Last week, the Center for a New American Security staged a “war game” on climate change. They gathered together climate scientists and experts in security, environmental policy from around the world, and assigned them to one of four teams — the United States, the European Union, China, and India. Each team was charged with negotiating the best global response to climate change for their team.
The game kicked-off with a fictitious news briefing about the state of the world in 2015, the year the talks were supposed to take place. But despite a 2012 follow up to the Kyoto Protoco requiring deep emissions cuts by mid-century, the outlook wasn’t good: droughts, heavy rains, floods, and other extreme weather events were on the rise, and there was a major global refugee problem. What’s more, “very few” signatories to the 2012 agreement were on track to meeting their emissions reductions targets.
After days of dramatic negotiating, and arguments so impassioned that participants had to remind themselves that it was just a game, it ended with…more emissions reductions agreements. The U.S. and the E.U. agreed to 30 percent reductions by 2025, India agreed to some limits with restrictions, and China agreed to nothing.
Everyone seemed to agree that the results of the talks were underwhelming, and fell short of the transformative global agreement many had been hoping for. It seems pretty silly to end up with a solution of emissions reductions targets when the talks started from a point of failing targets. The line of thinking here is that the world simply needs to make more ambitious reduction goals and work harder to meet them, even though no country has demonstrated that it can actually meet these goals.
The organizers said that the exercise wasn’t necessarily intended to produce a role-model agreement, but to explore “new solutions for dealing with climate change.” But with all this talk of targets and timetables, where were the new solutions? U.N. Secretary General John Podesta proposed the creation of a new international fund for clean technology, but his idea and others were left on the table.
Tellingly, after failing to meet its real world targets under Kyoto, E.U. team members were pushing for something more tangible than aspirational targets. Via Nature‘s liveblogging:
If the purpose of a war game is to reveal and explore alternate futures, then perhaps we have a winner here. Indeed, the year is 2015 and we now find ourselves in a world in which the United States is pushing for strong binding emissions limits on the rest of the world. By contrast, Europe appears to be pushing a more vague approach that focuses on tools, or “instruments,” including a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, that might be necessary if the existing (largely aspirational) targets are to be met.
Check out the response from the US team: “Do you have any specific targets?”
“Deciding targets without providing the instruments doesn’t do us a lot of service,” countered European delegate Reinhard Buetikofer (leader of the German Green Party). “We felt that since we have targets now, the real challenge is to provide the instruments.”
I could only scratch my head. Have the United States and Europe traded places politically in 2015? I asked UN Secretary General John Podesta (again, of Bill Clinton/Center for American Progress fame) if it was my imagination. He laughed. “The EU may have learned from bitter experience that when they take on these commitments, they are out in front of the parade and nobody is following.”
Buetikofer was a bit more cautious in his assessment of the situation. He pointed out that Europe, in 2015, is closer to meeting its targets than anybody else, and he questioned the value of new targets given the ongoing failure to meet previous targets.
The Nature blogger is lightly critical of the E.U. team, pointing out the apparent irony in its role reversal with the real-world United States’ reluctance to accept binding emissions targets. The blogger seems disdainful of Buetikofer for his feeble suggestion that the world needs better “tools” to confront the climate crisis, rather than stricter targets. But with Kyoto ratifying nations in the real world already failing to meet their targets, future negotiators would do well to take seriously Kyoto’s disillusioned former champions.
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