Kinsman: Are global talks on climate change useful?

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November 19, 2013
Jeremy Kinsman
Former ambassador to the European Union and high commissioner to Britain

Alan B. Sielen writes in the current issue of Foreign Affairs “So long as pollution, overfishing, and ocean acidification remain concerns only for scientists, little will change for the good. Diplomats and national security experts, who understand the potential for conflict in an overheated world, should realize that climate change might soon become a matter of war and peace.”

What could be more essential than global negotiations on climate change? But how to make them useful, given the stalemate between old (U.S., EU, Canada, Russia) and new (China, India) carbon polluters on respective and historic responsibilities? Hope was held out a few years ago the G20 could be a forum for trade-offs across sectors in a kind of grand bargain. But the G20 is a flop. Leaders are just defending established positions, in short doing anything but leading.

Could a China-U.S. G2 drive momentum forward, since both countries are making a carbon footprint reduction effort? (in the U.S., emissions dropped 4% in 2012; in China, they rose 3% rather than the usual 10%.) But is the U.S. any longer up to doing anything “global” these days? Who can catalyze action? Canada’s standing environmentally has sunk like a stone. The global public has to make it happen. A few more meta storms may help make the point so persistently denied.