Despite the best efforts of Green unicorn hunters, and a last ditch effort to pull some kind of fuzzy pseudo-agreement from the ruins of the Durban meeting, the past year has seen climate treaty issues swept off of the front page in favor of more relevant and dramatic news about the European debt crisis, Iranian nukes, and the Arab Spring. While there are doubtless many complaints about how the media is ignoring the “truly important” issues of climate change, it’s not just the media — most governments have also stopped paying attention, even those in green-friendly Europe. The Atlantic laments:
But, as the United Nations climate talks in Durban currently underway now show, when it comes to international carbon agreements, you might not even be able to count on Europe any more.“We must certainly lower our expectations of what ‘success’ is,” German chancellor Angela Merkel said over the weekend. Though Merkel went on to describe reluctance among “emerging market” nations to accept binding targets, German reports on the comment recognize a new emerging reality: the problem isn’t just the developing nations — the problem is that Europe isn’t really in a position to lead at present. […]To be sure, there was pessimism about binding international agreements long before this. But in addition, notes Andreas Mihm in Durban-based analysis for German paper Die Zeit, “the large industrial states have, in the face of the sovereign debt crisis, slashed budgets for climate control.” Germany, unsurprisingly for those who have been following the crisis, remains the best positioned to continue marking money for environmental purposes, but one has to wonder how many mouths, exactly, Europe’s de facto banking country can continue to feed. Mihm points out that Germany is already cutting its climate change budget back by 1.5 billion euros, while elsewhere in Europe “the cuts are even deeper” — 3.8 billion euros reassigned in Spain, and 3.1 billion likely to be pulled in the UK.
This is indeed a problem for the greens — Europe had long been the most committed actor (though often in hypocritical and disingenuous ways) on the green agenda; even America in the heady days of the Democratic majority approached the global climate talks with something less than full enthusiasm. With Europe weakened and preoccupied and above all, without any spare change, the treaty has lost the little international support that it had.The treaty movement was a dead end with or without European support, but the problems in Europe are a perfect illustration of the problems that have doomed the treaty from the beginning, namely, its expense. Western leaders have often complained that the developing world has refused to pull its weight on these global agreements; developing countries retorted that they couldn’t afford to. Perhaps wealthy Germany and Sweden can afford to spend billions to make energy more expensive for its businesses; India and Indonesia cannot. When Europe is fighting just to stay afloat, and tea party style balanced budget amendments are being imposed on every country in the eurozone, emptying government coffers to raise the price of energy is not exactly an attractive proposal.The long retreat of the greens looks doomed to continue. This is a movement that has lost its way.