Copenhagen Update: One Month to Go

Early signals from policymakers indicate it is unlikely the Copenhagen summit will yield a substantive agreement on greenhouse gas emissions. Recent comments made by political elites suggest that  political agreements will be the likely outcome of the conference rather than a full treaty on carbon emissions.

Why is this so? To start, a less ambitious agenda among international leaders is a result of a split between rich-poor nations over emissions targets. In fact during the Barcelona talks last week, delegates from African nations walked out of  negotiations, namely because African nations argued that rich nations were not setting significant goals for curbing greenhouse gas emissions. This rift resulted in Norway’s chief negotiator Hanne Bjurstroem, calling for a separate conference sometime next year in order to ink a final deal.

In addition to the developments in Barcelona, the role of the U.S. in regulating greenhouse gas emission remains a concern for international policymakers.  As of today, the U.S. is unable to request binding targets at Copenhagen because of difficulties within Congress to pass an overall climate change bill (see earlier posts which focused on the details of the Boxer-Kerry bill in the U.S. Senate).  I suspect the inability of the U.S. to take the lead on this issue helped facilitate last week’s events in Barcelona.

These developments should not be surprising. My assessment: Environmentalists have placed too much faith on the international community to address climate change; they will be disappointed, as political leaders are merely attempting to manage expectations on the outcomes of the conference. Political elites focus less on a common interest and more on self-interest. The latter is the driving force behind the motivations of policymakers, which helps explain the current developments on climate talks. Initial positions taken by international leaders allow for these individuals to either take credit or assign blame for any outcome, which fall short of an actual treaty. In any event, I expect to see over the next few weeks international policymakers engaging in the politics of climate change while at the same time downplaying the goals of the summit.


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