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Circling the Drain: Copenhagen and Local Politics

December 17, 2009

What is the relationship between the politics of Copenhagen and the politics back home? No doubt, it’s different for every participating country. Roger Pielke recently highlighted a bizarre circularity in the case of the US:

Prospects for U.S. climate legislation hinge on a successful outcome at Copenhagen, says Senator John Kerry (D-MA)…. Meantime, negotiators in Copenhagen await leadership from the United States as the basis for an international agreement…. There is a widespread reluctance among other countries to make significant concessions until the country which has caused most of the problem takes more of its fair share of the burden of solving it…. But the United States won’t go further than its legislative process will allow

As some might say, they’re circling the drain.

Here in Australia, according to a nice summary by Dennis Shanahan in today’s Australian, things are looking pretty bad for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, no matter where you stand:

Rudd has painted himself into a corner at Copenhagen and, once again, the perceptions he has created are jarring with the reality.
If Copenhagen at best comes up with some cobbled-together “two-track” system of agreements that lets various nations off the hook and Australia with a huge aid bill, Rudd will claim a political victory, but he is likely to be swamped with criticism from developing nations, environment groups and sceptics.
If there is no real agreement and it’s all put off to Mexico next July, there will be no vindication for Rudd’s pressure on passing the CPRS [Australian cap and trade proposal] before Copenhagen and [Opposition Leader/Republican-equivalent] Abbott will be able to say he’s saved Australia from racing ahead of the rest of the world and committing to targets other nations have baulked at.
Rudd’s rhetoric on this issue, the whole need for urgency, the need for moral leadership from Australia for the rest of the world and the need to have an ETS [Emissions Trading Scheme] as a bargaining chip will be seen as hollow self aggrandisement.

Not pretty. Shanahan also deftly summarizes the quite-astonishing political reversal that has taken place here in the last month and a half.

Experiences in both the US and Australia show the inevitability that Copenhagen will be used locally as a tool for political advancement (and that such tactics may backfire). Simultaneously, officials in Copenhagen cannot escape the impact of local politics on their own negotiations. Kinda makes the whole exercise seem like circling the drain!

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