Jamie Andrews

My thoughts on the ‘Danish Text’ leak

Following my attendance last year at COP14 in Poland, I’ve been following the lead-up to the Copenhagen climate conference closely. On Sunday I’m off to Copenhagen for the final week of negotations and in advance of that, I’m going to get some of my thoughts down here.

The big news on the second day of the conference is that someone has leaked the draft text of an agreeement to the Guardian.

I’m not surprised that there is a draft text circulating at this stage (it would be worrying if there wasn’t) but it is disappointing that it is not being discussed in the open. However, knowing how incredibly bureaucratic the process of negotiations are, with countless ‘ad-hoc working groups’ and discussions separated into rather odd segments such as ‘Long-term cooperative action’ (as opposed to what?), I can see why pragmatic delegates from developed countries felt the need to act unilaterally in this way. Interventions even in the main plenary are likely to be constrained in terms of sticking to the agenda of the session and I cannot see how any delegate could begin to start crafting a text from scratch without testing the water behind closed doors first.

One of the key tenets of the ‘Danish Text’ as reported by the Guardian is that it ‘sidelines the UN role’ in future climate negotiations, and whilst on the surface I can see why developing country negotiators have reacted with anger at this, it is also clear that the UN process as it stands is deeply flawed and that there are major reforms required before it has anything like the purposeful structure required to implement an effective international climate change agreement. It could be argued that these reforms be discussed as opposed to ‘side-lining’ in general, but if the Danish Text can give the UN a wake-up call to its own failings then that wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Similarly, the administration of finance through the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility (as opposed to directly through the UN) is phrased in the Guardian article as an outrage, with the implication that it is a calculated move by developed countries to sideline developing countries and get away with paying them less money overall. Again, I can see why this suggestion is being treated with disdain, but equally I cannot see any alternatives on the table that articulate where the institutional capacity would lie within the UN to administer the kinds of funds required.

And on the subject of funds, the amounts mentioned in the text for helping developing countries adapt to climate change between now and 2015 – $10bn – is pretty tiny, but more to the point it betrays the fact that no-one seems to be putting forward sensible proposals for tying economic policy to carbon reduction.

Last year at COP14 Norway put forward a proposal which now seems to be dying or dead about auctioning AAUs, but apart from that, all talk of finance seems to be petty squabbling between developed and developing countries about the amounts of money that the former should grant to the latter. This approach to finance seems the only option for developing countries in the short-term because it’s difficult to see past the need for adaptation and mitigation cash, but it has no practical significance in terms of acknowledging the changed international financial environment post-Bush.

The fact is that oil fuels Western economies (including the vast amount of products and goods that have been increasingly sourced from the developing world in the last thirty years, raising the economic output and therefore development indicators of many developing countries), and there are currently very few economists or politicians with the vision to see beyond this.

But without oil fuelling the growth (and it won’t be, because 1. there’s hardly any left and 2. we need to stop using it anyway to reduce carbon) then it’s difficult to see where the money for developing countries will come from. The developing countries want to have their cake (rich countries to give them significant funds to cope with climate change) and eat it (developing countries going zero carbon to stop the climate chaos further descending).

In reality, both developed and developing countries need to embark on a new economic system that incentives carbon reduction rather than GDP growth. This won’t happen immediately, but the scale of the challenge is clear: we must have embarked on a new clean industrial revolution within the next decade. The new markets that will be created as a result of this shift will be a hell of a lot better at getting us out of rising unemployment  than the new markets being suggested by current politicians in the West such as… oh yeah, I forgot, there are no other new markets being suggested.

Without acknowledgment of the economic realities of the changes that need to occur (for both environmental and economic reasons), and the fact that we need a clear global cap (yes, one that includes developing countries as well) for any cap-and-trade system to work (instead of fuelling dirty development as has happened under a high proportion of projects under the CDM), then both developed and developing countries are fighting a losing battle.

Historically, at times of economic turmoil, the losers in the previous system get more bargaining power in the new systems that emerge. This is usually witnessed on a national level, with the working classes getting more of a stake in the political process, such as in Brtiain following the Second World War when the Welfare State was embarked upon. With a globalised post-neo-liberal economy (and I use term ‘post’ since the massive “let’s nationalise our most treasured private assets” bailouts), we are beginning to witnesss this at an international level too.

China and India have an increasingly vital role as economic powers and equally they have an opporunity to command the economic reform that will lead the world to a low carbon future. If these countries and others continue to see the West as a cash cow that can help to fund further growth, they are missing a trick in terms of the cohesive and potentially explosively productive new economy that could emerge from these talks. The IMF and the World Bank may be suitable for assisting with climate change measures because they are well-placed to be at the forefront of the changes as they take place, as China begins to play some of the many cards it has to its chest (such as owning most of the US budget deficit) and makes such institutions more genuinely mulilateral.

Whilst those of us pushing for an ambitious deal at Copenhagen continue to lambast developed countries for ‘not giving enough’, the point is being sorely missed. We’re all in this together and frankly given how horribly fragile the West’s service-based economies are, I’ll be looking for developing country help as they leapfrog the ridiculous phase of affluence-driven, carbon-intensive ‘development’ that we’ve been through recently. Let’s get on with the future and articulate the new economy that the world needs.

Note that I’ve just discovered from a John Vidal blog that apparently China and others have drafted a text as well. As soon as that one leaks, or more details become available, I’ll post my thoughts here.

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