The chances of the forthcoming UN Climate Change Conference actually reaching a workable global agreement to reduce greenhouse emissions sufficiently to make a major impact on warming are remote.
In an article at Online Opinion, three academics from the Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria in Canada succinctly explain the main reason for the likely ongoing impasse and canvass a possible solution. Heap, Carin and Smith put the reason for the problem like this:
The nub of the problem is easy enough to state. Developing countries are totally unwilling to accept greenhouse gas caps unless developed countries pay for the impact this would have. The southern view is that developed countries caused the problem in the first place, and they must pay for solving it. Developing countries refuse to cripple their own economic development and thereby hamstring their efforts to reduce grinding poverty simply to pull developed countries irons out of the fire.
At the same time, if developed countries are to act to meet the conditions laid down by developing countries for participating in a climate change deal, significant impacts will be felt in Western economies which remain fragile in the wake of the recent financial crisis. Lifestyle changes would need to be contemplated at a time when western electorates feel especially vulnerable. And even if developed country leaders make major concessions, the level of mutual distrust is such that developing country leaders will be hard-pressed for domestic political reasons of their own to come on board.
In fact the developing countries’ position doesn’t stand up to critical analysis, as my Troppo colleague Nicholas Gruen has pointed out before. Developing countries already profit enormously from the industry and application of the developed West, because they can “piggyback” on the technological innovations it took centuries to invent and perfect, and sell their products and services into prosperous developed international markets that would not otherwise exist. It’s for these reasons that countries like China and India are managing to pursue explosive economic growth trajectories rather than taking hundreds of years as the West did. It isn’t unreasonable for the developed nations to insist that the developing world pulls its weight in reducing greenhouse emissions.
However, the logic of the argument is almost irrelevant in geopolitical terms. What’s needed is a practical path through the impasse. Heap, Carin and Smith suggest that the G20 might have a better chance of finding a workable solution than the UN Copenhagen gabfest. They might be right. Twenty nations probably stand a better chance of negotiating a set of trade-offs they can all live with than the 192 nations at Copenhagen. However, the G20 includes the largest of the intransigent developing nations with most to gain by refusing to come to the party unless the West pays the entire price of their compliance, and so the extreme divergence of interests represented there may also make agreement too difficult.
Maybe the G8 would be a better bet for this purpose. It consists solely of developed nations who are likely to find it much easier to achieve common ground than the G20. The G8 would certainly need to offer substantial subsidies and incentives to get the developing countries onboard (even kicking and screaming). That could/should include supplying nuclear power technology and fuel at attractive prices and on conditions that will avoid the danger of weapons proliferation and unsafe waste disposal. Australia, for instance, could supply nuclear fuel in a package deal including storing the resulting waste at a secure site in the central Australian desert.
However, they’ll also almost certainly need to include large and credible threats in the package as well i.e. major trade sanctions against developing countries which refuse to sign on to any greenhouse reduction deal brokered by the G8. That would require the developed nations to insist on amendments to WTO agreements which in their present form almost certainly would not permit sanctions for such reasons. The developed nations certainly have the international clout to insist on adaptation of WTO agreements, or for that matter a unified stance in simply flouting them if necessary. Large powerful nations like the US frequently flout or subvert the WTO regime in any event for purely self-interested reasons, so a unified G8 approach on such a globally vital issue is hardly an outrageous position to take.
In any event, developed world sanctions and boycotts of developing nations which refuse to sign on to a fair and workable anti-greenhouse regime would certainly be effective. It’s not difficult to foresee the howls of outrage from the international Socialist Left (evil capitalist imperialist hegemoic warmongers etc) and the Greenies, but they must be ignored. Extreme Greens are the among the most dangerous enemies of a sustainable world environment!