Should aid support patronage politics?

December 3, 2009

(lots of ) Other worlds are possible

December 3, 2009

Seattle + 10 = Copenhagen?

December 3, 2009
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I went out for a celebratory (if that’s the word) drink this week with a heroic band of Seattle Survivors. Ten years ago we were besuited NGO delegates at the notorious WTO ministerial, which collapsed in a welter of tear gas and Seattle turtlesturtles (or at least people dressed in turtle suits protesting at WTO rulings on the environment). It’s been fascinating watching the ‘battle in Seattle’ become mythologised as some kind of mass uprising against globalization – at the height of the chaos, I did a rough count of the number of activists blocking off access to the conference centre and it came to a couple of thousand at most, and the violence involved no more than a few dozen black-clad, but journo-photogenic anarchists. In the end, the ministerial

police using pepper spray against protestors

police using pepper spray against protestors

collapsed because the Seattle police in their Robocop outfits over-reacted to a ridiculous extent, making up for their lack of plans or equipment for crowd control (they had no crash barriers) by lobbing random volleys of teargas and pepper spray at non-violent protestors (and the odd government minister). Bill Clinton didn’t help when he alienated the developing countries by arguing for a labour clause on the eve of the conference.

It’s hard to imagine anything similar happening in Copenhagen next week, but it is worth comparing the current climate talks with the travails of the Doha round of trade talks that began at the next WTO meeting after Seattle (and staggered on in Geneva this week at yet another ministerial, largely ignored by the press). Like trade talks, climate negotiations have huge implications for domestic lobbies such as industry and finance, so will be much more heavily fought over than agreements on aid or debt that don’t have the same immediate impact. Like trade, the climate change talks involve shifting constellations of developing countries, trying to reconcile the need for unity with the huge objective differences (in terms of emissions and immediate vulnerability) between countries such as China and Bangladesh. Their opponents will try and exploit these differences, playing divide and rule to weaken any agreement.

But there are two big, and scary, differences. In the WTO, blocking bad agreements is not too bad a result – stopping unnecessarily expensive burdens being placed on poor countries, or forced liberalization or encroachment on their ‘policy space’. And for weaker players, it is often easier to stop bad things happening than to get agreement on good things. In the climate talks, only winning a good agreement will be enough – a far harder challenge. And while delay in trade talks is not too much of a problem, in climate change, delay is expensive, if not catastrophic. The IEA argues that every year of delay in moving towards the required trajectory of emission reductions adds an extra $500bn of costs.

A Kal cartoon in the Economist summarizes what happens if Copenhagen goes the way of Doha – if someone’s going to make a ‘Battle in Seattle’ style film, can they call it ‘Doha’d with a vengeance’, with Bruce Willis as Yvo de Boer?

 

cc noah's ark cartoon

2 comments

  1. I agree with the author that negotiations of trade and climate change have many in common. Fundamentally, the commonality between the negotiations with regard to the two topics is the north-south divide. The Copenhagen deal which sets a goal of halving world emissions by 2050 was rejected by developing countries like China, India, Brazil and South Africa. For them, they are not facing the threat of global climate change, but also of if they can feed all their populations. Without advanced technologies, the emission reduction for them means shrinking production, which would lead to insufficient supply for their people. Also they believe that developed countries should take major responsibility since they have pushed industrial development since as early as Industrial Revolution. I personally think it’s hard for the Copenhagen deal to come out due to the deep divides. Only other policies, like transferring technologies to the South, come together could make the deal feasible. And I agree with the author that if there is no deal to curb the emission signed, all countries regardless north and south are losers. So, all participates in the Copenhagen talks should work on devising fair clauses to give birth to a viable climate treaty.

  2. I would like to thank you for this article. While I am very skeptical that anything will be done at all at Copenhagen, I will refute your claim that climate negotiations will be more difficult than aid and debt for the simple reason that, climate negotiations are resolved around economic calculations. Therefore, it is no different than aid or debt. Richer nations would love poorer and emerging nations to act simultanously on climate change, but the question will be: which one will bear the economic burden? Secondly, reduction in carbon emissions always turn into economic arguments since countries are producing or in the process of heavily industrializing. Which ever way we turn, economic calculations will be part of these talks.

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