Reflections on Copenhagen

First, let me admit that I've only skimmed agreement President Obama and other leaders reached last Friday, but my impression is much like that of folks at the EnergyCollective:

President Obama also reminded the world that a "legally binding" international climate agreement is not, in the end, legally binding anyway, while repudiating the notion that "Science" can dictate and bind national economic and political decision-making.


The framework of the deal appears to essentially be an agreement amongst major emitters to move forward with verifiable domestic actions to reduce carbon emissions and spur clean development, rejecting the abstract emissions targets and timetables that were the hallmark of the Kyoto protocol.
In other words, if1 the U.S., China, India, Brazil, and the E.U. follow through on their commitments, greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced -- not reduced enough to avoid devastating consequences for poor and low-lying countries, but reduced rather than increased, which is something.

So what do we do next? Simon Zadek argues persuasively that trying to "fix" Copenhagen through multilateral negotiations is the wrong approach. He argues that "[s]tudied history will point to Copenhagen as the last serious attempt to use 20th century techniques to arrange our 21st century affairs." I'll let Dan Drezner or other experts in international affairs assess his suggestion for restructuing systems of global governance, but his first suggestion is right on the mark. It takes Friday's small bet and raises the ante.

[D]eal with climate with the right people where the action is. Whilst not wishing to trivialize today's pain, we can deal with climate more effectively by catalyzing ambitious national action leveraged with international co-operation. We can get a better global deal, but only once nation's have whetted their appetite for low carbon growth and development through action, not theory. This is not, as i have repeatedly argued, downgrading expectations, but upgrading them by leveraging where the real energy for change lies, and then uploading the results into a far smarter global deal going forward.
We don't need to wait for a global agreement to begin reducing greenhouse gas emissions now. Those who take the lead now will not only show the way for those who follow, they will reap the benefits of being the ones who develop the technology -- and the jobs that come with it. Tom Friedman has been making this point for a long time. It's past time we started listening.
Link to the EnergyCollective via John Whitehead.
1Bold face and italics because it is it is a very big "if".