In The Field

Climate war game: Day one ends in surprise

Update: US responded to EU proposal, not Buetikofer as originally posted

6 p.m.

If the purpose of a war game is to reveal and explore alternate futures, then perhaps we have a winner here. Indeed, the year is 2015 and we now find ourselves in a world in which the United States is pushing for strong binding emissions limits on the rest of the world. By contrast, Europe appears to be pushing a more vague approach that focuses on tools, or “instruments,” including a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, that might be necessary if the existing (largely aspirational) targets are to be met.

Check out the response from the US team: “Do you have any specific targets?”

“Deciding targets without providing the instruments doesn’t do us a lot of service,” countered European delegate Reinhard Buetikofer (leader of the German Green Party). “We felt that since we have targets now, the real challenge is to provide the instruments.”

I could only scratch my head. Have the United States and Europe traded places politically in 2015? I asked UN Secretary General John Podesta (again, of Bill Clinton/Center for American Progress fame) if it was my imagination. He laughed. “The EU may have learned from bitter experience that when they take on these commitments, they are out in front of the parade and nobody is following.”

Buetikofer was a bit more cautious in his assessment of the situation. He pointed out that Europe, in 2015, is closer to meeting its targets than anybody else, and he questioned the value of new targets given the ongoing failure to meet previous targets.

Make of all that what you will.

The surprise of the day was without a doubt India’s proposal to take on mandatory cuts. Or was it? I talked to an inside source, and he pointed out that at one point somebody on the India team said something that nobody understood about “per-capita” something or other when talking about the emissions reductions.

Per-capita, of course, tends to be code for vastly increasing energy use in the developing world. And fair enough, why should we in the West live in luxury while India tightens its belt? But the question remains: What, exactly, did India propose? “We’ll have to check on that,” the source told me.

He promised to report back tomorrow, when we’ll see if the delegates can pull all of this together into some kind of a new global climate agreement. Stay tuned.

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