googlead166c37c697d4d3.html Glenn Ashton Author Blog: Copenhagen: Obama's Munich Moment?


Monday, October 18, 2010

Copenhagen: Obama's Munich Moment?

In September 1938 an anxious world waited while three countries – Germany, France and Great Britain – sparred with each other over the future of a small nation, Czechoslovakia. 
Adolf Hitler browbeat the leaders of France and Germany, using threats, deliberate deception and surrogates, and forced them to submit to his will.
Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain after Munich
In the early hours of September 30, 1938 the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, French president Daladier and Chancellor Hitler gathered around a table on the second floor of a building known as the Fuhrer House signed the Munich Agreement, effectively destroying Czechoslovakia as a nation.
Ever since then, images of Chamberlain signing that agreement, and later on waving another side letter he and Hitler had signed, while proclaiming his expectation that peace was on hand, have become symbols of political appeasement.

For a politician from a Western country to be accused of signing a Munich Agreement is a stinging rebuke of that politician's moral principles. 
It means the politician is being accused of incorrectly assessing the realities of a situation, and of cravenly siding with forces bent on negative consequences.
In effect, such an accusation says to the politician: You, Sir, are an idiot and a coward.
President Obama has been accused of being a party to a climate change agreement which is akin to the Munich Agreement, and as reckless and ill-thought out as that agreement was. Just as the Munich Ageement delayed but did not prevent the onset of the Second World War, so the agreement signed in Copenhagen, in the minds of some observers, does not prevent the terrible consequences of global warming, and amounts to a capitulation by leaders of nations to bad forces.
One such accuser an Indian entrepreneur, Malini Mehra, the founder of the Centre for Social Markets (CSM). 
CSM is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to making markets work for the triple bottom line- people, planet and profit. 

According to CSM's website, Malini has worked on sustainability, development, gender and human rights issues for two decades and is a frequent media commentator. Prior to founding CSM in 2000, Malini worked on international trade, environment and human rights for NGOs including Oxfam and Friends of the Earth.
In her article Copenhagen – the Munich of our Times? Mehra slams the Copenhaen Climate Accord as a failure of historic proportions, hardly worth the paper is printed on. Amongst other things, Mehra has this to say about that agreement:
The document was an appeasement to major polluters that condemns the world to runaway climate change and declares war on our children.
The conference in December ended with an "accord", with no legal status and dubious value, as one of its key outcomes.
The political agreement was simply "noted" by governments, not adopted by them. Its very existence, however, could now undermine the architecture established by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to combat global climate change.
She sets out specific points which the Copenhagen Agreement contains which are negative or inadequate, and then continues with this indictment of the document:
Given that there are no targets, no peaking years, no trajectories for emissions reductions, only vague rhetoric, this is effectively an agreement for business-as-usual.

She then hammers the agreement as a one of betrayal of many stakeholders:
The Copenhagen Accord is a cruel blow for millions around the world who had put their faith in their leaders to deliver on climate protection.  Never before had such a constellation of groups and institutions come together: civil society, faith groups, business and industry, the investment community, scientists, engineers and professional organisations. Even the UN itself, which ran an unprecedented "seal the deal" campaign, called for urgent action. Leaders responded to the call and came to Copenhagen, but they did not deliver. This is a failure of historic proportions because an "encore" will be very difficult. We now have the modern equivalent of the Munich Agreement.
There you have it. President Obama, as leader of the most powerful nation on earth, was a party to the modern equivalent of the Munich Agreement.
I think Maher's accusation is a bit too harsh.
When we judge President Obama for his actions at Copenhagen, we have to consider the history of the earlier climate change agreement, the Kyoto Protocol. Countries from all over the world gathered in the Kyoto Conference hall to agree to an agreement which would set binding greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets for each nation.

But when the dust settled, the biggest and most powerful nation did not sign the Kyoto agreement.
The Europeans settled for half a loaf, when they realized that they could not get a whole loaf because China and India did not want mandatory reductions applied to them. But the Bush administration and the US Senate wanted a whole loaf, so Kyoto had to live without the USA. Like Clinton, Bush refused to submit the Kyoto Protocol to the Senate for approval, even though Al Gore signed it in 1998.
Malini Maher of CSM
There was a low-key wish at the time of Kyoto on the part of the European nations that somehow or other China and India would come onboard, and accept mandatory targets, so that a world wide trading of quotas could be used, and quotas for everyone driven down over time. They hoped that pleas to China and India based on intergenerational equity would work. They haven't so far.
Now consider the political capital that President Obama has, and his past practices when confronting problems with many conflicting parties at the table.
Obama faces a House of Representatives which right now has a strong Democratic Party majority. This majority will be whittled down come the elections in 10 days time. In the Senate, Obama has had a notional majority of Democrats, but that majority is a fiction when it comes to global warming. Several Democratic senators just would not want to be forced into a position of signing an agreement which is so similar to the Kyoto Accord.
What is the political problem for so many Democrats?
It's really very simple.
They have not succeeded in framing the issue of dangers posed by global warming and therefore have not mastered the discussion in the political space of this issue. Consquently, they are vulnerable to attacks from the deniers of global warming, and the Republicans, if they agree to binding reduction targets on the USA in a treaty while both China and India have non-binding targets. The perceived imbalance between "Chindia" on the one hand and the USA on the other opens the Democrats to charges of selling out US businesses.
In Europe, the response of the countries making up the European Union has been to unite in the face of a realistic appreciation of the dangers posed by global warming. These countries have all agreed to Kyoto, and to mandatory minumum greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets under the Kyoto Accord. Their collective agreement has made it easier for politicians in any one country to agree. In unity they have found strength.
China & USA agree at Copenhagen
Could Obama agree to binding reductions on the USA in an international treaty at this time? With mid-term elections in November this year, a fractious and divided bunch of Democratic senators, and a global warming denial mentality on the part of the Republican Party and many of its supporters, the risks are too high.
So the chances of the US agreeing to the original Copenhagen Agreement were nil a year ago, and have worsened with each passing month.
So what happened at Copenhagen? Obama gave up on that agreement and instead sided with signing a toothless accord.
So far, this might appear like spineless appeasement of those who deny the reality of global warming, and therefore of being a climate Munich reaction.
But that analogy only holds true if one can say that Obama does not believe that global warming is a real threat, and that greenhouse gas emissions have to be reduced to prevent a major catastrophe. Prime Minister Chamberlain sincerely believed that peace was worth any price, including the sacrificing of small nations to the Nazi juggernaut, and his actions were consistent with that belief. That was geniuine appeasement, consistently practised.
So far, Obama has said he believes steps have to be taken to reduce carbon dioxide emissions as they are a danger to our way of life.
In past dealings, Obama has often tried to achieve his objectives in different ways when faced with strong opposition. He has shown himself willing to settle for half a loaf if that advances the cause he favours a bit, and to wait for a second kick at the cat at a later time.
The Obama Administration's willingness to use whatever other ways they can to enforce a reduciton in carbon dioxide emissions has been shown – existing  legislation which allows the Administration to declare carbon  dioxide a dangerous emission to to enforce steps to reduce it is one example.
So we need to watch all the ways that the Obama Administration tackles the reduction of carbon dioxide before we can label one single action a Munich-like act of climate treason.
The jury is therefore still out on Obama and global warming.
And Melini Mehra has rushed to judgment without understanding the complex realities of an America that is amazingly split down the middle on so many issues right now, with one political party gladly reverting to Luddite views and actions, and the other national party riven with two factions, one more progressive than the other.
Let us wait awhile before we fashion the condemnation-noose for the Obama Administration on global warming.

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