Friday 15 January 2010

Understanding where to go post-Copenhagen: four reflections

Reflections towards a better strategy in the future:

1. Developing nations came to the Copenhagen Conference with a very firm position, that Kyoto had to be extended, which meant tougher commitments and cuts by developed nations but no cuts required of developing nations, reflecting the view that the richer nations caused the problem and had to do most to fix it (fair point). Developed nations came to the table insisting that, as 90% of all future
emissions would be coming from developing nations, they had to accept cuts as well, especially the now more developed ones like China, Korea and, of course, Saudi Arabia (fair point also). They also, as Aubrey Meyer at the Global Commons Institute has pointed out, had a de facto Contraction and Convergence position, which is a significant advance. Copenhagen turned into the big collision between these positions; no surprise that a binding agreement wasn't possible. The hope is that polarised positions will now have to be abandoned, at least by the majors.

2. Some recent reports suggest China came to Copenhagen with more to give than they ended up giving, but were put off by the US having nothing extra to offer. The total lack of progress during the last week of the negotiations seems to have been because China then decidednot to budge. Some people that were in the talks have privately reported that they think the Chinese team had very tight negotiating limits, and were not able to respond effectively to the fast-pacednegotiation the Americans tried to introduce in the last couple of days. That's positive news, because it means there really is room to keep working on the process.

3. The outcome reminds us that the world is not run by the United Nations. Expecting a consensus result from the flawed governance model it represents was really a dream. The fact is that we now have a multi-polar world - a number of large economies or economic blocks have to be able to agree for anything global to happen. Whatever we might wish for, the UN negotiations are a venue for big country discussions, not a decision-making forum. The good news about this is that it IS a multi-polar world - the Copenhagen Accord is the first major international agreement of modern times that recognises Brazil, South Africa and India, as well as China, as critical components of the world order. This probably wouldn't have happened before the financial crisis when the dollar was still the primary world currency.

4. Civil society was impressively organised at Copenhagen. A number of agencies had great looking campaigns and put a huge amount of money and effort into them. Could they have been better coordinated? Yes, room to improve, but the major civil society organisations are not that far apart as it is. The rethinking to be had is with strategy - the"ask" made of rich countries were not able to be met, even when they were largely onside, as the EU was. Civil society organisations are going to have to do the politician's work for them - analyse the various global blocks to change, whether in developed or developing countries, and run more acutely targeted campaigns, presenting progressive politicians with a politically easy path to make what we all know are the right decisions. A small example in the US of how campaigns could be better targeted to make it easier for politicians: have a look at a story just published in the Columbia Journalism Review on the extraordinarily powerful impact on US public opinion of pseudo-scientist TV weather reporters.

I first became aware of the assertive ignorance of some weather reporters when my news monitoring kept turning up denialist stories on the Weather Channel website, and I dived in to try and correct some of them. The Columbia Journalism Review story explains just how widespread the problem is and, at the same time, just how central weather reporter views are to the understanding of climate change by the US public. When asked in a national survey who they trusted for information about global warming, 66 percent of respondents named television weather reporters! .... unfortunately, most weather reporters don't 'believe' in climate change. The underlying story is how the 'sceptic' Heartland Institute targeted weather reporters some years back, giving them free tickets to sceptic's conferences and the like. That would have to be one of the more successful targeted campaigns in history, helping block policy progress for years; it needs to be reversed.

We've run out of time to rely on convincing governments to do what's required; we now need cleverer targeting of pivotal groups in society, from weather reporters to the investors who really decide whether coal-fired power plants will be built or not.

What do you think?

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