Saturday, December 19, 2009

No Deal at Copenhagen

You will read that an accord has been reached at Copenhagen and will hear President Obama, Gordon Brown and others say that “it is an important step, but there is more to do”. Don’t believe them.

After a long gruelling session lasting until the early hours of the morning, the UN Conference of the Parties meeting in Copenhagen simply “noted” the accord reached by several countries (US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa), with many countries deciding to reject it outright. There is no deal at Copenhagen.

Obama’s intervention has lowered the bar, stalled real development and made securing a deal more difficult. The accord reached by the five nations is not legally binding, sets no targets for emissions, allows India and China to increase their CO2 emissions, lets the US “off the hook” with a 3-4% cut in emissions on 1990 levels, weakens commitments previously made to transparency and verification of CO2 emissions reductions and commits some modest funds to developing countries ($10 billion a year from 2010) and suggests that, if there is a global agreement on binding emissions reductions, developing nations will seek (not offer or guarantee) funding of $100 billion annually to developing nations.

The five nations also committed to developing their national plans for emissions reduction such that the planet will not warm above 2C. This is also meaningless is the absence of a global agreement. It is also flying in the face of the G77 countries demand that the target be set at 1.5C, though the agreement indicated that the overall target will be reviewed again in 2016 when all of the signatories to yesterdays accord will be out of office.

The conference rejected a proposal to dramatically reduce deforestation in exchange for significant funding, following objections from countries which practice deforestation. This effectively killed the only positive development from the Copenhagen Summit which was a comprehensive and focused approach to sustainable forestry worldwide.

There will be another summit in 2010 in Mexico. While many thought that the date of this conference of the parties (the third in this round of talks) would be brought forward, no such plan has been announced.

The spin being given to this accord is remarkable. One would think something truly important had just happened, especially if one listened to Gordon Brown. Following an absurd offer that Britain would cut emissions by 42% by 2020 – an offer backed by no plan, no funds and no political will – Brown is now claiming a great deal of the credit for securing the accord in Copenhagen. When serious commentators and analysts start taking the deal to pieces, as they are now doing, he may want to distance himself rather than attach himself to the accord. It is so seriously flawed and means nothing in terms of climate change that it will come back to bite him. The Daily Express is already labelling the British Prime Minister a “climate change nut”.

Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, played his cards smartly. He was on hand, part of the final stages of the negotiations, not visible when the accord was announced and got back to Canada as quickly as possible. He will not be tainted by Copenhagen. While Canada is often accused of stalling and blocking negotiations, he at least was not a signatory to an accord which will come to be seen as a nonsense.

Some fifteen thousand delegates from over one hundred and ninety countries spent twelve long days together and we got nothing. This was their third meeting. It is time for a completely different approach to this issue. Holding another meeting in Mexico to get nowhere makes no sense, unless these meetings represent the ultimate foil for permitting business as usual, which is exactly what the accord reached by the five nations in Copenhagen permits the world to do.

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