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Copenhagen was not about what it was about

Published 18th December 2009 - 2 comments - 938 views -

What was COP 15 all about, then? When historians look back at the conference, they'll surely conclude that the thing was not about climate change, but about international economic development policy. After all, once the conference started, it quickly turned into an argument about wealth transfer from the rich world to the poor world.

Isn't that the purpose of the so-called "climate change fund"? Certainly, from the standpoint of the developing world governments clamouring for cash, if it walks, talks, quacks and looks like a development program that involves shifting a vast amount of money from rich states to poor states, it is exactly that. But because the Copenhagen conference did not wish to be portrayed as a development program, the organizers got around the semantics by making it a do-or-die problem of all mankind. Do this, they said, or we'll all die. We'll all sink, fry, drown, roast and starve together. And if we're all in this together, the huge money transfer is no longer philanthropy; it's collective action to save the planet. This doesn't solve the problem, which remains as confusing and obdurate as ever — but it redefines it as collective action, rather than philanthropy, and that's what a lot of NGO people like to hear. And that's how governments can sell it to taxpayers, too.

Given all this, it's worth looking back at the UN's Millennium Development Goals, articulated in 2000 by, among others, Jeffrey Sachs. These were the UN's five-year plans for cutting global poverty over a 15-year year period, except that the UN fell down badly when it came to funding the implementation. But by an amazing coincidence, the hundreds of billions being kicked around for the climate change fund look a lot like the kinds of numbers called for in UN's Millennium Development Goals.  

Coincidentally (or not) Jeffrey Sachs had a piece in the Financial Times on Tuesday in which he bewailed that many countries didn't fork out the amounts they said they would back then. So, he says that the way to avoid a recurrence is to use "assessed amounts" — voluntary payments by which each country agrees with each other on a multilateral basis how much it will contribute. Cue the climate change fund.

In another coincidence, "TH!NK3: Developing World will focus on sustainable development and global aid in the lead up to the high-level plenary meeting on the Millennium Development Goals at the UN 65th session of the General Assembly in September 2010."

Funny old world. 

Category: Climate Politics, | Tags: money, sachs, un, millennium development goals, rich, poor,


Benno Hansen on 18th December 2009:

Adela actually mentioned this yesterday when she, I and Federico met at Klimaforum09. I don’t think it’s controversial - although this isn’t the only instance of what appears to be politicians trying to pay two bills with the same payment. But when you think about it, the climate change issue is a sustainability issue. Anything can be done in moderation and with respect or in excess and with risk: aspirin, combustion of fossil fuels, shooting heroin etc…

Nanne Zwagerman on 18th December 2009:

Environment and development have always been mixed in the eyes of the developing world—and this was the entire premise of the Rio and Johannesburg summits. I don’t see how this is a surprise in a conspirational sense, given that the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol (the entire process we’re in) are ultimately products of the Rio summit.

I do worry whether this money will be spent effectively. I would rather have us make some more sensible intellectual property arrangement than fork money over to regimes who have little incentive to care for their people.

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