The Copenhagen leadership challenge - RSA

The Copenhagen leadership challenge


  • Climate change

I am brewing a post – or maybe a series of posts – on ‘five mega trends in public services for the 2010s’. But often when I write about public services I get few if any responses so I need to find a way of making my great thoughts engaging.

While I am working on this, just a couple of brief comments on Copenhagen. First, do other people share my view that the worst outcome would be a weak statement written to save face but lacking the specificity or commitment to drive real change? Some say that even something like this would be worthwhile because it ‘maintains momentum’. But given how carbon emissions have kept rising since Kyoto, the danger is surely that the public think something has been done and the media focus moves on; meanwhile countries continue to fail to act. At least if the whole thing broke down there would be a public outcry and demand for new leadership.

Second, I wonder whether we might inspire our leaders to aim higher if we were more upbeat about what a real deal would mean. Every politician wants their place in history and if the 190-odd leaders all signed up to an ambitious, just and binding and global action they would all deserve that place. It would be a genuinely inspiring moment in human history. Just as there are monuments all round the world listing those who have died in war so – if a powerful treaty is agreed - there should be monuments listing those who made it happen.

Seeing hard challenges as opportunities for inspired leadership is very much an Obama schtick, so maybe the American President – who urgently needs some evidence that he can be effective on the global stage – will make all the difference. Ultimately, this is about the US President being willing to trade the risk that he is seen at home as having given up too much for the opportunity for the US to be seen as providing progressive global leadership. And this is why the concerted and successful attempt by the US populist right to rubbish the theory of man-made climate change is so dangerous. Obama needs to feel he can say to his people ‘this was a sacrifice worth making’ but he knows that he will face a loud constituency arguing that no sacrifices needed to be made at all.

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