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Trust and Climate Diplomacy

by Michael Levi
August 12, 2010

I was writing up some notes last week from a trip to India earlier this year when I came upon this from an interview with a senior official:

“No negotiator believes that the U.S. goal is to address climate change. They think they need to protect themselves.”

That’s undoubtedly an exaggeration, but there’s an important kernel of truth. If I’m a policymaker in India watching the U.S. climate debate and listening to U.S. rhetoric, I’m likely to conclude that, to the extent the United States wants to do anything, it’s because it thinks it’s going to create an economic juggernaut. Jobs that can’t be outsourced! Exports to the rest of the world!

Stop for a second, though, and think about how this sounds to someone in Delhi. Jobs that can’t be outsourced are jobs that can’t be outsourced to India. Exports to the rest of the world mean getting countries like India to buy more things from the United States.  Now please, India, won’t you help us achieve this noble goal?

And we wonder why others are a bit suspicious of us when they sit down at the negotiating table.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s the U.S. government’s job to foster a strong U.S. economy and boost employment. And I’m not saying that this dynamic is the main reason why countries like India are doing less that we’d like them to on climate. But it is a non-trivial part of the equation. And we’re often blind to it.

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by Yield

    Actually Michael, it’s worse than you suppose.

    The view of the US from overseas is that the US is solely focussed on cheap gasoline for SUV’s and cheap coal driven power to support it’s industry both at literally any environmental or social cost. There is clearly no political will to deliver anything beyond that at a Federal level which is the level that counts.

    And just in case the message hadn’t made it to D.C. the US has lost the renewable manufacturing opportunity to China, I don’t think the US can catch up on their lead and commitment now.

  • Posted by DM

    With the mindless rhetoric in the US around climate change, I cannot believe how the benefit to domestic manufacturing/production has not been carried more zealously by the Democrats supporting strong climate action.

    I completely agree why India and China are reluctant to move, they have no need to until the US does something. But in this time when everything has to be positioned as a “Jobs bill” in the US, you would think this ‘domestic’ argument carries weight …yet it has never made it past the ‘green jobs’ platform (which in my perspective is a lot more ambigous and open to attack).

  • Posted by Rob in UK

    A very perceptive comment, attempting to look at the issue from someone else’s perspective – well done.

    I’m intrigued by the way this thread is resolving, though, which seems to be summed up by the comment from Black on Green:

    This indicates that the US generally is not convinced of the Climate Change argument?

  • Posted by Pat kelly

    Climate change is not going to stop because someone kills their economy. The changes we are undergoing need to be some how forcasted, as you have done in your report, in order to make resonable and solid changes. I have said from the start of the last few sever natural disasters, the first to have experience a large disaster are the lucky ones: in terms of international response, as more and more follow the willingness to share and help grows weary.
    The IMF will need to extend the intest free pereiod of it’s aid loans for a much longer periods to intice countries to pick up a larger portion of their own relief tab.
    we might think about desalination of a larger scale in stratigic location to replenish ground water, so it can undergo a furter natrual process helping both drinking water and food production.

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