By the second-to-last day at the Bonn talks, a few tensions have emerged.
First, there’s an interesting tension between transparency and secrecy.
On the one hand, we at the Adopt-a-Negotiator project are firmly committed to transparency. We really believe that by sharing information and engaging citizens, we can have a positive impact on an important policy process.
At the same time, sometimes there can be a need for more closed proceedings. A member of an environmental NGO told us that while she wants to push for as much transparency as possible, if everything was completely open, “nothing would get done,” because governments could never frankly exchange views.
I struggle with this, and though I believe there is room for some work that is not open to the media, the whole proceedings need more transparency. After all, decisions are being made that will affect literally all of our lives.
Another tension we sense in the US negotiating team is scale of ambition vs. political pragmatism and role definitions. Many, though not all, of the members of the US team (and though led by State, there are are also great people from other agencies – EPA and US Agency for International Development, to name a few) believe deeply we need to take serious action on climate change.
For those on the team who think we need more aggressive action than what the US is currently offering, there are a few things holding them back. The roles of the negotiators are defined here – they are not free agents. They are here to support US government policy developed at a high level. This operates both professionally, because breaking from the mandate is simply not tolerated, and personally, with the viewpoint that their proper role is to support American success at the talks. This means they can only push so far, and in specific ways on narrow issues.
In addition, because unlike in most other countries, for us to make treaties with legally binding requirements, congress must pass legislation. This means that negotiators at the highest level (i.e. Stern and Pershing) can only develop fairly specific policy – much has to come from domestic legislation (probably Waxman/Markey).
Of course, the higher in the hierarchy the negotiator is, the more he or she can push back in policy discussions with the administration, who can then intervene with congress. For example, if Jonathan Pershing and Todd Stern decide that the US is simply not offering enough for realistic chances of getting a deal, they will tell Obama, and he will talk with congressional leaders.
The other major limiting factor is the perception of what is politically pragmatic. As I mentioned before, Pershing took the lead on Kyoto, only to watch it fail at home. So there is very serious attention paid to what will play at home with voters. This means, for example, that serious money for China to be used in adaptation or for energy technologies is essentially out of the question.
These are some of the constraints we’re dealing with here. Thoughts on how to manage them?