Softly, softly at Cancun…
It’s been quite hard to get a real feel for progress at the COP16 climate change negotiations in Cancun this week, but the overall impression has been slow progress on a number of issues and a more reasoned debate over some of the bigger issues. This contrasts starkly with the high stakes game played by national leaders and environmental groups in Copenhagen this time last year – which famously ended with a whimper rather than a bang.
The softly, softly approach has a number of advantages. Minor disputes are not exaggerated by a story-hungry media and can be deftly resolved. Small wins create forward momentum and a positive atmosphere which can help unlock trickier conundrums. Progress can be made without the often destructive interference of either the NGO or libertarian/denial camps, one shrieking the clock is ticking and less than 100% success is failure, the other shrieking that the whole thing is a recipe for economic suicide/communism.
However, I’m still of the view that a world-wide single binding agreement is an impossible ideal. What works in Washington is unlikely to work in Kuala Lumpur and vice versa. There is nothing to stop individual nations cutting their own carbon and shifting to a low carbon economy. Furthermore, the big economies along with their huge corporations, have such global reach that the power to act is actually in relatively few hands. Destructive companies in the primary industries like forestry or oil extraction can only operate if they have customers willing to buy their produce.
Business has the power if they step up to the plate.