Chapter 3: The Ghost of Conferences Yet to Come
Trump’s victory, like Brexit before it, is largely been attributed to inequality and to immigration, both linked to globalisation. Not just in the US and UK, but around the world, people are rejecting a globalisation model that put macro-economic considerations first, often at the cost of social and ecological considerations. The problem now is that at a time when we need global cooperation to deal with the problems caused by this faulty model of globalisation, we are voting for “deglobalisation”. What does this mean for the future of the climate negotiations in general, and the Paris Agreement in particular?
The disenchantment with unfair globalisation should be a wakeup call for those who think justice and ethics have nothing to do with global climate negotiations. Any global treaty or process that imposes an unfair burden will eventually be rejected. The “citizens of the world” may not have a vote through which to express their anger, but they will express themselves nevertheless, by rejecting the unfair. It is imperative that the references to equity in the Paris Agreement are taken seriously, and translated to action. Far from derailing the negotiations, talking about the elephant in the room will engender trust, as we saw in Berlin, and enable a frank and free discussion on ambition.
Efforts like the civil society review mentioned earlier provide a good starting point. Civil society, including the media, has a critical role to play in creating a space where these discussions can take place, as we also saw in Berlin. In the past, they have rejected discussions on justice, fairness and ethics on the basis that they were not “politically realistic”. But the fact is that our current “reality lens” is distorted – through it, the politically imperative has appeared politically impossible, while only the politically unacceptable has appeared to be politically realistic. Civil society can correct this myopia by defining for their politicians what is absolutely essential for the process, and where they are willing to compromise. In this they must take the long-term view – not the short-term view, as they did in Kyoto.
To move on in the process, we will need leadership from governments both in the North and the South. Germany was a leader in Berlin, under Merkel, and has already come forward as a leader in the post-Trump period. This leadership must now extend beyond national action, and include a commitment to making fairness a basis for the negotiations, providing countries the space to elaborate on what they think is fair, and reaching a shared understanding of equity norms, as called for by the civil society review.
In the post-Kyoto period, the EU lost an opportunity, with the US out of the Kyoto negotiations, to open a discussion on fairness. This time they must grab it in the interests of long-term ambition. The EU is experienced in dealing with the equity-related concerns of its members on climate change – it must bring this understanding to bear on the negotiations. The question of what is fair for each country to do is not only important for developing countries. In the post-Paris world, both developed and developing countries need to convince their constituencies that what they are doing is ambitious, but it is also fair, and they are not being asked to shoulder a larger share of the burden.
From the South, meanwhile, countries like India will have to be much more proactive in defining what they mean by equity and fairness. There is no dearth of capacity to formulate a submission that can then be used as a basis for the equity discussion. Merely reiterating the need for equity and fair shares will not suffice.
Finally, the world will have to deal with the US and other countries that may choose to not participate in the international regime. The time for patience and understanding of one country’s political domestic situation is over. Carbon taxes on US imports have been proposed as one solution. Legal challenges are another. These options are likely to be opposed by developing countries if they fear that they may be subject to similar measures – but only in the absence of a fair determination of national contributions. If they feel that they are being treated fairly, they may be more open to international scrutiny and accountability.
Whatever happens, we must determine never again to be held hostage to the domestic political situation of one country, and be forced to side with injustice.
Seasons Greetings to all – may the New Year bring better tidings.