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Dine and Dash?

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cop16 attendees2.jpgBY Peter Schmitt
German/Environmental Science, Policy, and Management
University of Minnesota - Twin Cities '11

This may sound familiar for some of you: you find yourself at the end of a fine dinner, sitting across the table from a wonderfully charming, polite, and visually appealing man or woman. After you share a sweet dessert, gazing into one another's eyes, the first pivotal moment of the evening comes: the bill. You both take a quick glance at the black leather sleeve placed on the table without making any sudden move. Who is going to pay? Showing historic chivalry, should the man reach for the bill? Or should the woman assert her independence and pick up the tab? Maybe, since it's a first date, you should go Dutch? Perhaps your wallet is more of a paperweight than a means of paying and it is time for an unseemly dine-and-dash? You take another long look across the table. What now?

This problem is one of the cornerstones of the negotiations here in Cancun at the COP 16 Global Climate Change meetings. Almost every country has made a hopeful, well-rehearsed opening statement pledging their country to continued cooperation with the climate negotiations. Apart from these hopeful opening words, though, these statements have related to who will be responsible for the bill that is incurred by working to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Will there be a per capita approach? Egalitarian? Per-ton payments?

Going back to the dinner table, developing countries are looking for historical chivalry to pay the bill, in this case meaning that the developed countries will pick up the bill because they were large contributors to historical emissions (because they ordered the shrimp cocktail and second bottle of wine, so to speak). Developed countries, on the other hand, are more interested in going Dutch to ensure that developing countries contribute in some way to the solution, even if it means issuing loans for now (economic considerations need to be made because developed countries need to save some of their money for the second date).
As you are starting to see, it is no longer just you and your date. Now, at COP 16, it is the United States and all of the 193 other countries sitting at the table. Where a small, leather sleeve held the bill before, an endless stack of bills and budgetary requests is up to the ceiling. Everybody is looking left and right, seeing who will make the move to pick up the bill. Nobody seems to want to move. A few of the bills are falling off the top of the pile and are being scooped up by the European Union, Japan, and many other nations, including the United States, but the staggering pile still largely remains. What happens next? Will somebody step up? Do we keep ordering so that the bill does not come until later? Or is this the part of the evening where people slowly start sneaking out the front door one at a time without paying? This will be an interesting scene over the next days and will be pivotal to the success of Global Climate Change legislation. "Check, please!"

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