Bilateral agreements key to Copenhagen climate deal
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Bilateral agreements key to Copenhagen climate deal

Tucked under the blaring headlines of Obama’s unexpected Nobel Peace Prize “win” on October 9 was news that the Bangkok round of climate talks have ended in failure. The bigger story then was how the world’s press was shut out of the Bangkok talks completely until the very end. At the end of those two weeks, the delegates had nothing to show for all the talk and started their finger pointing. China led the chorus of “developing” countries that “rich” countries are deliberately sabotaging the climate talks and even as the EU stands accused of being in cahoots with the U.S., they clashed with the Americans.

Since then, in a matter of about 10 days, India has changed its mind: from being possibly a bridge between contrasting camps to saying that they, along with seven of their South Asian counterparts, won’t sign anything that bind them legally to reduce their emissions. With so much jockeying going on and countries seemingly indecisive about their stance, is it any surprise that there’s probably not going to be any deal struck at Copenhagen? A much smaller, but “successful” meeting was held in London a few days ago, but really? Heck, it even makes what’s going on in America seem positive in comparison.

Now, at least, American companies don’t seem as averse towards any climate change legislation as before. The fallout from the spate of resignations from the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce by key members, ostensibly in protest of its antipathy towards climate change legislation, suggests U.S. businesses may actually be thinking how to reorganize themselves to capitalize on any inevitable change that would emerge. Already, among energy firms alone, there is apparently plenty of disagreement between the oil and gas industries and this has resulted in renewed optimism that climate change legislation could eventually be passed, just not in time for Copenhagen in December.

Still, the Obama adminstration is sparing no effort, even embarking on bilateral talks with India and China at separate meetings next month. The meeting with China would take place in China, as President Obama make his maiden swing through Asia, that also includes stops in Japan and Singapore, for the APEC Summit, where he will become the first American president to meet ASEAN leaders. Copenhagen, along with financial reforms and national security-related issues, will top his agenda for the trip.

But the wider moot point is this: While critics may point to these “smaller” bilateral meetings for climate change as undermining the Copenhagen meeting, these could ironically strengthen and even bring about a surprising turnaround. It’s all boils down to an age-old conundrum: eliciting an agreement among so many people. Nobody ever comes to a big, formal meeting without having done the hard work of back breaking negotiations in smaller groups. It just makes more practical sense if people decide to talk to each other more on the sides and in more manageable group sizes. Expecting big breakthroughs at these big meetings without any prior ground work is just plain naive. If a repeat of Bali is to be avoided at Copenhagen, then the work should start now. It’s a lot of work, but there’s still time for it.