New York – Two years of climate change negotiations have now ended in a farce in Copenhagen. Rather than grappling with complex issues, President Barack Obama decided instead to declare victory with a vague statement of principles agreed with four other countries. The remaining 187 were handed a fait accompli , which some accepted and others denounced. After the fact, the United Nations has argued that the document was generally accepted, though for most on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.
Responsibility for this disaster reaches far and wide. Let us start with George W. Bush, who ignored climate change for the eight years of his presidency, wasting the world’s precious time. Then comes the UN, for managing the negotiating process so miserably during a two-year period. Then comes the European Union for pushing relentlessly for a single-minded vision of a global emissions-trading system, even when such a system would not fit the rest of the world.
Then comes the United States Senate, which has ignored climate change for 15 consecutive years since ratifying the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Finally, there is Obama, who effectively abandoned a systematic course of action under the UN framework, because it was proving nettlesome to US power and domestic politics.
Obama’s decision to declare a phony negotiating victory undermines the UN process by signaling that rich countries will do what they want and must no longer listen to the “pesky” concerns of many smaller and poorer countries. Some will view this as pragmatic, reflecting the difficulty of getting agreement with 192 UN member states. But it is worse than that. International law, as complicated as it is, has been replaced by the insincere, inconsistent, and unconvincing word of a few powers, notably the US. America has insisted that others sign on to its terms – leaving the UN process hanging by a thread – but it has never shown goodwill to the rest of the world on this issue, nor the ability or interest needed to take the lead on it.