Learning from Copenhagen


Despite the hot air and elaborate promises being thrown about the before its start, Copenhagen has been classified by pretty much everybody as ‘a failure’.

Regardless of your belief in man-made climate change and the need for global government regulation, the shortcomings of the Copenhagen Summit reflect the problem of demanding people to unite behind one universal goal and solution.
Wealthy European nations tend to have governments keen to get involved in every area of public policy, and are therefore happy to sign up to large, attention-grabbing emission cuts and vocally drive their own moral agenda through conference.

However, most Americans are skeptical about man made global warming and are therefore unenthusiastic about emission cuts, while developing countries are strongly against any moves to constrain their development and economic growth with puritanical regulation. For its part, China wishes to show its political and economic muscle, and remind the rest of the world of the importance of its cooperation. The result of trying to mediate these conflicting interests is a vague, last minute Accord that absolutely nobody is satisfied with. It is obvious that you simply cannot reach a dramatic conclusion when different incentives don’t align.

The difficulties at Copenhagen could also be applied to national government. A political elite frequently has the incentive to delve further into public life, creating more legislation with the belief that society will be better off in the future because of it. However, these beliefs and solutions do not sit well with everybody, and attempts to impose them can lead to public outcry, dissent- or worse- a fall in the polls. In order to take onboard a range of opinions, a half-formed, middle of the road option is passed, which is unlikely to satisfy or improve the lives of anybody. Just look at some of New Labour and Cameron’s policies.

Governments and super-groups need to accept that there is a limit to the extent that groups with different interests and needs will co-operate with their own set of values and priorities. If their continual exercise of power does not lead to tyranny, it can lead to stagnation in a middle ground. By stepping back and letting smaller groups pursue their own ends, better progress and innovation is likely to come.