22 December 2009

How not to negotiate carbon reduction

The failure of the 15th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to come to any conclusion whatever in Copenhagen is chilling, but it was to be expected. Could 192 countries large and small, each with a veto, unanimously agree on anything in this difficult area? (See comments in this Daily Brief.)

The alternative, for the biggest current and future emitters to negotiate among themselves to try to agree on ways to move off the untenable "business as usual" projections, achieved some modest progress. Presumably these negotiations will continue and carbon emissions will gradually move off the "worst case" path. But probably not enough to keep total global temperature increases below 2°C. Some effects of processes already under way are unavoidable, and for some they will be catastrophic. But there is no way to turn back the clock.

Fortunately there is not a complete disconnect between big emitters and those affected by climate change. We hear a lot about the potential displacement of coastal-dwellers in Bangladesh, but there are many times more people, and much more wealth, exposed to rising sea levels in China as in Bangladesh. China, India, and the U.S. are finally talking about the need to develop mutually acceptable emission targets of some sort, though decades have been wasted getting to this degree of agreement.

There will continue to be tension between the "we are all in one boat" view and the national interests of each negotiator. And not enough can be done to even pretend to be able to save some doomed nations and regions. But something will be done. It just won't be done by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

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