Developing Nations Derail Cophenhagen

I haven't been covering Copenhagen, because it has been abundantly clear to me from the beginning that nothing would be achieved.  Everyone's looking at the US . . . and the US Congress can't even deliver on pitifully small reduction targets.  Mostly, this always seemed like an opportunity to eat caviar and hobnob earnestly.

But there has been one interesting development: the continuing emergence of developing nations as a bargaining bloc.  This first became a major issue during the Doha round of WTO negotiations, which were essentially scuttled by developing nations banding together to refuse the things the developed countries wanted (financial services liberalization), and demand things the developed nations didn't want to give (deeper cuts in agricultural protections).  On the latter, at least, they certainly had the right of things.  The Bush administration went to the wall trying to get our farmers to agree, and (even more difficult), the European Union to go along--whatever else you say about the man, he really did fight the good fight for free trade.  But ultimately it was no good; Doha died.  The prospects for further trade liberalization over the next decade or so seem pretty dim.

Now we're seeing the same thing at Copenhagen.  Developing countries started the week by refusing to participate unless rich countries make deeper cuts.  Since China, the world's largest emitter, is involved, this is pretty much a deal breaker.  They've since rejoined the discussion after being promised that their concerns would be heard, but prospects seem pretty dim that they'll actually make a deal.

As someone who likes national self-determination on general principle, it's stirring to see developing nations break with the previous tradition of unrealistic promises in exchange for handouts.  On the other hand, this does not bode well for multilateralism.  A bloc of 135 countries is an unwieldy negotiating partner, and while they have the power to demand huge concessions from the developed nations, that does not actually imply the power to secure them.