TWQ: A Climate Coalition of the Willing - Winter 2011
January 1, 2011
Intergovernmental efforts to limit the gases that cause climate change have all but failed. After the unsuccessful 2009 Copenhagen summit, and with little progress at the 2010 Cancun meeting, it is hard to see how major emitters will agree any time soon on mutual emissions reductions that are sufficiently ambitious to prevent a substantial (greater than two degree Celsius) increase in average global temperatures.
It is not hard to see why. No deal excluding the United States and China, which together emit more than 40 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases (GHGs), is worth the paper it is written on. But domestic politics in both countries effectively block ‘‘G-2’’ leadership on climate. In the United States, the Obama administration has basically given up on national cap-and-trade legislation. Even the relatively modest Kerry-Lieberman-Graham energy bill remains dead in the Senate. The Chinese government, in turn, faces an even harsher constraint. Although the nation has adopted important energy efficiency goals, the Chinese Communist Party has staked its legitimacy and political survival on raising the living standard of average Chinese. Accepting international commitments that stand even a small chance of reducing the country’s GDP growth rate below a crucial threshold poses an unacceptable risk to the stability of the regime. Although the G-2 present the largest and most obvious barrier to a global treaty, they also provide a convenient excuse for other governments to avoid aggressive action. Therefore, the international community should not expect to negotiate a worthwhile successor to the Kyoto Protocol, at least not in the near future.
This, however, does not mean the world must resign itself to the dangerous ramifications of climate change, nor accept the limitations imposed by domestic politics in Beijing and Washington. By constructing a coalition of willing actors, the international community can make second-best, but still worthwhile, progress toward mitigating climate change without a multilateral treaty.