37 Asian Minds Should Draft A New Climate Change Agreement from Scratch

Posted on December 15, 2011 by


Mitigation of impending climate change is one of humanity’s top priorities, and one which requires concerted and cooperative action spanning the whole planet.

Unfortunately, the UNFCCC framework, in my view, goes about the task in the wrong way. It postulates there is certain knowledge about science, technologies to be employed, and countries’ expected contributions. To achieve the anticipated results it imposes targets, legally binding universal obligations on all countries as well as sanctions for renitence. This “command and control” approach, which is inherently suspicious of the intentions of participating countries, focuses on overall and individual shortcomings rather than achievements and creates fertile terrain for mutual recriminations. That it underrates the role of adaptation would be an added concern.

Massive resource transfers from the “haves” to the “have nots” should assist poorer countries in coming to grips with the problem; implementing this is likely to create new sources of potential conflict.

In the end individuals and firms worldwide are called to identify with the goals and contribute voluntarily to the objectives of the agreement. Broad legitimacy is needed, based on deeper understanding on the issues involved. A castigatory approach is hardly conducive to higher virtue. The increasing skepticism surrounding the UNFCCC approach reflects in my view a deep-seated lack of legitimacy.

Overall, the “command and control” approach may be seen as “neo-colonialist”, as it reflects poorly the vision and aspirations of much of the non-Western world. Tweaking the UNFCCC framework is unlikely to bring much relief, and I’d expect negotiations to continue in a halfhearted way, with finger wagging, pointing, and recriminations dominating the procedures.

Given that climate change mitigation would be the first global treaty which should unite all countries around a common goal – rather than creating a balance of interests – the moment may have come to let other civilizations but the West propose a common approach to tackling what is to be a constant concern for the future. Each civilization has its own worldview and approach to collective action[1] – the West certainly has no monopoly on this.

Concretely, I’d invite China’s best minds as well as those of like-minded civilizations of the East to approach the issue with a view to creating a lasting collective framework of action towards mitigation of climate change – in accordance with their worldviews. I would not presume to set guideposts. On the contrary, I’d strongly recommend that existing approaches be discarded, yield to the thought experiment: “If we were in charge, how would WE do it?” This thought experiment could parallel the ongoing UNFCCC negotiating process with a view to a rendez-vous and evaluation in say 2013.

Zheng He successfully sailed the Indian Ocean with flat-bottomed junks ten times the size of the Western caravels, which plied the same waters a few decades later. May be what is needed today to get out of the current desultory impasse is a new kind of vessel – or worldview.

[1]              See e.g. NISBETT (2003): The geography of thought. How Asians and Westerners think differently – and why. N. Breadley, London, U.K.