The Shape Of Things To Come

It’s Saturday night, Laurent Fabius has brought his green hammer down on proceedings at the climate summit and the Paris Agreement is a done deal – now what will it all mean?

Earlier this afternoon, while we were all still waiting for the announcement, the BBC’s Nicholas Owen interviewed Professor Mike Rosenberg of the IESE Business School in Barcelona and asked him what he thought. I’ve put together a transcript of the interview here.

Mike Rosenberg is a Professor of Sustainability, so it is perhaps a given that he would think it a good thing (“It’s a great deal because it’s a deal.”) Beyond that, though, what he says is interesting because he highlights a number of issues that climate sceptics (and green groups) have already noted. I’ll list these:

1) The voluntary arrangements won’t go far enough, on their own terms. Even if you firmly believe that the INDCs (or NDMCs) will collectively serve to make precise turns on some sort of dial linked to the planet’s thermostat, they will fall short and need to be continually revised upwards, throughout a series of 5-year plans. Whether that will happen as anticipated is not certain.

2) Although $100 billion a year is meant to be winging its way from the rich nations to the poor nations by the end of the decade, “[w]here that money is going to come from is not specified” and it will still require taxpayers in individual countries to exercise their vote. They might vote not to send the money, or – perhaps more to the point – they might vote in politicians who won’t send the money.

3) India is determined to develop its economy, either cheaply, via its “tremendous coal assets” or via wealth transfer from the west. No wealth transfer and they will go for the cheapest option.

4) China is the largest CO2 emitter but will not be cutting its CO2 emissions, agreeing only to “plateau” them around 2030. That’s fifteen years from now. That’s a lot of emissions.

5) Whatever the United States signs up to at COP21, it will still need to be ratified at the Republican-dominated Senate. It may also make a lot of difference who wins the Presidency next.

For me, however, this quote from Professor Rosenberg stood out:

What the agreement does is it sets up a system of monitoring and making things transparent, it sets up an enormous bureaucracy to manage this whole thing, with scientific committees and a secretariat and a finance committee and a tribunal, a court, et cetera – it kind of establishes the mechanism to try and get the world to where it needs to go, but the hard decisions will all come later.

Amongst all the uncertainties, all the ifs, mights, shoulds, coulds and so forth, what seems an absolute certainty is the massive expansion – from Paris to Marrakech and beyond – of the bureaucracy and the eager legions of pen-pushers, staffers, secretaries, clerks, lawyers, activists, spokespeople, fund-raisers, representatives, lobbyists, experts, consultants and who knows who else, manning and servicing this vast, voracious, self-perpetuating machine.


  1. vast, voracious, self-perpetuating machine

    and there .. in a nutshell is the rub.


  2. Mike Rosenberg is a Professor of Sustainability […]

    Pardon my skepticism, but how does one get to be a “Professor of Sustainability”?! I can’t help wondering if it is not dissimilar to Mike Hulme’s self-designation – many, many moons ago – as a “climate scientist” See: p. 8 of Hulme’s paean to himself: :

    During these 12 years in the Climatic Research Unit I came to see myself no longer as a geographer, but as a climate scientist. […]

    But I digress … Back to Rosenberg:

    […] it sets up a system of monitoring and making things transparent […]

    What an utterly “novel” concept, eh?! Amazing. Simply amazing.


  3. Thanks all for your comments!

    Hilary, I’ve probably oversimplified Prof. Rosenberg’s credentials – according to LinkedIn, he lectures on “Strategy, Globalization, and Sustainability” and according to his blog, he “teaches long-term strategy, scenario planning and analysis of business problems”. Sustainability can be connected to anything and everything, it often seems – my impression is that it exists simultaneously everywhere and nowhere.

    Paul, that’s interesting. Maybe we’ll start to see a titanic struggle between the bureaucracy’s natural tendency to expand versus politicians’ attempts to get national budgets under control. A bit like a body’s natural tendency to accumulate flab versus that body’s owner’s attempts to shed pounds while saving pennies.


  4. That quote sure does stand out. It sent a shiver down my spine reminiscent of what I felt at the first Dracula film I saw as a child. Here is this inexplicably malevolent monster intent on doing his own thing despite the extensive harm and upset caused to others. Angry villagers with pitchforks were not enough to deal with it. Only garlic and in due course a piece of carefully placed wood did the trick. So what are the equivalents for ridding us of an ‘enormous bureaucracy’. ‘ “scientific” committees’, a ‘secretariat and a finance committee’, and perhaps most sinister of all, ‘a tribunal, a court, et cetera’?


  5. John, as I recall from the old Hammer movies with Christopher Lee, a good strong dose of sunlight can also be effective. Although I share Hilary’s sentiments when hearing the word “transparency” being used in connection with anything to do with the UN-ocracy, I think outsiders might be able to do some good by giving the curtains a vigorous tug now and then, and thereby letting some light in on the proceedings!


  6. Alex,
    Theory on the left side of pond, is that an agreement which is not a treaty does not requite ratification. At same time, its effect, if any, might not survive Obama’s retirement.

    I was much troubled by the participation of every nation in this foolishness. I had hoped that at least one country, Czechia perhaps, would sit it out, but no ….


  7. J Ferguson, I think I have the comma thing too, have to work hard to cut them out in the transcripts.. 🙂

    Re the universal sign-up, I’m wondering if some of the more climate-realist inclined countries in the EU, such as Czechia or Poland, might be waiting to pick their battles, given that the EU will be trying to enforce these targets, etc. anyway, even without the Paris Agreement?


  8. Though I regard Mike Hulme highly and do believe that he is a “climate scientist”, (whatever that virtually-meaningless term means anyway) I was not aware of that statement of his and find it amusing.


  9. Paris was about leaders being able to go home, without ‘obvious’ egg on their faces.
    They promised to save the world,
    …..but all they brought back was the lousy T-shirt
    ………………..,…………………………………………with those seemingly profound-but meaningless words on it.

    BTW its says Rosenberg said they’re setting a bureacracy ..climate court etc… I thought that was not the cace ?


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