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Published on August 21st, 2009 | by Guest Contributor


Hillary Clinton Has Some Advice for Developing Countries

“Our argument to China and India is: Yes, you have a right to develop and we want you to develop, and in fact, we admire your commitment to eradicating poverty and we want to help you do that. But you can’t do it the way we did it, because you will suffer consequences that will undermine your development,” said Clinton in a recent interview with CNN‘s Fareed Zakaria.

Photo Credit: NRBelexU.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

As U.S. Secretary of State, Clinton is the highest-ranking cabinet member and is responsible for foreign affairs. In the months leading up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference Copenhagen 2009 in December, foreign relations has a lot to do with climate change, and Hillary Clinton is embracing that role. Developing nations including India and China argue that they should not have binding emissions cuts because it may harm their economic growth.

Clinton said: “I think we’re in the beginning of the hard bargaining and the sorting out. What we want them to do is not match us in absolute terms, but have reductions from business as usual; given the technological advances, don’t repeat our mistakes.”

Her perspective has wide-ranging implications- not repeating the mistakes of youth is a constant theme for the older and wiser throughout time. Who hasn’t heard the “When I was your age” or “If I were you…” or “You’ll understand when you’re older…” kind of advice that often amounts to someone older giving you some advice on how to live. The advice, typically and in Clinton’s case, often revolves around avoiding a mistake.

“I mean, to be fair to us, for 150 years, the industrial revolution, we didn’t really get it. We knew that you couldn’t breathe until you had to clean up the air for that purpose, but we didn’t understand the connection with climate. We have no excuses left now.”

If I knew then what I know now… If you’re like me, most advice goes in one ear and out the other. The advice I listen to is from people I respect, and respect for some specific piece of advice they give is usually based on if they are following it themselves and if I believe they have my best interests at heart.

Here is my take on Clinton’s advice along those lines:

1. Respect: Do developing nations respect the U.S.? That’s tough- my take is that developing nations like China and India want to be where the U.S. is and respect the fact that the United States is there, but as far as respecting U.S. advice, I haven’t seen much in the news to suggest it.

2. Is the U.S. following our own advice? Not really. While the U.S. is making strides toward new climate change legislation, promoting green jobs and creating a cap and trade market with other North American countries, there is little to back up Clinton’s assertion that…

3. Does the U.S. have China and India’s best interests at heart? Doubtful. Politics is about getting what you want by giving the other players enough of what they want and still coming out ahead- unless the coming Copenhagen summit and climate change issues have changed the core of politics, it’s hard to believe that the U.S. has anyone’s best interests at heart but our own.

Responsibility and commitments for the future will be at the core of the Copenhagen debates. As in any crisis situation, though, both sides need to be heard, and Clinton made room in her interview to acknowledge what she thinks China and India are doing right.

“I actually think if you look at China, which has done a lot more on renewable and a lot more on some of the technology than they are given credit for, and in some respects, even more than we’ve done to date; if you look at India, putting USD 3 billion into reforestation out of their budget, and you ask, ‘Well, that’s not what we’re doing’.”

Listening and acknowledging- there will need to be as much of that as there is advice in the months leading up to Copenhagen.

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