While the politicians may point to the gains that have been made since Copenhagen (COP15) in keeping the talks on track, the question that needs to be asked is why there has been so little movement in reaching an international agreement on an issue that has very real implications, including the recent hurricane Sandy that ripped through New York. Indeed, according to a recently released UN report we are on our way to a 3-5 C° increase rather than keeping below the 2 C° that has been internationally agreed that we should be aiming to keep below.
Perhaps this is ultimately a failure of leadership. Global governance is not doing what it should, or even could, with many of the multilateral negotiations becoming talking shops with limited outcomes. Scholars in International Relations argue that this demonstrates the diffusion of global geo-political power. That developed or industrial states do not hold the same sway in negotiating an internationally acceptable agreement. At the same time the emerging powers are not yet in a position to assume such a role, whether they are constrained by the existing organizations, such as the UN Security Council or IMF, or whether they do not yet have the capacity or even the willingness to assume such a role.
The lack of leadership in the context of the climate change negotiation is palpable. The US remains outside of the Kyoto Protocol. The EU has offered to reduce its emissions by up to 30% below 1990 levels by 2020, but only if others sign up to the agreement. The BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China), and the large groups of developing countries such as the G77+China and the Africa Group, are concerned with the future of their own socio-economic development, while the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) often find themselves in the corridors of the negotiations. In the isolated instances where there has been an effort to take the lead in making the tough decisions, for instance the EU position on taxing air travel in European airspace, there has been an international outcry.
While there has been little leadership initiative at the international level, at a domestic level many countries have taken a lead in adopting new technology and fighting the effects of climate change; whether its China’s renewable energy drive, improved environmental building regulations in the EU, Brazil’s efforts in preventing deforestation or South Africa’s own efforts in installing 1 million solar water heating systems by 2014/15 and the development of the White Paper on Climate Change. Yet when it comes to the international negotiations, there is a reluctance to take the lead in driving change for fear of the negative implications this will have on the ‘national interest’.
As COP18 draws to a close in Doha, Qatar, there has once again been a failure by states, both developed and developing, to assume a leadership role in taking the tough decisions. Once again questions of the economic costs in adapting to climate change have been raised in light of the effects of the global financial crisis. But, as has already been demonstrated, the current costs of mitigating climate change will be less than if we continue to prolong our efforts in making the changes. This needs to be re-emphasised in the negotiations along with the benefits associated with taking the first step.
So far the negotiations at Doha indicate that politically, a negotiated solution is still not in reach despite what the science says we should be doing. While talking is important in reaching an agreement, sadly I fear we are heading towards any number of future COPs before we see international leadership on climate change.
This blog also appears on SABCNews.com