Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Geneva Climate Conference Warming Up?

A flash mob appeared in front of the Hall of Nations in Geneva today, where delegates from some 200 countries are laboring frantically to sustain the momentum of the process that leads to Paris. Demonstrators urged attendees on with their work, but it isn't clear the delegates needed any prodding. Their task is immense, but clearly defined--and perhaps unprecedented in human experience: they need to bring together an enormously complicated consensus on the framework of the agreement they hope to reach 10 months from now in Paris.

How complicated? David Waskow of the International Climate  Initiative has identified three of the more complicated dimensions of that agreement:

1) The enormous range of particular solutions, innovations, sustainable projects and technologies that will reduce greenhouse emissions and head off global warming need to be identified and evaluated, country by country. This has caused the more generic draft document created in Lima in December to triple in size, from some 30 pages to nearly 100, as each particular nation introduces its own approach. Somehow the aggregate effect of these many policies will have to be tallied next fall in order to see where the proposals stand in relation to the overall global goal.

2) Some system for tracking implementation going forward needs to be agreed upon, so that after Paris the world's governments can in effect keep an eye on each other and exert the 'peer pressure' that may be the main mechanism for compliance. Bold promises in Paris without meaningful follow-up will not be very useful, so the actual structure of that follow-through is essential--but as yet indeterminate.

3) Finally, and perhaps most sensitive, there remains the question of what Waskow calls "legal architecture," i.e. the structure of the agreements and enforcement mechanisms that nations will formally agree to. Whether legally binding treaties are even conceivable seems doubtful: most observers seem to think that voluntary compliance and self-monitoring--combined with some system of accountability and 'peer pressure' that may be obtainable--is the best that will emerge from Paris.

When one considers the resistances among the three largest polluters--India, which has declared that its anti-poverty growth measures trump any climate policies, China, whose rate of pollution increase and coal-driven economy pose staggeringly large problems, and the US, whose policies must to some degree pass through the Senate committee chaired by Senator Imhofe, possibly the world's most idiotic spokesperson on these issues--the magnitude of the challenge becomes clearer.

Nonetheless, the specter of the world's family of nations, gathered in Lima, now Geneva, next Bonn, then Paris, struggling to resolve these vast differences on behalf of our children's children and the survival of our species--it's a mighty spectacle. A flash mob of millions, not hundreds, would have been more in scale.

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