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David F. Hales
President, College of the Atlantic

David F. Hales

David F. Hales is the president of the College of the Atlantic in Maine, which in 2007 became the first U.S. higher education institution to achieve carbon neutrality. ALL POSTS

Yesterday is not the issue; tomorrow is.

It makes no difference who is to blame for yesterday; the issue is who will accept responsibility for tomorrow.

Even if there were a practical purpose to "fixing blame" there would be very few not on the list. There are precious few clean hands or wise heads in this history of missed opportunities and political misjudgments. At the core of the complex and difficult negotiations facing the countries of the world today is the flawed structure of the Berlin Mandate of 1993, a fateful decision that exempted developing countries from additional binding obligations.

We knew then that newly industrializing countries, particularly China and India, were well on their way to being major emitters of greenhouse gases. The Mandate set up ideal conditions for opponents of an effective, legally-binding regime which would achieve a sustainable balance of greenhouse gas concentrations. It was a perfect trap for both the United States and China, and it imprisoned people of good will in both countries.

Which leaders can make a difference now is the far more important question. There are victories still to be won in Copenhagen, and "what ifs" are just another form of "hot air".

The United States and China face a priceless opportunity. Together, the two countries can chart a course far different from the "common but differentiated responsibilities" pathway laid out by the Berlin Mandate.

A "political" agreement built on the common interest of both countries is far more important than an ostensibly legally-binding agreement that would have fallen far short of achieving the reductions necessary to stabilize the world's climate. It is conceivable that the discussions between Obama and Hu signal the first serious recognition by either country that the time for playing games is over.

The only pathway to climate safety is one of shared responsibility, and step one is up to China and the United States.

By David F. Hales  |  November 18, 2009; 8:51 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: America won't go to Copenhagen empty handed | Next: Plenty of blame to go around

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