Did Copenhagen talks open door to a new global order?

Four formerly developing countries took the reins during climate talks in Copenhagen: China, India, Brazil, and South Africa. It could herald a redistribution of global clout, some experts say.

By , Staff writer

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    A woman stops with her bicycle to look at the "Cool Globes" exhibition about combating global warming and climate change in the Kongens Nytorv area in the center of Copenhagen on December 19, 2009.
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Global climate talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, last month represented the latest sign that global power is shifting in ways that could give major developing countries a greater say in the global economic and environmental order.

That's the view several analysts offer as they take stock of December's dramatic talks in the Danish capital. The final deal was not struck among the more than 190 nations attending. Instead, much of it was crafted by the heads of state of about 30 countries, with key details ironed out at the last minute between the US, China, India, South Africa, and Brazil.

The geopolitical landscape is shifting, said former US Sen. Timothy Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation, based in Washington.

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"Copenhagen was a place where a lot of that played out," added Mr. Wirth, speaking at a United Nations Foundation conference on green investing in New York Thursday.

The Copenhagen 5

The key players in the last-minute horsetrading in Denmark contrast strikingly to those involved in last-minute talks over the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. In Kyoto, Japan, the core deal was struck between the US, Japan, and the European Union, explains Elliot Diringer, vice president for international strategies at the Pew Center for Global Climate Change in Arlington, Va.

The difference partly reflects the differences between the respective agreements. The Kyoto Protocol covers only industrial countries. The Copenhagen political agreement aims to include developing countries. While they aren't expected to take on absolute cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions against a given base year, the way industrial countries are – at least for now – they are expected to substantially reduce their emissions below a so-called business-as-usual trajectory.

But the difference also suggests that the economic gap between developed and developing countries – one measured as much by greenhouse-gas emissions as by standard economic statistics – has narrowed significantly.

At Copenhagen, five world leaders – four from countries outside the usual post-World War II power brokers – nailed down the final details. That "may encapsulate the kind of shift that we see" in other arenas, Mr. Diringer says.

One of those arenas involves international finance. During the current economic crisis, world leaders recharged the International Monetary Fund's fiscal aquifer with $1 trillion. Hard bargaining by countries such as China, India, and Brazil in the run-up to that decision translated into receiving a 47 percent share of the voting rights in the body.

"And that is likely to rise to 50 soon," said Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute, during a press briefing last week in Washington.

At a time when such institutions are becoming increasingly involved in a range of issues, including climate, "developing countries are demanding a much greater say," he said. That's more in line with what one might expect from a Copenhagen 5 than the G-8 group of industrial countries, he added.

The new world order?

It's not yet clear how solid any new alignment is, says Sarah Ladislaw, an energy and national-security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The China-India-Brazil-South Africa bloc at the climate talks did something new, she says. The four countries were not negotiating on behalf of the larger bloc of developing countries, as they might have in the past, she adds. Instead, they were negotiating based on their own interests as developing countries with rapidly growing economies.

That led to cracks in the firewall that the Kyoto pact establishes between developed to developing countries – a firewall that allows for no shift in status from developing nation to developed nation, says Ms. Ladislaw.

Further divisions appeared in the fragile developing-country bloc when the US offered to take part in setting up a $30 billion "fast start" fund over the next three years to help developing countries adapt to global warming and grow on a more climate-friendly path. Countries with the most to lose from global warming urged support – if sometimes grudgingly – for the final agreement, while five developing countries refused to support it.

The key question now is whether Copenhagen 5 become the nucleus for future climate negotiations.

"India always has a little bit of a problem playing second fiddle to China, and Brazil and South Africa have separate interests as well," Ladislaw says.

More will come clear after a meeting between the four coming up next month, she adds.

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