Do your homework

First published in Idea Festival’s blog.

Can climate diplomats save the world? The short answer is no. As I still have more than 200 words left, I might as well elaborate a bit.

For a long time we Europeans believed that international negotiations could deliver a strong and binding climate regime. National emission targets would be set top-down at the international level.

If countries’ proposals were not good enough, the peer pressure and sleepless nights at negotiations would persuade them to do better. The result would be a rapid reduction in global emissions.

The Americans and the Chinese have had a different paradigm. They believe in pledge and review – a bottom-up process in which countries adopt whatever emission targets they find domestically suitable and put them on the negotiating table.

If the national targets add up to global emission reductions required, great. If not, there is not much one can do. There is no power in the world to force the United States or China to take on commitments they do not want.

If countries are ready to commit internationally only what they feel appropriate domestically, then it is not really the negotiations that drive national climate policies. It is more the national policies that drive internationalnegotiations.

International negotiations can only be successful when the homework is done at the national level. Ambitious domestic climate policies contribute to a strong climate deal internationally. And negotiations can feed back to and encourage strong action at home.

And just perhaps save the world.

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