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Monday, December 21, 2009

The Road from Copenhagen

The Copenhagen Summit was chaotic, at times absurd. The final accord fell far too short of global expectations. However, Copenhagen marks an essential new beginning upon which planetary stewardship can be built.

The big emitters, China and the United States of America, know what they must do to forestall further anthropogenic interference with the planet’s climate system. But they will not act because they are constrained by economic and political risks.

Was Copenhagen a total disaster? Trying to answer this question will undoubtedly generate more heat that light. But we certainly can embark on sense-making through examining what went wrong while also recognizing the achievements of Copenhagen.

Convening the heads of state meeting on climate in parallel with the United Nations negotiating process was at the heart of the chaos and confusion that marked the final days of the Copenhagen Summit. It was absolutely difficult to harmonize the formal United Nations negotiating process with the informal gathering involving more than 100 presidents and prime ministers.

The two-track nature of the Copenhagen Summit was problematic, contributing to a ludicrous denouement driven by political brinkmanship and economic interests. In the end Copenhagen was held to ransom by a powerful coalition. For instance, despite the support of a critical coalition of developed and developing countries, China vetoed an agreement on 50% reductions in global emissions by 2050 or on 80% reductions by developed countries.

Essentially, the United States, China, India, Brazil and South Africa struck a deal and presented the rest of the world with a fait accompli. The EU could have prevented this from becoming adopted as a global climate deal by refusing to endorse it. They did not. Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was enlisted as the champion of France and the United Kingdom as they sought African support for their finance proposal. Zenawi delivered the African Union. The deal was then presented to the greater body of countries on a take-it-or-leave-it basis by small the United States and China.

Questions must be asked about the structure and process of future climate negotiations. The principle that global environmental issues can and should be tackled on a co-operative international basis has taken a crippling blow. It is now debatable whether the UN framework convention on climate change is relevant, or whether powerful countries will unilaterally, or in a small group, decide by how much they are prepared to cut carbon emissions.

But Copenhagen did produce a new beginning with significant and positive outcomes. For instance, the Copenhagen Accord “recognizes” the scientific case for keeping temperature rises to no more than 2 degrees Celsius and that deep cuts in global emissions will be required. The accord recognizes that although socio-economic advancement is the overriding priority of developing countries, sustainable development and a low-emission development strategy are inextricably bound together.

The Copenhagen Accord also agrees that “developed countries shall provide adequate, predictable and sustainable financial resources, technology and capacity-building to support the implementation of adaptation action in developing countries”. Rich countries will finance the response to climate change; $10 billion a year over the next three years and rising to $100 billion dollars by 2020. This signals an unprecedented commitment to support mitigation and adaptation actions aimed at reducing vulnerability and building resilience in developing countries.

There is a commitment to establish the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund, an operating entity of the financial mechanism of the Convention, to support activities in developing countries related to mitigation including Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD-plus), adaptation, capacity building, technology development and transfer.

Delivery of reductions and financing by developed countries will be measured, reported and verified in accordance with existing and any further guidelines adopted by the Conference of the Parties, and will ensure that accounting of such targets and finance is rigorous, robust and transparent. Similarly, mitigation actions in developing countries that receive international support will be subject to international measurement, reporting and verification in accordance with guidelines adopted by the Conference of the Parties.

Copenhagen yielded no concrete and legally binding agreements. But Copenhagen marks a historic global consensus and represents real potential for progress from post Kyoto. Copenhagen has demonstrated the scale of the challenge we face, as well as what can and must be done through pragmatic coalitions.

The road from Copenhagen will be long. And we must set forth at the dawn of this new beginning.

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