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Cancun and the Transatlantic Community Plus

By Griffin W. Huschke, Mayme and Herb Frank Research Fellow

It seems that reading about failures of the annual UN Conference on Climate Change has become a regular December tradition like ugly holiday sweaters, but there’s a lot to like about Friday’s agreement from Cancun, Mexico.  Sure, negotiators didn’t come to a concrete agreement, but the conference wasn’t a total embarrassment for world leaders, and international agreements on the environment usually need a running start.  You gotta have the Vienna Convention before the Montreal Protocol, and COP 16 is moving negotiators in the right direction.  And a major reason the negotiations moved anywhere is because of the determination of Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa, whose possibly divine diplomatic wrangling helped pass the agreement just before time expired.

Indeed, Secretary Espinosa’s determination to broker a deal at last week’s meetings is a great example of why transatlantic countries need to cooperate with nations outside the community.  Transatlantic influence at these talks is pretty small because the COP meetings rely on consensus, and one state with an axe to grind can derail the entire process.  Also, the major stumbling block at past negotiations has been discord between rich and poor countries.  The Atlantic community is composed of wealthy states, and biased in the eyes of poorer countries, which see attempts to cap carbon emissions as the West undermining their economic growth.

In order to broker a fair compromise, transatlantic nations need neutral countries like Mexico to negotiate between developed and developing states.  Atlantic democracies weren’t much help when Bolivia tried to sabotage the agreement in the 11th hour, and we’ve seen what happens when the transatlantic community tires deal with developing countries without an intermediary.  But when the community agreed to work with Mexican Foreign Secretary Espinosa, they brokered an agreement that both rich and poor countries could agree on.

Yet, the need for greater cooperation among non-transatlantic countries doesn’t apply to just climate change.  There was a big push at last month’s NATO summit to deepen ties with countries outside of the alliance, and we’ve seen a similar move with the expansion of the G-8.  The transatlantic community is taking a more global view of security, finance, and climate change, and we’ve seen with this latest agreement that this process can yield more effective international agreements.

COP 17 (they grow up so fast!) will be held in Durban, South Africa, next December, and is certain to disappoint somebody.  But hopefully with greater cooperation between transatlantic democracies and developing countries, the process will continue to move forward.   And we can always look forward to some pretty interesting protests.


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