Copenhagen Discord – Obama’s lesson in realpolitik

The Copenhagen Accord negotiated by US President Obama together with Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, will help smooth the passage of the Senate Energy and Climate Bill and serves notice on a UN climate negotiations framework that could not deliver a binding agreement in the absence of a clear political framework. It has been apparent for some time that fault lines in the UN negotiating framework threatened to undermine progress. The G-77/China grouping has been particularly dysfunctional, as it has sought – at times – to broker interests ranging from those of the small island developing states to Saudi Arabia. In his closing comments to the US press corps…Obama spoke frankly about the ‘deadlock’ that was Copenhagen, because the UN framework for climate change action was not designed to differentiate between the poorest of the poor and major economic powers such as China and Brazil, and place obligations on the latter, while protecting their right to development. Any judgement of the Accord will be premature before 1 February, the deadline established for the US, China, South Africa and others to set out their ‘commitments’ and ‘actions’ in an attempt to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate. Copenhagen did more to obscure than highlight the progress over the past twelve months in bringing China and others to the table with undertakings to contain their projected emissions growth. There has never been more discussion about the ethical demands of climate change. Obama’s realpolitik does not oppose ethics, and it might just deliver where soaring rhetoric did not. The success of Obama’s domestic climate change legislation twinned with global civil society’s commitment to political action (and personal change: every European citizen must now endeavour to reduce an average per capita emission of ten tonnes of carbon p/a to two tonnes within a generation) will play a huge role in pressing for a legally binding successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

I am a lecturer in sustainable development and governance at the School of Law, Queens University Belfast. I also conduct work at United Nations negotiations on the environment for the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

My book on the attention economy and mindfulness as commons was published by Routlege in June 2017. See A Political Economy of Attention, Mindfulness and Consumerism: Reclaiming the Mindful Commons (Routledge Studies in Sustainability)

My research interests include consumerism, green politics and the economy. I locate myself firmly to the left of the political spectrum. I write in a personal capacity.

Born in Donegal, I was raised in Derry and now reside in Belfast with my family.