Monday, December 21, 2009

"Flopenhagen"

What are the lessons of the Copenhagen failure, or "Flopenhagen," as it is called here? You will find some thoughts at the link, and also here. My own thoughts run in a somewhat different direction. The mass demonstrations have become a fixture of all large international conferences of late, and I think that their ineffectiveness mirrors the inefficiency of global negotiations among 192 delegations without prior consensus. My immediate concern is the effect on environmental politics within individual European countries as well as at the European level. Because Europe is the only continent that seemed, prior to Copenhagen, to have achieved a critical mass on required internal changes.

To be sure, countries elsewhere were clear about changes they wanted others to make: that's always the easy part of reform. But European leaders, especially Sarkozy and Merkel, seemed prepared to impose costly and unpopular changes on themselves. It will now be difficult to sustain any momentum toward further change. Domestic opponents, who had kept a fairly low profile, will now be energized, and they have been handed a powerful argument: Why should Europe penalize itself when others won't, and when the competitive disadvantage is unlikely to be compensated by environmental improvement? It was a Prisoner's Dilemma, the other players have defected, and the only remaining response after choosing a losing strategy is to attempt a jailbreak.

Of course there are other responses that make more sense from a long-run perspective. If a global accord is out for the foreseeable future, bilateral and regional accords are not. There is actually room here for Sarkozy to demonstrate some leadership on an important issue as well as to make political headway against his opponents. It will therefore be interesting to see if he remains interested in the issue or decides that he has done enough already, if not too much. I'm also curious to see if he will now emphasize a less political tack: putting more money into environmental technologies. With the international arena now closed, there are more immediate rewards to be had from promoting research--but this is slow, boring, and mostly barren of headlines.

Michel Serres: «Copenhague est à la géopolitique ce que les accords de Munich, en septembre 1938, ont été à la politique : un compromis lâche et dilatoire. Mais la comparaison s'arrête là. Si le sommet sur le climat a été un échec, c'est d'abord parce que mettre 192 personnes autour d'une table relève de la grand-messe plus que de négociations véritables. Le problème vient surtout de ce que ces 192 personnes sont des hommes d'Etat, dont la mission première est de défendre les intérêts de leur gouvernement et de leur pays. La politique, c'est son rôle, examine les relations humaines, fussent-elles conflictuelles.»

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