Much has already been written (and much more will be written) about how the result of the negotiations boiled down to a dialogue between China and the United States, though this was something that longtime observers had already been saying was the case, months before CoP-15. The constellation of the instantly-famous eleventh-hour meeting between Wen, Zuma, Lula, and Singh (the heads of state for China, South Africa, Brazil and India respectively), into which Obama barged uninvited to make the final deal, also communicates something all by itself. The absence of any European country from the conversation that ultimately mattered most – not to mention the absence of Russia, Japan, and all the other countries — was, to say the least, widely noticed. It is the height of understatement to note that in the end, no one can accuse the European nations, among them the world’s former colonial powers, of imposing their will on the conference’s outcome.
While those closing, dramatic moments in Copenhagen were definitive and emblematic, the process leading up to them was already quite revealing. Many complaints have been heard (and will be heard) about the CoP-15 process, the delays, the procedural wrangling. Strangely, I found it all a sign of progress — at least, from the standpoint of equity and democracy in global governance. The CoP-15 process reminded of nothing so much as the U.S. Senate, where all U.S. states have equal representation, regardless of their size, population, or wealth, and every Senator has an equal capacity to disrupt or smooth the proceedings with filibusters or smart behind-the-scenes deal-making. This makes for challenges when trying to take tough decisions, but it is, in purely political terms, highly democratic. (The UNFCCC goes one better and operates by consensus, meaning that every nation’s “vote” is equally powerful, at least in theory.)
I disagree on certain points – I wouldn’t characterize the senate as “highly democratic,” nor would I go so far as to say that CoP-15 worked like the senate. But this is an interesting take on what’s going on, and a worthwhile reframing of what’s going on.