The original goal of Copenhagen was a 192-country treaty that committed all nations to reduce carbon emissions. The much-scaled down goal that emerged in the weeks before the delegates arrived was a “political agreement” (not a treaty) that expressed a global consensus on the importance of reducing emissions. What we finally got was a political agreement signed by a handful of countries—as far as I can tell from the press reports, only the United States, China, India, South Africa, Brazil, and a “group of European nations.” The other 180-odd countries refused to sign the Accord, instead merely “taking note” of it in the final Copenhagen document. The Accord did no more than reiterate that climate change is a problem and nations should do something about it. The White House has declared victory, or success, or validation, or some such thing; if that is so, what is failure?
As I noted in a previous post, one lesson of the debacle was the impossibility of global governance understood in the conventional sense to mean that all countries have some say in the development of international law. In a recent book, I speculated about this possible effect of the fragmentation of nations—the number of countries have approximately tripled since World War II. More nations, I argued, imply less international law, at least, of the sort that can solve global-scale public goods problems. Copenhagen illustrates the dilemma—you can have climate mitigation or you can have global governance; you can’t have both.