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Confronting the Geopolitics of Climate Change

NEW DELHI – International climate-change negotiations are to be renewed this year. To be successful, they must heed the lessons of last December’s Copenhagen summit.

The first lesson is that climate change is a matter not only of science, but also of geopolitics. The expectation at Copenhagen that scientific research would trump geopolitics was misguided. Without an improved geopolitical strategy, there can be no effective fight against climate change.

The second lesson from Copenhagen is that to get a binding international agreement, there first must be a deal between the United States and China. These two countries are very dissimilar in many respects, but not in their carbon profiles: each accounts for between 22% and 24% of all human-generated greenhouse gases in the world. If a deal can be reached between the world’s two greatest polluting nations, which together are responsible for more than 46% of all greenhouse-gas emissions, an international accord on climate change would be easier to reach.

In Copenhagen, China cleverly deflected pressure by hiding behind small, poor countries and forging a negotiating alliance, known as the BASIC bloc, with three other major developing countries – India, Brazil, and South Africa. The BASIC bloc, however, is founded on political opportunism, and thus is unlikely to hold together for long. The carbon profiles of Brazil, India, South Africa, and China are wildly incongruent. For example, China’s per-capita carbon emissions are more than four times higher than India’s.