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Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff

Germany

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff is a Senior Director at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a transatlantic public policy and grant-making foundation. He overseas the fund's policy programs. He was previously the Washington bureau chief of the German newsweekly, Die Zeit. Close.

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff

Germany

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff is a Senior Director at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a transatlantic public policy and grant-making foundation. more »

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Negotiations Weak, Too Easily Derailed

**Editor's Note: This piece was written in response to a question asking panelists to choose the best of six proposals on how to move forward on climate change. Read More Panelist Views**


I’ve spent the last week at the Bali Climate Conference, so my choice is heavily influenced by that experience. My preference is Jeffrey Frankel’s Proposal One: For Fairness, Use Formulas. If it turns out during the process of negotiation that Proposal One is not achievable because it is too ambitious or too complex, Proposal Three might be a fallback position.

The Bali conference has shown that stopping global warming is not only a question of policy models - it is a question of leadership and vision. In the dramatic days and hours leading up to a watered-down compromise, our leaders have shown that they are not up to the task (yet). What they suggest so far will not get the job done. Science tells us that more dramatic steps are necessary than the ones that the Bali negotiators suggest (and might, after further watering them down, put into a treaty with binding commitments in 2009). It seems to me that most people are more aware of the urgency and the magnitude of the problem than their leaders are.

On numerous occasions during the deliberations, while some sentence structure was being debated and anything remotely resembling substance was put into brackets (to be discussed later), some courageous delegate got up and reminded negotiators of the task at hand. Usually the reminder was: “We cannot come home with this. Our people demand more of us.” That is a sign of hope. It seems we are seeing the beginning of a global movement to solve a planetary crisis. Our politicians will have to respond to the pressure from within their countries. That’s why I believe mankind can still be hopeful even though the results of Bali are shamefully inadequate. Pressure on political leaders will increase and solutions will become more ambitious.

Any global policy proposal will have to reflect that. It will need to be able to progressively tighten the screw as countries adapt to the new reality of a warmer world. Proposal One by Harvard’s Jeffrey Frankel provides for that. Its quasi-mathematical approach avoids constant renegotiation. It is very flexible - in fact, more flexible than the stiff Kyoto architecture. It also has some market mechanisms built in. It takes the interests of the developing world into account and recognizes the fact that the industrialized nations have largely created the problem we now face.

The Bali Conference has shown that getting the emerging economies and the developing world involved is the task of the future. They will only come on board if they can be sure that the developed nations are doing their homework. Initially, the bulk of the de-carbonizing work will have to be done in the old West in order for the future giant emitters to even consider a deal. Otherwise they will see climate policy as a means to constrain their growth.

Taking equity issues into account does not necessarily mean carbon equality. Some might strive for per-capita-emissions rights as an aspirational goal, some might even access equal emissions rights as an aspirational goal, but the reality is that the world will not and cannot adopt a policy to that end. This touches upon a weak spot in Frankel’s proposal: while he does not seem to advocate equal emissions rights for every citizen of the globe, he clearly converges on a per-capita allocation. The need for unequal distribution of emissions cuts (putting a larger burden on the industrialized countries) comes from those countries historical responsibility and their current ability. The phrase “common, but differentiated responsibilities” that is included in the old Climate Convention captures it well. But accepting uneven burdens shall not be an attempt to make the world a social democratic place. If global climate policy becomes a means and an excuse for global redistribution of wealth – which has failed for hundreds of years – it will fail again. Global climate justice is not the same as global social justice, even if there are connections.

The industrialized nations will not sign up for it. If pressured, they will want to opt for a more manageable model. Proposal Three thus becomes an option. (In fact, the least ambitious of the western countries, the United States, has already opted for some version of Proposal Three by inviting select countries to a so-called Major Economies Meeting). Such a club is smaller and easier to handle. It will still face many of the build in problems of any global solution. At least the emerging economies will sit at the table and will raise the equity question. But dozens of the developing nations will not. They have contributed little to the problem and will contribute little in the future. But they want to be part of the redistribution game. And they have a good reason to want that: they are affected by climate change and cannot pay for the necessary adaptation measures. They need money and see the global compact as a means to create cash flow into their countries. A major emitters club would avoid much of the redistribution created by a global adaptation scheme. The West might argue that it will take on the bigger share of the mitigation costs, but not of the adaptation costs. While that may sound callous, it might be the consequence of global system overload. The climate crisis will not create the means to remedy all global ills at the same time. The major emitters club might be an instrument that some western countries might want to retain in their arsenal.

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