Sunday, December 20, 2009

Is One State, One Vote the Problem?

In my opinion (subject to being changed by evidence and argument), the two main obstacles to a more meaningful outcome at COP15 were the intransigence of the US Senate and the gridlock in the UN structure in Copenhagen. In the end, the final accord was not put to a vote of the plenary but simply "noted". The objections of many of the small countries to being dictated to by the large countries who came up with the accord is understandable, but they'd also blocked convergence of the process until the last minute accord was written up. As I've already opined, there may have been a willingness for more consensus at Copenhagen if the US had offered some real cuts in emissions from the 1990 baseline. Maybe even 25% from 2005 would have helped?

Some commentators are saying that this shows that the UN is not a useful forum to have discussions on emissions reductions and I agree. The large numbers/transaction costs problem is all too evident.

The UN and the US Senate have something in common: Both are based on one vote per country or state.* Is it democratic that California (population 36 million) and North Dakota (pop 500k) have the same number of votes in the US Senate? Is it democratic that China (pop 1.3 billion) and Tuvalu (pop 12k) have the same number of votes in the UN?

It's neither democratic nor efficient.

The idea of the US Senate was to put a check on the "tyranny of the majority". But does it have too much power? The UN also has a two tier structure with the Security Council being a little closer to population representation. But the Security Council has no role in climate negotiations.

Here in Australia, the Senate is also a problem. It often gives exceptional power to a one person party like Fielding. An actual or effectively (like the UK) unicameral parliament is not neccessarily ideal either... The UNFCCC though is the worst case scenario of just an upper house (and where every member has a veto vote!).

* There are two US senators per state but only one third of the senate is up for election every two years and so on a party basis it might as well be one delegate per state. Yes, senators don't really vote on party lines but I doubt that the two senators for a state, assuming that they are from the same party often vote differently to each other. 9 out of 50 states actually have a split delegation at the moment (though one of those is Vermont which means left-wing and more left-wing :))).

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