Beyond Copenhagen: A response from Mikael Roman to Jan Pronk

by Mikael Roman

The climate change policy processs — although very fascinating and challenging — is not necessarily the politically most adequate. I agree with Jan Pronk's analysis about the reasons behind the failure of the Copenhagen summit. However, I have some objections to the solution he proposes. The reason is that my analysis starts from a different assumption. I look at the issue from a more political and less hard-science perspective.

Mr Pronk's argument is that climate change is perhaps the clearest example of globalization and that it can only be overcome by one global agreement at once, which everyone agrees upon. This, in turn, requires a global consensus, wherefore the negotiations have to move back to one single track. This argument lies upon a practical, normative, technological and natural science oriented need; global warming needs one common solution consisting of emissions cut — hence negotiations should follow that part. I have no objection to that as such. The problem, though, is that it fails to recognize the problems and opportunities with the political process itself — where politics could be seen as 'the art of the possible'. Yes, climate change is an issue of globalization, I couldn't agree more.

However, the question is what a global political solution entails. Is a global accord the only successful and effective way forward? Just like Mr. Pronk I have some serious concerns about some institutional aspects of the UNFCCC process — and, again, I agree with his analysis in this respect. However, my point is that it is necessary to focus less on the structural problems and to look more closely at the practical opportunities that may come along the path. Again, the key is to distinguish between what is practically desirable and what is politically feasible. I wonder, for example, whether we have really explored the full potential of different tracks and approaches. The alternative pathway, I would argue, is to follow 'the road of least resistance', where a good analogy would be the running water that finds its way in the terrain zigzagging between stones and other obstacles that comes in its way. Essentially, what this analogy tells us that we cannot always rely on fixed strategies. If we do that we will inevitably bump into various obstacles and spend unnecessary energy trying to remove the obstacles. A more fruitful strategy, it seems, is to focus on finding the road between the obstacles. As the water analogy tells us, the fastest road between to points is not necessarily the straight line on the map. This requires, however, that we have different options and play different cards at various times. It is here that the option of one global accord and one single track becomes problematic. Venturing into the unknown we need to have flexibility. Also, only by exerting a certain tit-for-tat game, starting with the easy issues, will key actors be able to build the necessary trust that is desperately lacking in the current negotiations.

In the SID interview released before the summit, I went into this terrain and argued that one of the problem with the global accord is that — in a sense — it is really too global. Now in retrospect, and the argument I just made, we see the political consequences of this. One of the reasons why the Copenhagen meeting ended up to be a failure was the idea that an overall consensus had to be reached over each single item. The practical reality, though, is that the accord includes several different items, out of which some of them were negotiated successfully and others not. In that sense, Copenhagen was not the disaster it has been presented as. Climate change is undoubtedly a global problem that needs a global solution. On the other hand, what the reality — the political reality — suggests is that we cannot ignore the existence of different tracks. Progressive achievements within each different track can potentially contribute to the political credibility of the entire process whilst gradually paving the way to the achievement of a comprehensive and global agreement. The latter, I agree with Mr. Pronk, must be the ultimate objective.

Read also: On the way to Copenhagen: Among Hopes and fears. An interview with Mikael Roman

Mikael Roman is Senior Research Fellow at Stockolm Environment Institute (SEI).

Photo: -babo/flickr