Want your country to enter the European Union? Want better access to Indian agricultural markets? Want some extra aid funding? Perhaps a seat on the UN Security Council? Which would you like? How can I help you? Step right in. Welcome to the biggest foreign policy swap meet since Copenhagen in 2009.
The Paris climate talks are not just about climate change. Paris isn't full of scientists, engineers or even economists. Its full of trade negotiators and lobbyists, most of whom know little about, and care even less about, what burning fossil fuels is doing to the atmosphere.
Anyone who has ever solved a problem or chaired a meeting knows that it doesn't take 40,000 negotiators and "observers" to break an impasse or solve a problem. Indeed, a cynic might argue that the creation of a process that requires so many participants was designed to ensure that the market for coal and oil continues to grow each year.
In 1992, world leaders first agreed that burning fossil fuels caused climate change, that we needed to burn less fossil fuels, and that rich countries should act first. Fossil fuel consumption and production have risen steadily since.
Intriguingly, the same countries that tell us how hard it is to tackle climate change move quickly when it comes to wars and "real human tragedies" like the near collapse of the big banks in 2008. When the banks were in trouble, world leaders found time in their diaries to meet, trillions of dollar in their budgets, and trust not just in each other, but in the role of government. It's often said that there are no atheists in a foxhole, well, now we know there are no free marketeers in a banking crisis. There are plenty when it comes to climate change though.
One thing is for sure, it did not take 40,000 delegates to rescue the banking system. And not once did the rich countries trying to "rescue the world economy" suggest that they couldn't act to save capitalism unless all the poor countries "pulled their weight".
As the banks fell, and public cash was flying, no one knew "with certainty" that anything would work, and no one stopped to ask what the "fair share" of effort for Bangladesh would be. In what rich countries saw as a real crisis, no one demanded certainty or equity. They just wanted to avoid catastrophe, so they acted.
It is time for those working to prevent dangerous climate change to admit that the vast majority of the world's leaders do not see climate change as a crisis; they see it as an opportunity. An opportunity to do "real foreign policy". Even the ones who are prepared to act see it as an opportunity to convert that willingness into some other foreign policy bauble. Why do it quickly and for free when you will get a reward if you drag your feet and look reluctant for long enough?
It is wrong to dismiss the COP21 as a talk fest. It is much more than that. The talks about climate change are just the cover story for the real work of 195 countries twisting each other's arms and scratching each other's back in ways that, by and large, are unrelated to task of shutting down coal mines or building more renewable energy.
As in any negotiation, not all players start with the same resources, and not everyone is playing for the same objectives, but in a broad sense there are three broad ways the climate change bargaining chips are being played.
The small island states that face submersion in the lifetime of their current inhabitants typically throw all of their chips on the table early. In the most passionate speech I have yet heard at the Paris talks, the Fijian Minister for Emergency Services, a man on the front line of the storm damage climate change is already causing, describes the "ambition" of limiting global warming to 2 degrees as being designed to save economies, not countries.
He is right. But other countries just see the Pacific Island position as self-interested and, in turn, morally identical to Australia's desire to increase coal exports. The candour and passion of the island states delivers them little in the way of global emission reductions and even less in foreign policy wins. Indeed, they use all of their foreign policy chips buying tiny gains to deals that can't possibly save their countries.
Then there is the strategy of the small number of fossil fuel energy exporting countries, Australia among them, who actually want greenhouse gas emissions to keep rising. For decades we used the impending arrival of "carbon capture and storage" to pretend there was no tension between our desire to increase coal exports and the world's desire to reduce emissions. Now we just pretend we want to sell more coal to help the poor. Maybe if we wanted to help the poor we shouldn't have slashed our aid budget.
Key to Australia's success is ensuring that the climate change agenda is always focused on the abstract notion of "emissions" and commitments to reduce them in the future. When the debate strays into specific things like whether it makes sense for Australia to subsidise the doubling of our coal exports things get a bit messy.
But while the public might ask impolite questions about why we need to build new coal mines if the world is going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, no such questions are raised at events like the COP. It would be impolite, and undiplomatic, to call a "valued participant" like Australia a deceiving hypocrite. Knowing this, Australian negotiators work on the assumption that as long as they pretend to share the rest of the world's objectives no one will call them out.
Finally, there is the strategy adopted by the vast majority of countries at the Paris foreign policy bazaar, which is to snap up a foreign policy trinket in exchange for supporting some push to replace "must" with "may" in a document with no legal force. It's not that they want climate change to happen, but they have other priorities. Why not get access to a new market in exchange for supporting words that don't mean much?
So what is to be done? The first step is to get better at foreign policy. Those who want to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions need to become better at influencing foreign policy than those who want to increase them. For the last decade the environment movement has worked on the scientific and economic case for tackling climate change while the fossil fuel producers have worked on the foreign policy case for doing nothing. It's pretty clear who is winning.
The second thing to do is shift the debate away from the abstract and towards the concrete. Kiribati President Anote Tong's call for a moratorium on new coal mines is diplomatically disruptive because it is simple, immediate and concrete. The same national leaders who find it easy to give eloquent speeches about the urgent need for emission reductions find it impossible to support a halt to building new coal mines in the present. Why do you think that is? No one would trust a politician who simply committed to making the tax system fair in the future without some detail about what they meant by fair and what actions they were willing to take to achieve it.
Building new coalitions, shifting the terms of the debate and inventing new structures to facilitate new negotiations about the climate actions we should take rather than the global emissions we should reduce will not be easy. It wasn't easy to find a trillion dollars in the financial crisis. But when the stakes are high, history suggests we can do things that aren't easy. And history suggests that leaders don't need 40,000 people to help them make a decision.
When the cards have been stacked against you it makes more sense to tip over the table than to bet all your chips. Of course Australia would say countries taking such diplomatic action are being impolite, but we would say that. We think it is in our national interest for the world to burn more of our coal.
Richard Denniss is the chief economist at the Australia Institute and one of the 40,000 official attendees of the Paris COP21 climate summit.
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