Representatives from almost 200 countries have now departed from Katowice, Poland, after two weeks of negotiating how to implement the Paris Agreement of 2015 to limit climate change. Did they succeed or fail? That depends on your tolerance of PR bilge. Those VIPs who want you to think that they made progress are pointing out that the conference agreed on a new “rulebook” to measure emissions. Success!
More honest observers are pointing out that nothing that took place in Katowice suggests we will come anywhere near the stated goal of Paris, which is to keep the increase in average temperatures to 1.5 degrees relative to pre-industrial times. The import of that failure is easy to miss. In fact, it took a 15-year-old girl from Sweden, with braids reminiscent of Pippi Longstocking, to spell it out.
“You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You are not mature enough to tell it like is,” Greta Thunberg told the assembled dignitaries, in three spellbinding minutes. Greta, who has been organizing children to strike school in protest, thus ripped the conference’s topic out of its technocratic file folders and made it personal.
“The year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday,” Greta told the assembled adults. “If I have children maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe they will ask me about you. Maybe they will ask why you didn't do anything while there still was time to act.”
Just for rich people
And yet, even Greta might admit that not all adults are shirking their duty deliberately. Yes, we are failing as a species. But in part that is because the action Greta demands is so difficult. And one reason for the difficulty, as a recent headline in the New York Times put it, is the growing perception by many people that “environmentalism is just for rich people”.
That, at least, seems to be the cautionary lesson of the gilets jaunes (yellow jackets) who have been marauding through Paris and other French towns every Saturday for several weeks. Their original gripe, remember, was a fuel tax that President Emmanuel Macron wanted to impose (but has since shelved). And yet, such carbon taxes are the simplest and most effective steps against emissions and thus global warming. But with populism on the rise all over, the “populus” just doesn’t seem to allow it.
For now the French yellow-vest movement seems to be waning again. About 66,000 people demonstrated on Saturday; that’s down from 280,000 people who took part in the first protest in November. But the anger that can mobilize such crowds is still growing, and not only in France. Germany had its first yellow-vest protest in Munich on Saturday. Only 200 came this time. Then again, there wasn’t even a new fuel-tax hike to protest yet. Greta, we’ll need a better way to sell environmentalism.
Following Trump's example
US President Donald Trump has been taking the Chinese to task, but he’s not the only one. More and more countries are seeing China’s mixture of geopolitical and commercial brawn as a potential threat. That includes Germany, which has been looking askance at strategic investments and takeovers by Chinese firms of sensitive German companies such as 50Hertz, an electricity grid operator. (In the end, the Chinese did not buy a stake in 50Hertz as German state bank KfW intervened.)
That’s why the German government is now changing the rules for foreign takeovers. (An investor is defined as “foreign” if the firm comes from outside the EU.) Under the old rules, the government was allowed to intervene only once an outside investor bought a stake of at least 25 percent in a German company that is important for national security. Under the new rules, that threshold will sink to 10 percent. And I doubt that’s the end of the new attention being paid to Chinese offers.
One of the strangest and dumbest stances in German foreign policy is the government’s stubborn support for Nord Stream 2. This is a pipeline being laid next to another one just like it in the Baltic Sea that will bring Russian gas directly to Germany, bypassing the eastern European countries in between.
Everyone from Poland to Ukraine hates the idea, since it will enable Russia, for example, to stop piping gas through Ukraine, thus depriving it of revenues, or to use its gas throttle to blackmail Germany in future. Now this opposition is growing. The Americans, who would like to sell Germany more liquefied natural gas instead, are even threatening sanctions if Germany goes ahead with the pipeline. And the eastern EU partners are giving the Germans an earful. Even members of Angela Merkel’s governing coalition are having second thoughts. Ms. Merkel: Can we not think this over before it’s too late? Read more.
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