- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 6, 2010


After two years of rau-cous meetings at great ho-tels and re-sorts around the world, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) failed to deliver a treaty in Copenhagen in December. The clash of national interests over who would be required to cripple their economies to “save the planet” from the chimera of global warming proved insurmountable. The flawed process should have ended, but UNFCCC is pressing on. Talks will open again in Bonn on Friday, to be followed by several more negotiating junkets before a grand sequel to Copenhagen is held next December in Cancun, Mexico.

The accord reached in Copenhagen in lieu of a treaty was the best of all possible outcomes for the United States. Though it paid lip service to the two-track approach, which had pitted America against a coalition of developing countries led by BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China), the practical result was a one-track acknowledgement that no mandates should be imposed on any country to cut its greenhouse gas emissions.

BASIC had declared nonnegotiable any imposition of U.N. mandates on their economies, as it would interfere with their development and be an infringement on their sovereignty. They did demand, however, that very large restrictions be placed on economic activity in “rich” developed nations such as the United States. This principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” is enshrined in the “road map” adopted by the UNFCCC at Bali, Indonesia, in 2007. The U.S. had rejected this formula in the Kyoto Protocol during the George W. Bush administration, and President Obama has continued to find it unacceptable.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration does not consider the accord a final victory, even though the president initiated it by barging into a private meeting between Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as Copenhagen was about to end. In its submission to the UNFCCC on goals for 2010, Washington has called for “a legally binding outcome in Mexico provided that the legally binding elements in an otherwise acceptable agreement would apply in a symmetrical manner to all major economies.” In other words, the U.S. is renewing its demands that both the developing and developed countries submit to mandates.

Setting aside the question of whether any nation really needs to restrict its economic growth to appease the climate gods, the U.S. position is very bad on strategic grounds. It hands China an issue around which it can rally other developing nations in a coalition against the United States. This could disrupt needed alliance-building by America in Asia to counter the challenge being mounted by a “rising” China.

Beijing has seized the opportunity offered by Washington and taken the initiative to organize and lead BASIC. It also has managed to get its African ally Sudan elected chair of the larger Group of 77 bloc of developing countries. China and the Group of 77 have a strategy session set for the day before the Bonn conference opens.

The greatest danger to the U.S. position in Asia from Mr. Obama’s stance at the U.N. is that India is being pushed into the arms of China. New Delhi’s submission to the UNFCCC was almost identical to Beijing’s, stating that “political understanding among the participants as reflected in the Copenhagen Accord should facilitate the two-track process of negotiations under the Long Term Cooperative Action and the Kyoto Protocol.” The lines are being drawn again, with India in the opposing camp when in the larger, more important realm of Asian geopolitics, India and America should be allies.

In its just-released annual report, the Indian Ministry of Defense stated that it “remains conscious and alert about the implications of China’s military modernization. … Rapid infrastructure development in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Xinjiang province has considerably upgraded China’s military force projection capability and strategic operational flexibility” and, “Necessary steps have been initiated for the upgradation of our infrastructure and force structuring … along the northern borders.” New Delhi also is concerned with Chinese ambitions in the Indian Ocean.

In addition to the Chinese threat, the United States and India face a common danger from Islamic terrorism. These are elements that should be pulling Washington and New Delhi together. It is a major strategic blunder for the Obama administration to emphasize climate talks that drive the two great democracies apart. Instead, the U.S. should build on its agreement with India to cooperate in the expansion of nuclear power. This is a positive program that supports growth while also minimizing greenhouse gas emissions for those who are still concerned about such things.

Both nations should be striving to advance their economies, not looking for ways to cut each other’s throats in a misguided UNFCCC process that should be abandoned.

William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues. He is a former economics professor and Republican congressional staff member.

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