The only way President Obama is likely to secure a global deal on climate change this year is by adopting a policy of "coercion," which likely would plunge the U.S. into wider conflict with the developing world, according to a report issued Thursday by the conservative Manhattan Institute.
The report, "Leading Nowhere: The Futility and Farce of Global Climate Negotiations," concludes that no agreement will be reached at the United Nations climate conference in December in Paris without setting firm steps to hold developing countries accountable.
The report reaches that conclusion based on a review of the commitments that developing countries such as China, India and Brazil have made in the run-up to the conference.
It finds that any lasting agreement is impossible because developing countries are not willing to agree to anything that would undermine their economic growth, making strict emission cuts a political non-starter.
The goal of the negotiations cannot be achieved, the study says. One outcome, based on "collective action," foresees all parties pledging "to take costly action" to reduce emissions. The report says that is not likely, which leads to the second option for reaching an agreement: "compensation."
Compensation essentially means paying off developing nations "to secure their agreement to the necessary action" to reduce emissions and the effects of climate change. That has been a main sticking point in reaching an agreement on the road to Paris, where a $10 billion-a-year fund to help developing nations cope with climate change could bring the deal to a screeching halt, say several U.N. officials.
Recent discussions in Germany on the fund have been confounded by a number of countries, including the U.S., that have been criticized for slow-walking agreement on their contributions to the fund in the run-up to final negotiations that start Nov. 30. French President Francois Hollande said last month that the countries' lack of agreement presents "a risk of failure" for the Paris talks, although he said more recently that there has been some improvement.
Compensation is a nonstarter, the report says, because no amount of money being transferred from the developed world to developing nations will likely be enough.
"Fundamental economic and political challenges suggest that there is no plausible path to an agreement premised on collective action or compensation: developing nations that must bear the brunt of emissions reductions in any successful scenario cannot achieve those reductions while pursuing rapid economic growth," the study says.
It adds that "developed nations cannot sufficiently compensate developing ones for foregoing such growth." It says the "evidence from recent negotiations, as well as preparations for the next round of talks, reinforces this conclusion."
The third option, "coercion," has not been given enough thought, the report finds. Coercion entails the developing countries taking punitive steps against developing countries if they do not take actions to reduce their emissions. The report says such a deal would be comparable to the nuclear deal with Iran. Such a deal would have to include an elaborate array of threatened sanctions as a means of complying.
"This tactic also secures surrenders at the end of wars. Proponents of the recent Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for Iran's nuclear program argue that economic sanctions helped produce Iran's concessions," the report reads.
A similar situation arose in the 1980s when developed nations took steps against apartheid in South Africa by instituting sanctions until the country's policy of racial segregation was changed, according to the report.
"No group of nations appears prepared to employ the [coercion] approach and risk subsequent conflict," even though the report says the coercion approach is the only one that has a chance of working.
Only two outcomes appear to be "realistic: a coercive agreement to restrict growth in the developing world; or no substantive agreement and only the hope that future technological innovation someday makes action palatable to developing nations."
Any deal, no matter how it reads on paper, will likely be "ineffectual."
Instead, it recommends that Congress take immediate steps to "pass a resolution pre-emptively rejecting any agreement that omits enforceable developing-nation commitments to emissions reductions or that transfers substantial wealth to the developing world."
"Constraining the options in Paris to either a genuine and enforceable agreement, or no agreement, will impose a valuable, clarifying effect on the future of international climate policy."