Can we bribe nations at Copenhagen like the EU is trying to with their emissions cuts?



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    Your question was asked before the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen got underway in December, but it’s over now, and as we’ve seen even bribery did not succeed in producing an international agreement that meets the approval of many. While an accord was reached among the major CO2 producing nations, including the United States, it did not provide “hard targets” for CO2 emissions, and it lacks an enforcement mechanism. Even President Obama admitted the Copenhagen accord didn’t go far enough. Your question asks whether some form of aggressive negotiation–I suppose “bribery” would be apposite in certain situations–might have changed this outcome. This presupposes that nations have anything meaningful to bribe each other with. What, for example, could a poor island nation like Kiribati, which is facing literal geographic extinction due to rising sea levels, offer the United States to motivate it to agree to meaningful CO2 emission targets, at all the economic and political cost that commitment would entail? More coconuts? Cheap vacation airfares? Conversely, even among the large nations, the horse-trading is necessarily limited. Both the USA and China have vast economic resources and much political clout in the world, and it’s at least conceivable that the two nations could reach some mutual accord, perhaps involving trade or economic incentives, to make those painful cuts in CO2 emissions. But even assuming such a deal is made, President Obama has to go back to the voters in 2012 and convince them that the potential economic losses (including jobs) from implementing the targets are necessary, and even Wen Jiabao has to go back to the Communist Party of China and explain why factory production must be curtailed by X% over the next 5 years to meet those goals. I’m not sure “bribery” is any more or less cogent than any other means to foster international agreements, but if you don’t have a lot to give away at the negotiating table in the first place, chances are you aren’t going to come away with much either.

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