Wednesday, May 26, 2010

France and Germany are again playing old power game in climate change

The refusal of France and Germany to back Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard's proposal of curbing emissions by 30% until 2020 stems from a backward logic and is detrimental to the EU's soft power. "The European Union is ready to adopt the 30 percent figure if other major economies make comparable undertakings," French industry minister Christian Estrosi is quoted by EUObserver after a joint press conference with German economy minister Rainer Brüderle.

Estrosi and Brüderle want to play the old power game that led to the failure of Copenhagen: "We don't budge if you don't budge." Yet, it was apparent already at Copenhagen and also after Copenhagen that China was really not impressed by the EU's power play, to put it politely. The EU lost its multilateral negotiation power in Copenhagen and playing power games now does not get it back. Those of you who are familiar with game theory will understand that after a look at the rudimentary game tree below:

It is clear from the game tree that China wins if it chooses not to regulate its emissions, regardless of what the rest of the world does. It is also clear that "(m)ost of China's policy initiatives that affect climate change have come about without any direct reference to international frameworks, but have been driven by domestic policy needs" (Freeman and Holslag). Meaning that power games are rather useless.

There is only one thing that China wants and doesn't have. Technology. European comparative advantage is in technology. And if Freeman and Holslag are right that "the EU considers the combat against climate change . . . as a source of soft power", policy-makers are well-advised to start leading by example. The North-Sea Grid and the Desertec Initiative (which btw also extends to China, the US and Australia), for example, have not been paralleled by comparable projects initiated in the States or China, and progress in these projects can lead to more soft power for the EU.

Leading by example means leading by successful implementation of ambitious programmes at home. An ambitious target of 30% emission reduction entails a lot of research into best practices, consumption habits, carbon capture and storage, market mechanisms in environmental protection and other fields. An ambitious target is therefore a significant factor contributing to development of technology and thereby soft power.

Let alone that refusing an additional 10 base point emission cut where it is technically possible is not a particular sign of respect toward the population. It is true that developing countries face a trade-off between economic development and environmental protection (i.e. one declines as the other grows), but developed countries with a high degree of technology are less subjected to this trade-off and can prioritize economic development AND environmental protection.

And it is not a sign of particularly intelligent government communication that Chancellor Merkel is currently wandering through the eco-city "Masdar City" learning all about intelligent sustainable development while her economy minister rejects a stronger engagement of the EU in favor of old power games.

All in all, this makes me feel like we are far away from using the resources we have, and far away from making sustainable development a source of soft power.

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