Looking for information on the (unhappy) outcomes of the Madrid climate change negotiations, this NY Times Editorial Board piece from a week ago caught my eye. There is not anything specifically inaccurate in it. But it just continues to buy into the conventional wisdom that the UN climate change negotiation system is a good process that, like the ozone treaties, will eventually yield success. Unfortunately, the ozone treaties (the Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol) were much simpler treaties. When they were first created, they involved far fewer countries and were not nearly as ambitious. There is one other issue that I wish people talked more about. Climate change is, as a practical matter from the carbon emission perspective, not really a “global” problem, even though the global negotiation process pretends it to be.
Twenty countries account for more than 80% of the world’s carbon emissions; the top 10 countries account for 71%; and the top 5 for 61%. (Take a look at the Union of Concerned Scientists carbon emission chart as well as the statistics of the International Energy Agency.) Imagine having a negotiation among these 5 countries, China (29% of world emission), US (16%), India, Russia, and Japan (instead of the 200 within the UNFCCC), where the outcome would address almost 2/3 of the world’s carbon emission. Heck, if you threw in the European Union (EU-28), you would have a whoppy 6 party negotiation and capture an additional 10% of carbon emission for a total of 71% of world emission. Of course, negotiating among these countries would be no cake-walk. But at least, the negotiators would no longer be able to hide in the crowds and behind the facade of semi-anual gigantic international conference with an enormous carbon footprint.