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Plan B?

September 17, 2009

There’s a chap called David Victor, who literally wrote the book about the failure of the Kyoto Protocol. He’s just published an entirely sane and rational article about the “looming disaster” of Copenhagen (they’re rarer than rockinghorse shit.)

More than anything else so far published or publicised on this here site, this three page opinion piece in Nature is essential reading. Here are some choice bits…

In reality, no amount of hard work can meet the goal of producing a fully useful treaty in time for the conference in December. Working faster, in fact, would be counter-productive because slapdash fixes will make it harder to craft an effective, long-term strategy to slow global warming.

Rather than a mad sprint, success in Copenhagen hinges on crafting a more realistic plan B. Some negotiators are privately pondering the question of what to do if Copenhagen fails. Those debates must now happen in public starting in the upcoming meeting in Bangkok, Thailand while there is still time to sift the issues that can be settled by December from those that require a new strategy and more realistic deadlines at least two years away.

Plan B would include an immediate standby agreement on the small number of issues on which governments already largely agree and in which failure would be harmful. At the same time, it would lay the foundations for a new approach that would rely less on the sprawling, all- inclusive United Nations process.

And this:

Global warming is different because diplomats cant be so confident of what they can offer. Serious cuts in emissions require governments to adopt policy reforms that are costly and deeply intertwined with national and global economies. So much is at stake that negotiators cant be sure that domestic reactions will stay supportive, and what each government does hinges in part on what others are likely to implement. No country wants to be a sucker who bears the high cost of regulating emissions while their economic competitors run free .

And this

I call this lesson the big stapler strategy of international law. Facing impossible deadlines, diplomats promise only what they can surely deliver. In the tired waning hours at Copenhagen they will staple all those national promises into a grand-sounding global effort. The big stapler is attractive to diplomats, who abhor visible failures, but it is terrible news for global warming. When each nation looks at the issue from a narrow national perspective, it offers conservative pledges that do not sum to what is needed to protect the planet.

Yeah, I know a local authority or two that be overly- fond of the “big stapler strategy” themselves…

The global trade talks that began in the mid-1980s took eight years, engaged 123 countries and nearly collapsed. The current Doha round of talks involves more than 150 countries with a sprawling agenda packed with issues that are nearly impossible to resolve. Doha has become a legal zombie that neither succeeds nor dies.

The UN climate talks will suffer the same fate unless the parties learn from it: even as the global trade agenda has stalled, governments have made significant progress in smaller forums in which it is easier to craft complex agreements, and even through unilateral actions that spur better global efforts, such as India’s recent unilateral decision to cut tariffs. Purists lambast these clubs and special deals because they are not universal, but they are the only practical way to manage such complex problems. Global talks still have a part to play, but they are no longer the engine of trade liberalization.

You can discuss it here, on Climate Feedbacks, the spiffing Nature blog…

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