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Pessimism from Barcelona- A Game of Zero Sum


–Keelin Kelly, Castle Rock, CO

Are the climate negotiations this week in Barcelona already shaping up to be another Bangkok? Unfortunately, yes. Large issues still must be confronted, yet doing so will quite difficult because countries are far from seeing eye to eye on what still must happen to even begin to lay out a feasible treaty.

This atmosphere of disagreement led Yvo De Boer to make a desperate plea for corporation when opening the conference: “Time has almost run out. . . in Barcelona, all nations must step back from self-interest and let common interest prevail.”1 No offense to Yvo De Boer, but developed nations in particular are unlikely to heed his desperate plea.

In the conferences leading up to Barcelona, especially at Bangkok, the battle lines between developed and developing nations were drawn. I hate using war analogies, but they are unfortunately apt in this situation. Countries are approaching a possible treaty as a zero-sum game where only one side will win. Developed nations, the EU and US in particular, see Kyoto as very harmful to their national interests. Similarly, developing nations think abandoning Kyoto will hinder their economic growth and stunt their long term development.

This zero sum perspective is the reason for the present stalemate. Sadly, it will most likely persist through Copenhagen. Ideally, it would be great if the countries stepped away from their total self-interest and reached a compromise. However, what would such a compromise even entail? I do not think at this point a viable compromise is possible. Also, presently countries cling so desperately to their self-interest that it is impossible to move in the direction of compromise. Yvo De Boer critiques this problem. However, it is impossible to resolve. It is the function of an international system where state sovereignty is still king.

Most international leaders understand what has happened and now admit Barcelona, and later Copenhagen, will not result in substantial progress or a treaty. German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated Friday: “It is realistic to say that in Copenhagen we will not be able to conclude a treaty, but it is important to lay down a political framework which will be the basis of the treaty.”2 However, will Copenhagen even result in this political framework? Probably not. There is no consensus on a framework, and the parties have polarized. The solution to end this zero sum game remains to be seen.


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