The Climate “Partnership” with India

Obama’s climate diplomacy with India is constructive, modest — and realistic.

At least that’s what the White House is calling it.  (Okay, okay: technically, the White House calls it the “Green Partnership to Address Energy Security, Climate Change, and Food Security.”). 

Does it mean anything?  Maybe.

Essentially, it provides for some technical assistance to improve governance capacity and scientific knowledge, and some new initiatives to foster R & D.  It also takes the sensible position that the developed countries will adopt emissions reductions targets while the developing countries will adopt “nationally appropriate mitigation measures.”  The White House press release states in boldface that both President Obama and Prime Minister Singh “resolved to take significant mitigation actions and to stand by these commitments.” In other words, neither side is going to insist on the other doing the politically impossible.

Perhaps the most intriguing initiative in the whole thing appears to be a series of bilateral institutions: the US-India Climate Dialogue, the US-India Energy Dialogue, and the US-India Agriculture Dialogue.  Who knows what these things mean. 

But they reflect a realism in the Obama Administration’s climate diplomacy, namely, that putting all their eggs in the Kyoto/UNFCC basket makes little sense.  These institutions might mean nothing, but one could have said the same thing about the UNFCC at the beginning.  They open up space for the two nations to start discussing ways to take reciprocal and constructive steps to reduce emissions.

Early jobs for the Climate Dialogue might be the discussion of international intellectual property rules that inhibit technology transfer.  Another role might be fostering the creation of international sectoral agreements in certain high-emissions industries such as aluminum, steel, and cement.

Obama likes to play a long game, a pattern that the media has proved itself completely incapable of recognizing.  And with climate, the game will have to be very long.  He has damped down expectations for Copenhagen, and is beginning to build more solid foundations.  I hope we have enough time.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.