Climate Change Realism

As world leaders prepare for the December's summit on Climate change in Copenhagen, it should come as no surprise that there is little consensus on a comprehensive accord that would have a meaningful impact. But, while a universal agreement with binding limits on carbon emissions seems out of the question, smaller steps can, and should, be taken.

NEW YORK – “Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen,” a popular song from the 1952 film musical “Hans Christian Andersen,” will probably be played many times this fall, as world leaders will be gathering in the Danish capital in December (and in New York in September) to confront the challenge of climate change. But, unless international thinking gets considerably more realistic in a hurry, what happens in Copenhagen will be anything but wonderful.

It should come as no surprise that there is little consensus on a comprehensive accord that would have a meaningful impact on the world’s climate. Governments will not sacrifice near- and medium-term economic growth for long-term environmental benefits. This is especially true now, given that much of the developed world is in the midst of a painful recession. The United States, for one, will not accept ceilings that reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions significantly if it means accepting higher costs and taxes that risk slowing economic recovery.

Developing countries are, if anything, even more opposed to such ceilings or “caps.” Four hundred million Indians still lack electricity; India cannot be expected to rule out greater use of coal if that proves to be the best way to produce electricity for one-third of its citizens. China, too, is unlikely to agree to “caps” on emissions of any kind, given the relatively low standard of living of most Chinese. But such a stance dooms prospects for a new global treaty, as developed countries will rightly insist that poorer countries be part of the solution.

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