There are renewed grounds for pessimism about getting an agreement on limiting climate change, if there was any hope to begin with. There are several pointers to that. On Wednesday, Canada confirmed that it would not support an extended Kyoto Protocol after 2012. It joins Russia and Japan in rejecting an agreement already in torpor. Then, for all practical purposes, the negotiations in Bonn are dead: Even if countries agree on something, it would require legislative approval back home, an uncertain prospect at best. Finally, data now shows that China has been the world’s top carbon emitter for a third year in a row. It overtook the US in 2008. In 2010, global carbon emissions rose at the fastest rate in more than four decades.
Seen in isolation, these facts would not merit a drastic conclusion. But seen together they paint a picture of environmental insouciance where individual countries could not care if environmental Armageddon was at hand. This newspaper has argued earlier that in a world rent with economic and political rivalries, an overarching agreement on limiting climate change has a snowball’s chance in a firestorm.
It is time for much less ambitious schemes. If anything, piecemeal agreements that limit environmental damage have a much better chance of success. For one, they will be free from serious, growth limiting steps that developing countries fear. It is easier to analyse the impact of these agreements, and from a negotiating viewpoint they are more transparent in terms of rights and responsibilities. There will, of course, be problems: coordinating these arrangements across the globe will require robust machinery. This can be done under existing United Nations institutions.
It is also a fact that, so far, negotiations have been carried out in an environment with little or no trust between countries. The problem—as the Copenhagen summit showed— is more pronounced in the case of developed countries that want to ram an agreement on poor nations. Unless this attitude changes, there is little hope to end what is surely a serious problem.
An umbrella agreement or many small ones: what should the world choose? Tell us at email@example.com