December 22, 2009Chinaclimate changeEconomyenvironmentForeign Affairsglobal economyIndiaPublic PolicyUnited NationsUnited States

Copenhagen gains

No deal is a good deal, but the real deal is geopolitical

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Back in October 2007, this blog had argued that because it requires unprecedented international co-operation at a time of geopolitical flux…we can’t expect meaningful international co-operation on tacking climate change”. Instead the immediate ray of hope is unilateral domestic action: states may be compelled to adopt sustainable environmental policies driven by a largely domestic cost-benefit analysis.”

This in the end, is what happened at the Copenhagen summit (see Saubhik Chakrabarti’s op-ed). That’s just as well, because it is not in India’s interests at this stage to be straitjacketed by an international treaty binding it not merely to carbon emission targets, but also to accept measurement and verification systems that would allow some unaccountable UN body to sit in judgement over India’s policies.

But the real gains were geopolitical—neither the United States nor China could have their way without India’s support. This fact was neither lost on the United States nor on China. The European Union is likely to realise it as soon as it recovers from its shock and sulk. Copenhagen, more than the G-20 summit earlier this year, provides an indication on how geopolitical decisions of the first half of the twenty-first century are likely to be made. If the UN system can accomodate the shift in geopolitical power, then those decisions are more likely to be made under the UN framework. If it cannot, the UN system will have to contend with faits accompli, much like the one in Copenhagen.

It would be dangerous for India to take this shift for granted—but despite the immensity of its national challenges, it must understand the strength of its own position in the international system and play its cards accordingly. Given the pace of the geopolitical shifts, it is imperative for India to strengthen and reform its diplomatic corps. In his interview with Pragati, Shashi Tharoor suggested that the government has approved an expansion of the foreign service and the implementation is in the hands of the civil service. Well, it had better hurry.



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