Next Tuesday 26 June, I will be moderating an interesting session of this year’s Energy Europe Policy Summit organised by Friends of Europe in Brussels. The Conference consists of three different debates and focuses on the role of consumers and how to change their behaviour to tackle climate change. My own session will look at the role of international governance and asks the question whether governments are part of the problem or part of the solution.
I must admit that i have serious questions about the effectiveness of global negotiations on climate change, be they part of the United Nations or of the G-8 process. There are several problems with global climate change efforts. First and foremost, since Kyoto, these efforts have aimed at setting emission reduction targets based on historical levels of CO2 production. Although justified from the point of view of equity (let China and India have their economic growth with corresponding CO2 emissions before they will be subject to mandatory reductions), the historical targets approach overlooks the fact that it was a mistake to let the West grow like it did. China and India should not be allowed to make the same mistakes we made in the last 50 years. Ecological realism should take precendence over equity in this case.
Secondly, the whole targets approach is absurd as I have already indicated in another blog post. Yes, the US is the biggest CO2 emitter but how much of its emissions is produced for products that are bought and consumed outside of the US. In a world where there are few trade borders, it has become impossible to point in a clear way to any final responsibilities.
Another reason why international negotiations will not succeed is that the mindset of the negotiaters is still chained to the concepts of GDP as the only measure of progress and human wellbeing. No country will want to give up GDP growth to save the planet.
Last but not least, the global governance processes themselves are very carbon-intensive with the whole circus flying around the world every now and then.
Therefore, I think it makes much more sense to focus our climate change efforts on local and regional governance structures which also have the advantage of being closer to the citizens who will have to change behaviour if any climate policy is to have the big impact needed. What is happening in some of the megacities and in the US at state level is therefore much more promising than any global diplomacy and should be getting much more political and financial support.