Friday, December 18, 2009

The Copenhagen Debacle

President Obama, working with Gordon Brown and a collection of some twenty three other leaders, are working on a binding political agreement at Copenhagen.

Just pause for a moment and ask: what is a binding a political agreement? It is an agreement that is binding until the parties return home from Copenhagen. There is no such thing as a political agreement that people are bound to – ask Joe Lieberman or Jack Leighton. This is just one of the imaginative post-modern political rhetorical flourishes we are about to bear witness to.

Another is a repeat of the commitment, made by the G8, G20 and the Commonwealth, to hold the rise in global temperature to no more than 2C by the end of the century. This is already a problematic statement, since we are currently headed for 3.5C, according to a leaked briefing document from the UN, even after the 18% emissions reductions already committed to by nations attending the Copenhagen summit. Also problematic is that some one hundred and thirty nations have indicated that they will only sign up to a 1.5C commitment. Finally, such statements are only meaningful if there are significant, legally binding commitments to take specific action. No such statement is in the current draft document which Obama, Brown and others are trying to finalize.

The draft also includes the previously agreed proposal for industrialised countries to raise $10bn a year for three years to help poor countries adapt to climate change, between 2010 and 2012 and reaffirms the Clinton commitment to seek to raise $100bn a year by 2020. The document does not explain how this money will be raised, from whom, with what complete set of conditions and whether the $100 bn will be new money or existing money, repurposed for reparations and mitigation. Canada has already indicated that, while it will contribute, there will be no new funds.

There are no commitments in the draft document to any specific emissions targets – leaving it up to each country to determine its own path. The US, for example, will not sign up to a legally binding treaty which requires them to do anything on the emissions side. The US has committed to cut CO2 emissions by 3% on 1990 levels by 2020 – they were asked to commit to between 20% and 40% cuts. Obama may not even secure this modest cut in a bill in the Senate, which has postponed dealing with this issue until the spring or summer of 2010.

Also not clear is the mechanism for “transparency” (which just last week was being called verification). The document makes vague references to this requirement for accountability, presumably so as to create the wiggle room for China to sign up, even though they see any attempts at independent verification as a challenge to their sovereign rights to govern. What the document says is that developing countries should report on emissions reduction actions every two years, although other countries can ask for further evidence.

Environmental campaigners see all of this as a “nothing” agreement. There is nothing in this agreement that was not in existence before Copenhagen. Politicians know that this is pure chimera – seeking to create the illusion of something significant when in fact it is all fluff and mirrors. They will fly home later today and “spin” their achievement of a binding political agreement, which will unravel while they are in mid air. It is, in a word, a debacle.

(You can read the draft text here)

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