from Energy, Security, and Climate and Energy Security and Climate Change Program

Trust and Climate Diplomacy

August 12, 2010

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Diplomacy and International Institutions

I was writing up some notes last week from a trip to India earlier this year when I came upon this from an interview with a senior official:

“No negotiator believes that the U.S. goal is to address climate change. They think they need to protect themselves.”

That’s undoubtedly an exaggeration, but there’s an important kernel of truth. If I’m a policymaker in India watching the U.S. climate debate and listening to U.S. rhetoric, I’m likely to conclude that, to the extent the United States wants to do anything, it’s because it thinks it’s going to create an economic juggernaut. Jobs that can’t be outsourced! Exports to the rest of the world!

Stop for a second, though, and think about how this sounds to someone in Delhi. Jobs that can’t be outsourced are jobs that can’t be outsourced to India. Exports to the rest of the world mean getting countries like India to buy more things from the United States.  Now please, India, won’t you help us achieve this noble goal?

And we wonder why others are a bit suspicious of us when they sit down at the negotiating table.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s the U.S. government’s job to foster a strong U.S. economy and boost employment. And I’m not saying that this dynamic is the main reason why countries like India are doing less that we’d like them to on climate. But it is a non-trivial part of the equation. And we’re often blind to it.