Rio, President Obama reportedly said “Are you kidding me? I tried doing that green shit back in Copenhagen in 2009 and look what happened in the mid-terms!” He continued , “it’s ok though, that English guy will go, what’s he called again? James Cameron?”
British Prime Minister David Cameron later said that whilst he contemplated a trip to Brazil to enjoy the beach at Copacabana, it was not just not feasible at this time of year to spend so much time away from the tennis court at his country residence, Chequers.

Image rumoured to be a leaked version of the Brazilian text that will undoubtedly save the world from environmental destruction

As the seconds tick away before the frantic few days that the leaders and middle-ranking ministers will be in town expecting to sign a document, the Brazilian hosts have tried to steer delegates away from attempting to agree the several million articles that are still controversial. Instead, they have gone for an elegant yet unprecedented solution by employing a super-computer to come up with an outcome document to the summit that will contain the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and sustainable development in 42 pages or less.
 It remains to be seen whether the world’s politicians will be convinced by their hosts’ time-saving proposal.

Sixty long years after her first appearance on the world stage, Queen Elizabeth II has gathered fellow monarchs around her for a unique celebratory event – dubbed “Queen+60″ by palace officials  – to look at options for the future and sustainability of the monarchy. High on the agenda was how best to preserve the monarchy for the enjoyment of future generations, even though not much has really changed in the house of Windsor during the intervening decades, with Charles still waiting to be king and millions of people still drunkenly ignoring Her Majesty’s televised Christmas message.  In her opening address at Queen+60, the elderly monarch stated that whilst one has been told that there are numerous definitions of sustainable development, one must choose the most suitable to the royal situation. She went on, “I have therefore decided that the sustainability of my family for future generations depends on making absolutely certain that my own next generation never gets onto the throne. I have worked hard for this over many years and I promise to continue to strive for that goal as long as I shall live”. At this point she unveiled a plaque with the words “The Future One Wants: how to save the Palace”, met with unanimous polite applause from the audience. The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall were absent, said to be at a luxury biscuit convention in Devonshire. Pundits were disappointed, noting that the long-serving sovereign had already made clear similar intentions at Queen+25 and Queen+50. For now it looks like busbies-as-normal at the Palace for the foreseeable future.

Unprecedented congestion on the Thames as visitors arrive by boats in an attempt to avoid immigration queues at Heathrow

Outside of the main conference events, a great circus of side-events, debates and other celebrations has sprung up all around Elizabeth’s capital city. Visitors were expected in such numbers that the UK Border Agency issued warnings of expected long waits at major airports. As a result multitudes of visitors attempted to avoid immigration queues at Heathrow by opting for the more environmentally sound option of arriving by water-borne craft, leading to unprecedented congestion on the Thames. Accusations that the deployment of a warship on the river to act as a deterrent might have been unnecessarily heavy-handed have so far gone unanswered.

Modest fireworks to mark the era of austerity

The event ended with a small concert and modest fireworks display, timed  to coincide with the panic in the eurozone and slashing of public budgets across the realm.

On seeing the success of the event, Brazil has decided to invite the world to a broader discussion on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro later this month. However, the Queen’s Prime Minister David Cameron has made clear that he will not attend the Brazilians’ event, seemingly deciding that travelling all the way to South America for a minor issue like global sustainability was just too much for a busy politician.

Posted by: carbonara | June 7, 2012

Worst fears materialise as carbon price fails to deliver

For many years analysts have been predicting the potentially disastrous effects of a low carbon price and those fears appeared to be becoming reality last week at Carbon Expo, the annual flagship gathering of carbon market participants and assorted hangers-on. The widely-held view amongst participants was that the low carbon prices and policy uncertainty of recent years had had a strongly destabilising effect on the quality of catering and availability of free alcohol at this year’s Carbon Expo. Said one analyst, “I’ve been following this market for more than a decade and I’ve never seen lunch spreads this narrow. It’s shocking. I cooked better pasta when I was a student”.  Across the room a group of listless traders sat hungrily at an empty table and reminisced of the days that even a simple dessert was provided at the world’s premier carbon market conference.

As delegates stared into this so-called “lunch” some were heard to mutter “just where did it all go wrong?”

This year dessert was entirely absent – a carbon price of €6 seemingly cannot sustain even a single piece of fruit for pudding.

But several market veterans said the most telling signs of market failure was the shocking almost total absence of any free alcohol before lunch. Interviewed as he headed towards the exit, one red-nosed broker commented gruffly that “I just don’t know what’s going on. It’s nearly 1pm and nobody has yet offered me a brightly-coloured free cocktail. I’m having to go out to a bar to satisfy my craving and that is very inconvenient”.

Delegates crowd to see into a room where rumours – later shown to be false – had raised hopes that a “new market mechanism” was lurking inside

All was not lost however, as by early on Thursday afternoon the conference recovered a glimpse of its former glory, with relieved delegates being able to escape from listening to yet another conference panel lamenting the state of the market and instead gathering around free drinks being offered at various expo stands. But which stands? As the flashy pavilions of major law firms stood eerily silent, with nothing more than a free espresso being offered, crowds gathered instead around the stands of the Peruvian and Chilean governments, who served up nationally-appropriate tipples such as Pisco Sour and Carmenere wine.  How times have changed.

Carbon trading volumes were down on Friday as traders grappled with stinging hangovers caused by unexpectedly cheap wine at Thursday evening’s traditional receptions.

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