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We Just Saw the Future

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
December 20, 2009
The Daily Beast

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We have seen the future of international politics and it is Copenhagen. That future holds for monster issues like global warming as well as most bilateral negotiations. Too bad for all of us. The next decade portends at best small accomplishments in world diplomacy; at worst, stalemates festering into disasters, as well as torturous leadership days ahead for the United States, with China increasingly lying in wait as a successful spoiler.

For more than two weeks (it seemed much longer), 192 nations (it seemed like many more) met in Copenhagen under United Nations auspices on climate change. They produced not an elephant nor a donkey, but a three-page mouse. It wasn't a bad mouse. After much predictable wrangling, China, India, Brazil, South Africa, and the United States, led by a desperate President Barack Obama, prompted a nonbinding commitment to limit the increase in world temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by 2050. There was also talk of rich nations providing $100 billion over 10 years to help poor ones reduce their offending carbon emissions. Most diplomats were glad to go home, except those whose nations could be under water from rising sea levels in 10 or 15 years.

The moral was not that international conferences couldn't please everyone. That goes without saying. The moral was that no one seemed pleased, save for Mr. Obama's aides. Sure, Copenhagen was big, unwieldy, and more complicated than most international tugs of words.

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