Here at today’s U.N. Climate Summit in New York, everyone seems to agree that bringing America into a leadership role on climate change is a necessary condition for forestalling the climate change crisis. From my perspective, then, the success or failure of this summit should be judged by its ability to make progress on that front.
We’ve heard from — among others — Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and Federal Chancellor of Austria Alfred Gusenbauer, both of whom delivered passionate speeches about the pressing need for mitigation but without really explaining why countries (and America in particular) are hesitant to mitigate their emissions or how to upend that hesitance. We’ve heard about California’s inspiring example, without hearing how crucial it is for that example to influence the greater United States. And on and on.
Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador, was remarkably blunt about where and why change needs to happen, but also reiterated his hope that the world pay his country not to drill for its own oil.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia delivered in English a rather inspiring speech about the steps developing nations can take even in the absence of a global pact.
Guyana Prime Minister Samuel Hinds respectfully made the point that this session lacks almost any interaction between leaders of the developed and developing worlds. He made a strong case that the existing framework is both inequitable and incoherent. It involves the promise of aid to developing countries — needed to brace those countries against the economic impact of mitigation — without actually delivering that aid. And it involves what he called “perverse incentives,” written into the Kyoto Protocol, which, for instance, allow countries to be rewarded for reforestation without penalizing them for deforesting in the first place.
So far we’ve heard the leaders of a number of developing nations enumerate the challenges they will face if the world pursues a carbon-constrained way forward. It drives home the point that addressing climate change will mean not just unseating entrenched interests and revolutionizing economies within the first world, but also launching a massive multilateral diplomacy effort aimed at securing the acquiescence of dozens and dozens of small countries that will need proper incentives not to, say, cut down their forests or drill for their own oil. An exciting, but also daunting, challenge.