A few inconvenient truths but a few convenient ones too…. By Manoj

As I write this blog post world leaders from 119 different countries are negotiating to pull up an agreement. But the overwhelming majority out here doubt whether negotiators can pull it off from where things stand today. But as I envision a world 50 years from now does success at Copenhagen matter? Well, only time will tell. I believe whether the world is able to successfully combat climate change depends on technological breakthroughs not political pledges at Copenhagen.

It is our 5th day at COP15, and we as a group have attended dozens of sessions on topics such as climate justice, policy making, emerging clean technologies, role of NGOs and sub-national governments, tax implications of carbon credits, and oversight of carbon market. During all these events the sidelines, we had the opportunity to interact with the attendees (climate change scientists, CEOs of energy companies, policy makers including governors and legislators, NGOs, climate activists etc.) from different parts of the globe. Personally, I have been overwhelmed by the diversity of perspectives I have got in such a short span of time. It has been a real learning expedition, and I am happy that I made the trip.

I would like to summarize my experience so far by highlighting some inconvenient truths and some convenient ones too. First the inconvenient ones….

• An agreement even without binding legal framework rather than a hollow political commitment, which seems to be the most probable result as I write the blog, would have given impetus to the efforts made so far and sent a signal that the political leadership of the world is serious about tackling climate change.

• There is no talk about “Climate Gate” at Copenhagen. While everyone believes that there is climate change not everyone believes that it is global warming that is the root cause of climate change. My personal belief (which is shared by most of my business school colleagues) is that the UNFCCC can communicate its stand on the “Climate Gate” in a more emphatic way so that it is clarified once and for all. We are meeting with Dr. R. K Pachauri ( Chairman of IPCC, Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change) this evening on the sidelines and would keep you updated about his thoughts on this issue.

• In any negotiation the powerful ones can’t win at the cost of the weaker ones. A win – lose outcome is not necessarily good for the winner at the end of the day. If the developed countries think that they can win by committing less reductions while extracting developing nations to cap their emissions they probably are short sighted. It has to be a WIN-WIN for both.

• One of the widely talked about topics at COP15 is MRV (monitoring, reporting and verification) of target reductions. The developed countries think that the developing nations will both cheat the system and take advantage of it. To me it seems that the developing nations are the clear victims of the impact of climate change. If they fail to live up to their commitment, it would be to their destruction. My belief is that no sovereign country would agree to audit by other countries. Would the US agree to an audit by China?

• The rationale I hear quite often in debates about climate change in the US is that it will hurt the American economy and there will be job losses as other developing countries, like India and China, will gain an unfair advantage if there is no cost of carbon in those countries. As I think through the reasons, I would like to give the example of the European Union. Have Germany, Denmark and Spain lost jobs or become uncompetitive in the process of becoming a greener economy? No, they have definitely not. In fact, they have clear competitive advantage in clean technologies which will drive the world tomorrow while US is behind. To put it in Tom Friedman’s words from one of the COP 15 events, “Being Green is the next big opportunity. Countries like China are not becoming green by choice but out of necessity. China will probably lead the world into a cleaner world as they believe in making things happen not in pep talk. Friedman says “If the US could become China for a day, it would be a different world”

• While the world focuses on Copenhagen let us not forget the biggest challenges facing mankind today: hunger, poverty, and access to water. Some of these issues are as important as climate change.

But not everything is lost. The world today is a healthier, safer and better place than it was 50 years ago. So I have no doubt what so ever in my mind that it will change for better only in the next 50 years as well. Now the convenient ones …..

• Developing countries like India, China and Brazil now appreciate that they are equally responsible to combat climate change as the developed nations. They simply cannot hide behind the wall. And there is a big opportunity out there. Who knows if the next big innovation will be in India or China instead of in the Silicon Valley?

• While national governments are negotiating over issues related to climate change, the sub-national governments have been actively embracing change and taking the lead in implementing policies and initiatives to combat climate change. This is the biggest silver lining, and my MBA colleagues have covered this aspect in detail in previous blogs.

• While the world continues to debate how to combat climate change, efforts will not succeed unless there is a behavioral change in every human being on earth. Unless each one of us change our lifestyle, minimize waste and lead a sustainable life, the battle of climate change will never be won.

I sign off with my favorite poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost praying that our leaders chose the one less traveled by and act so they will be remembered in history for having the courage to do so.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth; ……………..

I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Note: We had a great meeting with Dr. R. K Pachauri on the sidelines at COP15 and a separate blog post covering our interaction with him follows…..


1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    Patrick (Xiaojun) said,

    Thank Tuck team for giving us the report from front line. I read your post every day and can’t wait to hear more after you guys back!

    Let’s cross fingers for the final deal!


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