The Copenhagen Summit is a crucial date for the international community, whose success or failure will determine the future possibilities of global cooperation against climate change. This date is also a challenge for Obama in light of his very ambitious environment. Yet, Obama will have to face serious challenges before an agreement is reached. Most importantly, he will have to restore trust with the EU and secure its cooperation, to stand united against more skeptical countries; the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China).
It does without dispute that since the 1990s, the US has often been at odds with the international community on climate change, which resulted in its estrangement. In the US, the reality of global warming and the idea that securing sustainable development could be a synonym for economic prosperity has been more contested than embraced from various politicians and scholars. Obama's oratory qualities will not be enough to change the trend, and some remedial education will have to be provided. For instance, Obama could use the television to communicate the danger of climate change to the American public and hence, plant the seed for changing the attitude towards the US’s environment policy. Likewise, he will have to secure the cooperation of the US Congress, which —fearful of an adverse effect on the economy— has been reluctant to adopt climate change measures. Despite the fact that Congress did not propose significant amendment of the recent recovery package, turning Congress into pro-environment will pose as a significant challenge.
On the international stage, the lack of collective action has been largely evident and the US carries part of the blame for the inaction. But it is to benefit of US credibility to initiate international negotiations with legislative accomplishments. Convincing the EU to cooperate will not be a problem as the EU has for some time been longing for this. Joint action between the EU and the US, will encourage cooperative attitudes from more countries. To create stronger links to the EU, the Obama administration should participate in the initiatives of the UNFCCC, to reverse the lack of progress which characterized the Poznan Conference, which took place in December 2009. For Copenhagen to succeed, negotiations have to be prepared long before the summit. This way, similar opinion can merge, and collective action and international cooperation will not once suffer a setback.
Beyond the necessary rapprochement with the EU, the US should be prepare for tough negotiation with the BRICs. Indeed, there is a significant division between the developed countries and this group of developing countries. Given the the fact that the economic development of the BRICs should not be impaired and that the developed countries are more responsible for greenhouse gases, the developing countries argue that they should participate differently to the global effort of controlling environmental degradation. Since any successful agreement will have to provide for these difference, it is vital that negotiations start now. The US and the EU will face a challenge in securing cooperative attitudes and will have to make compromises and contributions. For instance, the US and the EU might have to the transfer of technologies to help BRICs adjust. The key is mitigation commitments versus financial help. Further, the USA should keep reminding developing countries of the various climatic risks they will face in the coming years. In the case of China, while the recent UN report on pollution holds China accountable, the whole issue was quickly forgotten with the international scene doing nothing about it.
Therefore, to achieve success in Copenhagen, the US has to, as of today, initiate talks with the BRICs. The current financial crisis threatens the global economy, yet it should not become an excuse to postpone action. On the contrary, the crisis should be seen as a chance to start moving towards a new model of development.
Marek Kubista is a MA student at Sciences Po Paris.