After three days of quarreling, the UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany, have screeched to halt . . . with US negotiators screeching that any nation that opposes the Copenhagen Accord will not receive any climate mitigation and adaptation aid from the American government. Finally: strong words from the United States, backed up by the European Union, on climate change, right?
Sorry, but the Americans made a bad, clumsy move.
During the Bonn talks, the United States looked for greenhouse gas emission cuts across the board, based on a nation’s size. US logic states that such measures will provide consistency and fairness across the board, preventing any industrialized country (i.e., the US and EU) from suffering any competitive advantage. Developing nations, however, wanted the measures applied on a per-capita basis, and they have a point.
Take the case of India. By most measures, India is the fourth largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. But when you account for India’s population, its per capita GHG emission is a sliver of that of industrialized nations including the United States, the EU, Canada, Korea, and Japan. And when you estimate historic greenhouse gas emissions emitted since the mid-eighteenth century, India’s contribution to climate change is tiny compare to industrialized countries.
As for the Bonn talks, the whipping boys in this case are Bolivia and Ecuador. Both countries are poised to lose about a combined US$5.5 million in funding, a drop in the bucket of US foreign aid: which by the way, is only about 1% of the US government’s budget year after year. It’s curious how both of these countries have taken a turn to the left, led by leaders including Evo Morales and Rafael Correra, who enjoy poking the United States’ eye from time to time. But regardless of politics, these are relatively small countries that are hardly a threat: but they are our trading partners, and most emissions these nations emit arguably comes from exports to . . . the United States. Rather than focusing on progress in the US, it is easier to push smaller countries around.
What is troubling about the American diplomats’ banter is that they are threatening countries with punitive measures when in fact, there is no guarantee that the United States will adopt any measures from the Copenhagen Accord. The US political landscape could drastically change this November, so a US Senate, already exhausted from health care reform, may be in no mood to accommodate the Obama Administration on any agenda, especially one concerning climate change.
The amount of money is not important; but the tone American negotiators take is. The key lesson the US needs to learn is that in needs to engage, not enrage countries it wants on its side. Climate mitigation is expensive, and realistically, the US is not going to send much more money abroad than it already has; that train left the station ages ago. But what the US should and could do is to facilitate the transfer of green technologies, a system analogous to the GreenExchange platform that salesforce.com and several other companies have adopted to share “green” intellectual property.
It’s interesting to note that countries who have a population that is concerned about climate change, nations like India, Bangladesh, and Mexico score high, well over 60%, as presented at a UCLA symposium I attended last week. Many nations have the will to combat climate change; the trick is not at the expense of growing their own economies. And what is the attitude of the United States, which consumes 20% to 25% of the world’s energy? Only about 40% to 50% of its population believe in climate change, and that support has dropped the past few years.
No wonder why so many people abroad have lost patience with the United States. Instead of telling others how to act . . . shouldn’t we clean up our own house and take the lead in reducing our energy consumption and developing alternative and “green” technologies, rather than telling others to do as we say, but ignore what we do?