Big Week for Climate Diplomacy

by William Yeatman on March 17, 2008

It was a big weekend for the delicate diplomacy of climate change.

In Brussels, EU ministers met to try to figure out how to slash greenhouse gas emissions without concomitantly putting their economies at a serious competitive disadvantage to countries that have not adopted costly emissions controls. Fortunately, French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s “solution,” to start a carbon trade war with the US and China, was quickly discarded as too protectionist.

Ultimately, the conferees backed a plan hashed out by Gordon Brown, the UK Prime Minister, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, that would exempt EU heavy industries from emissions controls, so that they can compete on a level playing field on the global marketplace. Brown supported Merkel’s proposal in exchange for her support of his climate scheme, which entails the manipulation of the tax code to give European businesses an incentive to reduce emissions.

Of course, it is not clear what, if any, good can come from a climate plan that exempts the heaviest emitters.

Meanwhile, over in Japan, diplomats met to discuss climate policy and industry. This was Tony Blair’s first public appearance in his new role, as a roving, international climate ambassador, and he took the opportunity to urge all nations to agree to reduce emissions. This is essentially the US position, and it has proven unpopular, so you have to admire the former Prime Minister’s temerity.  

Of course, developing nations were quick to object to Blair’s idea. Chinese representatives agreed to act as soon as the west agreed to pay for it, and by the second day, the two sides—rich and poor—regressed into the sort of finger pointing that always characterizes these international climate confabs. Needless to say, the Japanese conference did not produce anything in the way of tangible results.

 As I have noted elsewhere, international climate diplomacy will always end in failure, because sovereign states have never demonstrated the capacity to share privation. There is no reason to expect them to start now, to solve an invisible “problem” that would manifest itself over centuries.


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