Copenhagen Wrap-Up

The Copenhagen climate change conference concluded Saturday after all nations in attendance agreed to "note" the conference document, titled the Copenhagen Accord.

A handful of the 192 nations present refused to approve the Accord, which was hammered out behind closed doors by President Barack Obama in cooperation with India, China, South Africa and Brazil. As a result, the conference voted to note which countries are in agreement and those that are not, including Tuvalu, Bolivia, Costa Rica and Venezuela.

The move sidesteps the United Nations requirment for unanimous agreement. Because the Accord is not legally binding, the notation is enough to create a political statement, which in effect, is all that the conference was able to achieve.

Let’s review what the Accord does and doesn’t include:

Goal: The Accord "recognizes" a need to keep global temperature  increases below 2 degrees celsius. However, it does not set mid or long-term emissions targets needed to achive the goal. Two annexes to the Accord will record the emissions pledges offered by developed and emerging nations. 

The final document also does not include any mention of halving global emissions by 2050 or considering a new target of 1.5 degrees celsius–two elements that were included in early drafts.

Funding: Perhaps the only concrete achievement of the accord is a section calling for $100 billion a year to fund mitigation and adaptation in poor nations by 2020. An annex records the pledges for "fast-start" financing for the years 2010-2012 from the EU, Japan and the U.S.

Timeline: A proposal attached to the Accord calls for a legally binding treaty to be implemented by the end of 2010. (Reuters reporting)

Forest Failure: Despite high hopes for an agreement on the reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) program, the final document puts nothing into place, though it does for the first time mention the need to provide incentives for reducing emission from deforestation and forest degradation."

In the end, Copenhagen was a disappointment for many environmentalists who had high hopes for an agreement of historical proportions. On the upside, the conference mobilized more than 100 heads of state and made clear that the common path forward is a low-carbon future.

On the downside, the two-year Bali roadmap seems like a waste of time. Aside from the fact that time was needed to bring a new US presidential administration into place, a six-month roadmap would have been plenty to reach the non-agreement attained in Copenhagen.

The emissions reduction pledges brought to the conference were an achievement, but none of them changed. Rather than serving as the starting point for the give-and-take of normal negotiating, they proved to be cut in stone. A Reuters report blames this on the negotiating process inherent to the United Nations and questions the organization’s role in future climate change efforts.

It is yet to be seen whether international efforts will move forward in the months ahead, or whether the fingerpointing will escalate. To a certain extent, developed nations have already said China and other developing nations are to blame for stubbornly clinging to the Kyoto Protocol. 

In his press conference, President Obama criticized this view saying developing nations should be "getting out of that mindset, and moving towards the position where everybody recognises that we all need to move together." (Guardian reporting)

However, many developing nations said the final Accord was the result of a negotiation process that repeatedly sidelined their interests.

 Lumumba Stanislaus Di-aping, spokesman for the developing world’s ‘Group of 77 and China’ said: "This represents the worst development in climate change negotiations in history. Gross violations have been committed today."

A New York Times analysis published Sunday examines how Copenhagen and the health care debate on Capitol Hill affect the Obama administration’s prospects for the new year. Read that coverage at the link below.

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