08.05.2013 0

Is International Environmental Cooperation Even Possible?

Depending on who you believe, the Doha Climate Change conference was anything from a ‘gateway to greater ambition and action’ to a ‘shamefully weak deal,’ ahead of the Battle Royale talks in 2015. 

It makes sense that the rules need to be agreed on before you can play the game. Although when countries refuse to play nicely it can take a great deal of dedication not to walk away, taking your ball with you. But with no new commitments to cut emissions, Doha just smacks of another excuse for a free buffet lunch. To be seen to be doing something without ever actually doing anything isn’t new. It’s a trick we all learnt in childhood when we were asked to tidy our rooms!

But does this history of all talk and no action mean that international cooperation for environmental issues isn’t even possible?

Everyone In

The world is in a mess and we all need to hold hands and tidy it up together. Children can understand it. However they are equally open to the social nuances that say if one person wees in the sandpit then we all will.

This is why it’s essential that everyone commits and participates equally in future treaties, to avoid whines of ‘Sir, Luxemburg isn’t doing it.’ The way for this has been paved by the agreement that talks will bind both developed and developing countries. Also reporting and monitoring must be in place, and stringent enough, to act as reassurance that the others will be doing their bit. Moans of ‘New Zealand isn’t doing it properly,’ are equally unhelpful.

Hang on, what about those that didn’t make the mess, who weren’t even invited to the party?

Doha, perhaps, can be deemed a success in this sense. It was agreed that as victims of climate change, developing countries should be compensated for ‘loss and damage’. This will give emerging economies the incentive to comply with future environmental obligations. However don’t get too excited as the embarrassing tussle over the form this will take has yet to happen.

Everyone agrees in principle but why isn’t it working?

Tomorrow Is So Far Away

Epitomised in the joyful holiday question “are we nearly there yet?”, as a species we seem incapable of waiting. Environmental issues, with climate change standing at the front hogging the limelight, have such a considerable lag-time that they can bore even the most patient amongst us. When faced with the choice between the comfort of your car or the weird smells of public transport, your carbon footprint can become an abstract, far-away idea. Whilst not guilt-free, the cumulative effects of your actions won’t be in evidence until you’ve blissfully forgotten you even did it.

Expand this idea and it’s easy to understand how the significant intervals between actions that harm the environment and their results, or conversely beneficial actions and their rewards, bring difficulties to countries with pressing financial needs. Or those countries who want, even need to, develop now, now, now.

For agreements to work, incentives schemes have to be implemented that will mean countries are compensated now, rather than waiting for the next generation to say thank you.

The Man in the Mirror

In the run up to 2015 everyone needs to ensure their own affairs are in order. Perhaps it’s time to stop looking around at everyone else and concentrate on our own work.

Do you use public transport as often as you could? Is your house energy efficient? Maybe you’re so green that the Hulk is starting to worry, but as a nation we need to be doing more.

Significant progress will require changes in our relationship to the environment. In troubled economic times this is not at the fore-front of our minds. In this respect we should think about the glass houses we live in before we start to throw stones. How are politicians supposed to find a compromise, on our behalf, as we demand action on climate change while sitting in a traffic jam of cars the size of a small African country?

There is still optimism for the future of that unborn, shapeless next generation. We can take hope from the success of the Montreal Protocol for CFCs that international cooperation is possible. Even though there was a minor scuffle choosing the conference venue, Doha has provided the groundwork for significant international achievements. However if we don’t buck up our ideas soon and start to make roads through this mess, the children are going to get sick and tired of this nonsense and take over the discussions themselves.

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