Keohane on Durban Climate Conference

I asked Robert Keohane, a leading scholar of international relations, who has recently been focused on the global politics of climate control, to share some comments about the international climate change conference held in Durban, South Africa. He offers a somewhat more optimistic assessment than I would have predicted:

Most of us who have been following climate change negotiations are rather cynical by now about what can be accomplished at large international gatherings.  Indeed, few of us expected much from the meeting in Durban.  Against that background, I, at least, was pleased by the last-minute deal that was reached there earlier this month.    The good news is that China and India, after many years of resistance, agreed to be included under the caps of the Kyoto Protocol as of 2020.   The language, although heavily negotiated, refers to “an outcome with legal force.:  The great negotiating disaster of Kyoto was, in my view, the Berlin Mandate of 1995, which exempted developing countries from limits, giving them a property right not to be covered that they were loath to relinquish.  In response, the United States refused to be covered by caps when China, a major competitor and now the leading greenhouse gas emitter, did not have its emissions limited in any way.  At Durban, the EU, led by Connie Hedegaard, wisely abandoned its former policy of unconditionally supporting Kyoto, instead demanding reciprocity:  others had to agree to be bound by a future extension of  Kyoto for the EU to agree to continue its compliance with Kyoto after 2012.  And the United States, led by Todd Stern and Jonathan Pershing of the State Department and supported by the White House, also played a constructive role.

We know that negotiations are very far “behind the curve” of climate change, evidence of which is accumulating even faster than many scientists expected.   All of this may be too little, too late.  But on a realistic assessment, relative to where the world was three weeks ago and reasonable expectations at that time, Durban represents progress, which should be respected, although probably not celebrated since much remains to be done.

Keohane also suggested this blog — Assessing the Climate Talks — Did Durban Succeed? — by Robert Stavins, which also provides a qualified but upbeat perspective on the conference.

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