Friday, January 22, 2010

Thoughts on Copenhagen II: On Negotiations amidst the Circus

Back in Copenhagen, I attended a briefing for US NGOs. Two things that struck me.

One is I am ambivalent about NGO invovlement. One notable thing was at the meeting, you had Fred Krupp, president of the one of the largest environmental groups (who quite reasonably should be there), but he was sitting next to a couple kids painted and dressed as green aliens carrying placards. On the whole, it was a surprisingly young group.

The other was again, how similar the US government position is in the current administration as it was under the previous. That the US will not concede sovereignity in terms of taxes it must pay. That the US cannot commit to greater cuts than Congress will allow. That the US cannot commit to spending, in such contexts.

And again, on the sovereignity issue, which is not unique to the US (but a big part of why negotiations broke down with China and India), that the idea of a binding carbon price/limit may be futile because it requires a higher extra-governmental power. The WTO did achieve this (somewhat) but that took half a century, and in general, free trade is win-win (countries generally benefit from lower trade barriers, even though they may suffer from political trouble from noisy constituents, overall countries are typically better off). Whereas in climate change, it is by and large a pure public good to constrain carbon, so an even harder sell without a world government. This suggests again that the technology push is key making green technology cheaper than dirty. (This was the position of the Bush administration--I don't mean to be so defensive on that, really--and also what Bjorn Lomborg has been pushing, hopefully that doesn't automatically discredit the idea) I think economists by and large agree that technology is key, though many would then say that a carbon price would be the key the incentivizing new technology, though I think most economists agree that we have little evidence to that effect, only faith.
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