Next week, delegates from around the world will descend on New York City for yet another climate summit. These annual meetings have become more about bloviating than about making any progress on the devilishly tricky issue of crafting a coordinated international response to the immensely complicated threat of climate change. China, India, Australia, and Canada aren’t bothering to send their heads of state to the summit this year. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio will open discussion with a speech, which should tell you something about the state of play here. The United Nations, host of the talks, is hoping to steer focus away from crafting a binding global climate treaty this year, and in so doing is acknowledging the strategy’s dismal track record. The Hill reports:
“We are trying to discourage a negotiating dynamic, but rather a leadership dynamic, that we want to see leaders stepping up,” [UN assistant secretary-general for policy coordination Bob Orr] said Wednesday at an event hosted by the Center for American Progress. […]“You can’t just superimpose leaders on a negotiation and expect things to come out much differently than they would have otherwise,” he said.
Climate change represents an enormous threat to humanity, but the sheer scope of it dwarfs our ability to model and understand it, and makes coming up with a GCT terribly difficult. This year’s discussions in New York are meant to prepare world leaders for next year’s make-or-break talks in Paris, which will hope to repair the damage done to the GCT movement in Copenhagen in 2009. But it’s hard to imagine any kind of binding and enforceable treaty coming out of either summit; if anything, we’ll see the environmental movement’s equivalent of the Kellogg-Briand pact.The world’s capacity for entertaining Wilsonian dreams seems to be nearly exhausted these days. The surge of hope for transformative activity on a global scale has ebbed, as both national and international politics have become less hospitable for these kinds of strategies. Wilsonians are in retreat, and it’s hard to think of a starker example of that than these annual climate summits. Environmentalists need to change their tack, because the problem is altogether too serious to be wasting political capital on a GCT.