I find it particularly amazing how a fairly unexpected win by Scott Brown in Massachusetts may derail any chance of securing a legally binding treaty on climate change. Even before his election, the potential of passing a cap-and-trade bill in the US Congress seemed as a very challenging undertaking. Now, without a filibuster-majority, there is not any chance to pass a comprehensive climate change bill this year. Instead, the US Congress will likely pass a bipartisan energy bill, focusing on issues of energy security and efficiency, but without the much needed cap in carbon emissions. This would pretty much relinquish the Obama administration’s ability to cut a real global deal with legally binding provisions, and may even throw away the possibility of implementing the Copenhagen Accords.
Key developing countries such as China and India already seized the opportunity to jump ship from signing into the Copenhagen Accords
, which they were responsible for putting together (China in particular was responsible for deleting any mention of mitigation targets by developed countries by 2050). One of the reasons they have claimed for not following up with their commitments was the election of Scott Brown and the unlikelihood of an improved US negotiating position.
I hope that the Obama administration is able to pull some type of miracle and convince some Republicans to sign up to a comprehensive climate bill, otherwise the whole world will be condemned by parochial politics in Massachusetts.
After returning to Bonn, I have had a chance to reflect on the outcome of COP 15. The lack of success had a significant toll on the emotional and physical health of many of my colleagues and friends attending the Summit, but I want to focus on constructive solutions to some of the many problems that came up from COP 15.
1) Logistics: Over 40 thousand people ended up showing up in Copenhagen for COP 15, while the Bella Center only was able to hold 15 thousand people. It is incredible that the UN and the Danish government could not predict that logistical nightmare that many participants had to endure on their way in to the negotiations. It is imperative that for upcoming conferences, the UN and the host country recognize that climate change has become a top-political issue and will bring thousands of activists, government officials and media representatives interested in influencing the process. For example, passes could be mailed in advance or distributed in multiple venues throughout the host city, accreditation could reflect the venue’s size (!) and increasing efforts for video conferencing the sessions could be put in place.
2) Consensus vs. majority-based decision-making: One thing that was demonstrated at COP 15 was that the consensus-based model for decision making within the UNFCCC process is dated. The Copenhagen Accord was by no means the perfect outcome, but it still provided a good first step for on-going negotiations. The role of certain countries in bringing their national ideological struggles to the Summit, while denying the international community of some progress in its attempt to deal with climate change was regrettable. I hope that Parties to the UNFCCC reconsider this process, otherwise climate change issues may end up being discussed in a smaller, less democratic setting.
3) The role of the media: For the first time in its history, a COP meeting attracted a level of media attention reserved for high-level meetings for (controversial) organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO). On one hand this demonstrates the level of political relevance that climate change has been able to achieve, but it also contributes to the circus atmosphere felt in Copenhagen. A colleague told me that when you have over 5 thousand journalists all seeking for the juiciest story, it is only inevitable for tensions to rise as politicians try to look good for audiences back home. For example, the media pressure may have led President Obama to rush an agreement with a limited amount of countries. I was particularly surprised to see journalists holding negotiating text before government officials did!
4) The role of the United Nations: As I mentioned before, there is a serious risk for the negotiation process on climate change issues to be taken out of the UNFCCC context. This is indeed a very dangerous prospect! Not just for the obvious personal reasons, but because the UN, with all of its imperfections, still remains the only inclusive global forum. I do think that the process needs to be reformed (see point 2), but government officials, especially those from small developing countries should discourage any attempts to move the negotiation setting to grouping such as the G7 or G20.
I’ll make sure to keep sharing my thoughts on the UNFCCC process on this blog! I remain hopeful that COP 16 in Mexico will help us get back on track to save humanity from irreversible climate change.
I have been an avid Paul Krugman for a few years now. I don’t necessarily agree with all of his positions, but his data-driven explanation of the economy and issues such as health care has always been appreciated. My main area of disagreement with Krugman falls on his approach to create change. He focuses on this old-school idea of confrontation as the only way to accomplish a “progressive agenda.” This idea follows the same type of prescription that states: 1) let’s put together in a room a bunch of technocrats (scientists and lawyers for the most part) who come up with a “solution” to a specific problem. 2) Let’s hire a bunch of lobbyists, lawyers, NGOs and other groups to push and “fight” for the “progressive solution” and not stop till the other side (in Krugman’s vision this means the Republican Party) is fully destroyed and left with nothing. 3) Implement the solution and continue to step all over the opposing party (instead of looking for ways to create bridges and understanding),and focus on reminding the losing party that they are wrong and the winning party (in Krugman’s vision this means “the progressives”) is on top.
This of course has not worked since the 1970’s in the US (policy-wise) and since Lyndon Johnson (in presidential politics). At that point, the US population got tired of this old cycle, and started looking for political leaders to propose ideas (even if the wrong one), remain optimistic (even if for the wrong reasons), and provide the solutions that will keep people positive about their future (even if those solutions are wrong).
It is sad that Krugman doesn’t seem to get this, and instead continues to be insecure about the possibilities of unity and foregoing a stop to confrontation and bickering as the only way to obtain positive solutions.
Hopefully Krugman will get on the bandwagon before it is too late… A first step to achieve this is stopping to bash Obama every single opportunity he gets.
Hi everyone! It has been a while since I posted to the blog. I have been really busy and doing some traveling for work. Nevertheless, after watching last night’s debate I had a definite urge to start blogging again!
I don’t want to comment on the bickering between the candidates… For that go to Politico.com…
Instead, I wanted to write about the most interesting subject (in my opinion) that came out of the debate; a clear remark by Obama supporting an Apollo Project-like presidential initiative to support renewable energies and a global economy based on green jobs. This would include a dramatic increase of funding for R&D in overcoming the technology gap when it comes to energy resources.
Interestingly enough, I went to a meeting earlier this week with the Breakthrough Institute discussing recent findings published in a Nature Magazine on how the IPCC understimated the technological advances needed to stabilize carbon-dioxide emissions.
The presenters at my meeting focused on the need to mobilize the US in a massive technology innovation effort, like the rebuilding of Europe after World War II, the Manhattan Project and the Apollo Project. Michael Shellenberger, famous with Ted Nordhaus for proclaiming the Death to Environmentalism, has been promoting this concept as well, especially as it fits the idea of reframing the discourse on environmentalism to a more inclusive and broader movement for all progressives. All of this is very much influenced by George Lakoff’s work on framing language focus on strenghts and not on policy/wonky confrontational prescriptions (a la “bread and butter” Democrats).
The other side of this Apollo Project-type effort involves an honest partnership with groups that have not been fully engaged in the renewable energy discussion in the past, such as unions, environmental justice groups, people of faith, etc. An interesting group that is trying to bridge this is Green for All which tries to “build an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.”
The point with all of this is that at my recent meeting, I specifically asked if anyone was speaking to the presidential candidates about all of this stuff, and no one really knew… Based on Obama’s remarks last night, it seems that someone is! Let’s see how it works out!
Wow! Obama won Wisconsin! Now he is off to concentrating in Texas and Ohio. I think that in Ohio the key group is going to be blue collar workers, who are hurting with the current economic outlook. In Texas, however, I think that the Latino youth vote is going to play a significant role in determining who wins.
Based on previous contests in states heavily populated by Latinos such as New York and California, Hillary seems to have an edge. However, I think that in the case of Texas the election is not going to be based on identity politics, but instead it is going to be a big generational rift. I am a strong believer that Obama gains support from young people after they get a chance to interact with him, but also when they realize how close he is to their concerns and issues.
This is a candidate who is not afraid to call on young people to make some sacrifices, to get involved in their communities, to stop with the same old politicking of always.This guy actually says let’s stop with the political crap and get things done! Young people relate to this! As we can see day after day, young people are becoming more involved in their communities, are volunteering more, and are creating social enterprises that foster the power of ideas to benefit marginalized communities.
For all of this, I am convinced that Obama will continue to motivate young people, especially Latino youth in Texas who are eager to turn the page, continue their engagement to social change, and finally say: yes we can!