Profile: Professor Anthony Giddens
“We have to innovate in international relations at this point if we are successfully to come to terms with climate change and hold the global average temperature increase to 2C”. Professor Anthony Giddens proposes that the countries that worked together to reach the Copenhagen Accord should continue to act, even outside the UN framework, “because it recognises core geopolitical realities and works with, rather than against, them”.
Professor Anthony Giddens in The Australian (12 January 2010):
EVEN if they degenerated into squabbling, the climate-change meetings in Copenhagen in December were one of the signal events of 2009. They were supposed to establish a global deal to which all participant countries would sign up. It didn’t happen. The Copenhagen Accord, a brief statement of principles and commitments, produced by a small cluster of states, was the only tangible output of the negotiations.
Two main responses came from commentators in the immediate aftermath. Some argued along the lines of: Well, it falls far short of what we hoped for, but we have to look for the positives and make the best of a bad job. Others – a large majority – declared the outcome a catastrophe.
My reaction, different from both, is that the world might have inadvertently stumbled on the most hopeful way of starting to counter climate change rather than just talking about doing so. It is not a route that will necessarily command general approval, and the UN to some extent is sidelined. Yet it is one that carries promise, because it recognises core geopolitical realities and works with, rather than against, them.
The countries that met to establish the accord were the US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa. Leaving aside South Africa, the others are the three biggest beasts of the developing world in terms of greenhouse-gas emissions, plus the most polluting industrialised country. A diversity of other states has indicated a willingness to come on board.
We have to innovate in international relations at this point if we are successfully to come to terms with climate change and hold the global average temperature increase to 2C. The accord is only a beginning, but it can be built upon, and in principle far more rapidly than would have been possible with the cumbersome scenario envisaged at Copenhagen. If the agreement can be a given a robust form in short order, it could help break the logjam in which each nation or group of nations is waiting for others to take the lead.
Much will depend on how solid and practical are the proposals that, according to the terms of the accord, the industrial countries will present by January 31 for cutting their rates of emissions. The plans must be plausible and robust, not just a wish list.
For all their rhetoric, most have accomplished rather little so far; the rest of the world is right to be unimpressed. At the same date, developing countries wishing to accept the accord will be required to flesh out their plans for cutting emissions. For the first time, some sort of sanctioning mechanism will be established. Proposed action in developing countries funded by money from the richer ones will be internationally monitored.
What kind of framework might emerge from this in the short and medium terms? Will it mean that the smaller and poorer countries will suffer as the larger ones progress? I don’t think it necessarily will, at least if the overall architecture is right, and if they organise to represent their specific concerns.
What happened with the World Trade Organisation can provide useful hints. Anticipating what would happen at Copenhagen, I developed a series of proposals along these lines in my book The Politics of Climate Change, published nine months ago. Failure to conclude a universal set of trading agreements has spawned a variety of measures and organisations. The diversity of groups and regions involved has proved as much a source of strength as of weakness. The same could be true in the case of climate change.
If successfully elaborated over the next few months, the accord can provide an anchoring agreement, but we will also need a diversity of bilateral and regional agreements and coalitions of the willing. The US and China must continue to negotiate bilaterally, whatever more general agreements they commit themselves to.
Let’s suppose that 190 countries had reached a binding consensus in Copenhagen, but that the two left out were the US and China. The agreed-upon framework wouldn’t have been of much value, since these states between them contribute more than 40 per cent of total greenhouse-gas emissions. Much better, as it were, to start with these two nations, together with the other big emitters, and ensure they are prepared to work with one another in a serious and committed way.
There should be a G3 as well. The European Union found itself sidelined at Copenhagen, because it does not speak with one voice and could not deliver the rapid decision-making that had to take place late in the negotiations to get anything from them at all.
Yet with 550 million citizens, it has to have a key, and hopefully vanguard, role. The initiators of the accord bypassed the unhealthy divide that has arisen between the developed and the developing countries, in which each is seen as a homogeneous bloc; this emphasis must continue. The 20 largest polluters (which include several large developing nations) have contributed almost 90 per cent of total emissions; they too should be getting together regularly. Plenty of other new departures could be thought of. There are obvious dangers in an approach that does not focus on getting all nations to sign up to a common template. Yet at this point there is no alternative. Such an emphasis does not signal the demise of multilateralism, since many forms of co-operation will need to be initiated and furthered.
Anthony Giddens is a former director of the London School of Economics and a member of the advisory board of The Centre for the Study of Global Governance, London.
He was educated at the University of Hull and the London School of Economics. At the LSE, he wrote a dissertation on ‘Sport and Society in Contemporary Britain’. He has taught at the University of Leicester and subsequently at Cambridge, where he was Professor of Sociology. From 1997 to 2003 he was Director of the LSE. He is currently a Life Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge. He was made a Life Peer in May 2004. He has honorary degrees from 15 universities. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Science and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He was the BBC Reith Lecturer in 1999. His books have been translated into some forty languages. He has sat on the board of various public organisations, including the Institute of Public Policy Research.
Giddens’s impact upon politics has been profound. His advice has been sought by political leaders from Asia, Latin America and Australia, as well as from the US and Europe. He has had a major impact upon the evolution of New Labour in the UK. He took part in the original Blair-Clinton dialogues from 1997 onwards.