Thursday, July 31, 2008

Trade talk failure impacts climate change

A classic "globalisation and the environment" story - the failure of trade talks does show how difficult it is to get global agreement on anything even if all countires agree on something.

Developing countries are right to feel hard done by and this is likely to sap any good wil they may have had towards a climate change agreement.

This statement is telling:

"The collapse of the WTO talks is another sign of the decline of Western power," said a European Union official involved in policy planning.

Perhaps it is lucky that the climate change skeptics are so convinced none of this matters others the outlook would be rather depressing.

Trade Failure Clouds Climate Talks and Beyond [PlanetArk]

GENEVA - The collapse of world trade talks deals such a blow to international negotiations that the prospect of agreeing effective solutions to global warming or the spread of nuclear weapons seems more remote than ever.

"If we cannot even manage trade, how should we then find ourselves in a position to manage new challenges like climate change?" said European agriculture chief Mariann Fischer Boel after talks at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva fell apart on Tuesday. "It is a failure with wider consequences than we have ever seen before."

Countries aim to agree a successor by the end of next year to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, a 1997 treaty which commits developed countries to limit greenhouse gas emissions and which expires in 2012.

Like trade pacts, climate agreements have to be reached by consensus -- something that has proven impossible among the 153 WTO members.

The Geneva failure augurs badly for United Nations climate negotiations in Copenhagen in late 2009, and for faltering global efforts to halt nuclear proliferation, highlighted by the dispute over Iran's atomic programme, analysts said.

"It will greatly undermine trust in multilateral goodwill," said Mark Halle of the International Institute for Sustainable Development. "Nobody thinks we can get a climate deal without overcoming the deep mistrust in the developing world."

The fact that the WTO's "Doha development round", touted as a way to help poorer countries get more from world trade, foundered on a dispute between the United States and and big emerging economies has hit hopes for a post-Kyoto deal.

"It will be extremely difficult (for developing countries) to rebuild their confidence in the multilateral system about the desire of the rich to do anything," Halle said.


The rise of the big developing economies, Brazil, China and India, since the Doha round began in 2001, will also change the dynamic in climate talks, said Bruce Stokes, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

"Certainly India in particular will be a key player in Copenhagen," he said.

"China's last minute objections to a Doha deal underscore their leverage, that will of course be even greater," he added.

Under Kyoto, only developed countries have greenhouse gas limits, but at Copenhagen, developing nations with the fastest growing output of carbon dioxide blamed for global warming are under pressure to brake their own emissions.

India in particular is resisting any negotiated binding curb, and its firm line in Geneva -- where a dispute with the United States on protecting its farmers felled the trade talks -- suggests it may show little flexibility on climate change.

Persuading developing countries to accept emissions curbs is seen as vital to bringing Washington, which turned its back on Kyoto under President George W. Bush, back into a rules-based global climate pact.

Coincidentally, India is one of the emerging world's nuclear powers, which built an atomic arsenal in defiance of US-led efforts to halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

For some policymakers, failure in Geneva was a symptom of a major change in the global order, which is likely to be just as evident in climate talks.

"The collapse of the WTO talks is another sign of the decline of Western power," said a European Union official involved in policy planning. "It's no longer enough for the United States and the Europeans to agree on the objective in order to achieve the desired outcome."

The reluctance of emerging countries to accept curbs on greenhouse gases is another sign of the changing world order, which the EU official put down in part to opposition to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq and a perception that Washington remains bogged down and unable to prevail in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

He pointed to this month's veto by Russia and China of a UN resolution to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe, and to persistent difficulty in persuading them to back tougher measures against Iran and Sudan, as signs of this power shift.

For the EU's trade negotiator, haggard and bitterly disappointed after nine days of ultimately fruitless talks, the failure in Geneva was a blow for those who hope the world can find consensus to solve global problems that affect everyone.

"We have missed a chance to seal the first global pact of a reshaped world order," said Peter Mandelson. "We would all have been winners from a Doha deal. Without one we all lose."

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