The new pecking order
"Multilateralism a la charte": What the Copenhagen Climate Summit tells us about the distribution of global power (Summary in English. German-language original linked below.) Copenhagen has shown the globe to be in transition. The multipolar world may be arriving, but so far multipolarity means chaos. In such moments of transition, it is not quite clear where power rests. For the past 15 years, climate policy has been the one issue in which Europe has led the world. In the end, the continent was too weak to succeed when it counted. In Copenhagen, Europe's concept of world order failed: a system that is multilateral, with equal rights for all countries; governed by a highly regulatory framework of rules, the principle of consensus, and a weak, rotating presidency; and with agreements about rights and responsibilities, burden-sharing, and quasi social-democratic wealth redistribution. In other words: the principles that govern the European Union. Europe is to weak for two reasons. First, much of the world does not share the continent's postmodern ideals. Second, Europe does not emit enough CO2 to matter. Odd as it may seem, emissions equal power in the climate world. That's why a new center of power emerged in Copenhagen. It consists of the club of new climate superpowers: the U.S. plus the BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India, and China). Unfortunately, this coalition of sinners is also the coalition of the unwilling. Any agreement between them will inevitably represent the lowest common denominator -- much to the disappointment of more ambitious regions like Europe or the group of Small Island States. The proposed system of mutual responsiblities and commitments has been replaced by a weak pledge-and-review process. It was China that prevented anything more ambitious. The country's Copenhagen obstructionism may represent the emergence of a new China on the world stage. The failure of the UN to produce a result will accelerate a process that is already well under way: the rise of changing groups of countries that get together to solve defined problems: the G-8, the G-8+5, the G-20, and the Major Economies Forum (MEF). The geometry of these groups may be changing. But in the absence of far reaching UN and UN security counsel reform, this "Multilateralism a la charte" (Richard Haass) may be the best the world can do during this time of transition. Click here to read the original in German.