The lineaments of the new world order were discernible last week in Chantilly, Va., though not in the Persian Gulf. Here, governments are taking the first difficult steps to negotiate a global regime limiting emissions of greenhouse gases.
Delegations from 130 countries are present, more than triple the number involved in even a small way in the war. More important, the turnout dwarfs the handful of nations that played a significant role early in prior global environmental negotiations. Countries whose environmental agency is two people and a typewriter are in attendance. A message has gotten through: "Your country's future is at stake -- be there." The delegate roster is an unmistakable sign that the notion of global security is no longer theoretical.
The threat posed by global warming typifies the security risks the new order must grapple with. These threats come without enemies to personify the danger and galvanize political will. If there is an enemy, it is only us. They are threats to which national borders are largely irrelevant. The line on the map that represents the border of Kuwait means nothing when the risk arrives by air, not airplane. And unlike war, cold or hot, these threats pose an invisible, gradually accumulating, long-term risk whose outbreak cannot even be marked, even though their eventual results may be devastating.
These threats also come riddled with uncertainties. Most military threats are straightforward by comparison. In the case of greenhouse warming, how much will average global climate warm in response to a doubling of carbon dioxide? Two degrees (Centigrade) may be quite tolerable. Five degrees may be catastrophic. Two degrees may be worse than we think. How fast will climate change? What effects have we not yet imagined? How much will it cost to counter the threat? How is the threat progressing? Detection and monitoring are vastly more difficult than spying on missile sites or even chemical weapons plants. Intelligence collection, risk assessment, contingency planning, budget projection and all the other elements of a national response to a traditional threat will be far more complex.
We have gone to war in the Gulf partly in defense of national sovereignty -- the right of a country to freedom from outside interference. Meanwhile, climate change, other environmental trends and growing economic interdependence are undermining sovereignty in ways we cannot restore. The United Nations charter may still forbid outside interference in the domestic affairs of member states, but unequivocally "domestic" concerns are becoming an endangered species. At Chantilly, U.S. energy policy, which causes us to emit more carbon dioxide than the rest of the Group of Seven combined, is emphatically not viewed as solely a U.S. domestic affair. Tariffs and subsidies, health policies and human rights concerns, as well as the panoply of environmental matters, are all metamorphosing into the stuff offoreign policy. The new world order must emerge through the mind-set and amid the tensions of the old.
Governments today are far more experienced in conflict than in cooperation. Neither the institutions nor the intellectual tools for coping with the new concerns are at hand. The climate control regime, for example, must somehow account for the fact that the world's industrialized countries built their economic growth on unrestricted use of nature's global waste sink, whereas now, as the developing countries face a much steeper climb out of poverty, access to that resource must be rationed. What is a just solution? A very old order echoes in the demands that developed nations pay "ecological reparations." The more recent, fruitless conflicts over the New International Economic Order are not far from the argument that the "survival emissions" of the poor should be treated differently in the new regime from the "luxury emissions" of the rich.
Despite all these difficulties and the alien terrain for diplomats, the advent of negotiations on a greenhouse control regime has been breathtakingly swift. One reason events have moved so fast is that that there is a powerful new player on the international scene.
Public opinion has not been a major influence in national security affairs heretofore. Indeed, American presidents so often come to prefer foreign to domestic policy because secrecy and a tradition of bipartisanship in foreign affairs insulate them from the pulls and tugs of organized public opinion. In the new world order, public opinion will make itself felt not just as domestic opinion but sometimes as a body of international public opinion. Eventually, it will even be at the negotiating table, represented by nongovernmental organizations whose operatives swarm around the fringes of the Chantilly meeting and by international business.
As if to emphasize the stakes in this most difficult of international undertakings, fate arranged that the climate talks would open on the hottest Feb. 4 on record -- a day when the temperature in Washington reached 70
Fahrenheit, 26 degrees above normal. The news was full of California's frantic scramble to respond to a January that brought 15 percent of normal rainfall after five years of deepening drought, a situation that could, in the words of one official, bring growth in the world's fifth largest economy to "a screeching halt."
Halfway through the meeting, it is still too early to predict the outcome. The negotiations may stall. The greenhouse threat might turn out to be less comprehensive than it now appears. Or we may someday look back and see Chantilly in the same light we now see Bretton Woods, as one of the places where the rules of a new order were born.
The writer, vice president of World Resources Institute, writes this column independently for The Post.