Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Trouble At Mill

(This post is dedicated to my friend and colleague David Oldroyd in Poland)

In Bradford in Yorkshire there is a saying “trouble at mill”, which harks back to the days when woolen mills were everywhere and were the major employer. When someone indicated that there “were trouble at mill”, significant disruption occurred and various communities suffered. If the Copenhagen summit can be seen as a policy mill, then there was certainly “trouble at mill” today.

A document, intended to be seen by a select few, was leaked and has caused a storm. No one can accuse the Russian secret service of this leak, as has been alleged over the leaked Climategate emails, this leak came from one or more delegates to the summit. The document is called the Danish text, and is a secret draft agreement worked on by a group of individuals known as "the circle of commitment" –understood to include the UK, US and Denmark – and was not intended for public release. It is now widely available on the internet (go here for a copy).

The document seeks to elevate the role of the G20 and the developed nations in setting climate change policy and sideline the United Nations in any future climate change negotiations. Less developed countries are also seeing the document as lowering the emissions reduction burden on developed countries while increasing it on developing economies, which they interpret as a new form of CO2 colonialism.

When the document is reviewed in its entirety it does seek to change some of the fundamental principles that secured the Kyoto accord. The first is that the developed world, which is responsible for much of the historic CO2 production, should commit through a binding treaty significantly emissions reductions and provide substantial funding to support developing nations as reparation for climate change impacts. Developing nations, in contrast, would seek to manage their emissions while adapting using the funds made available. The new proposal abandons this principle and links emissions to a variety of factors for all nations, including developing nations. Access to funds for developing nations would be conditional on them achieving certain treaty obligated goals.

The draft hands effective control of climate change mitigation funds, intended to be $10 billion in the period 2010 to 2015, to the World Bank and not the United Nations. Developing countries have been demanding $100 billion in 2011 and annually thereafter. The World Bank would release funds on certain, yet to be finalized, conditions. A suggested condition is that poor countries could not emit more than 1.44 tonnes of carbon per person by 2050, while rich countries will be permitted to emit 2.67 tonnes.

The document also creates a new category of developing country – “the most vulnerable” who may be eligible for priority access to the funds and may be given additional supports through bilateral and multilateral agreements.

What is upsetting the developing countries most, apart from the specific issues, is the way in which this document was developed. A small group of countries, with Denmark as the facilitator, has been working outside of the United Nations process to create a base agreement which the world leaders could sign next week when they begin to arrive. The intention was to quietly harness support “behind the scenes” so that momentum for the agreement built and it would become a “sign or we have nothing” choice. It is the process as well as the content that has angered many delegates.

What is angering the environmentalists present at the summit is that the document implies both very modest emission targets – too small to keep temperature rises to below the 20c threshold that the developed world has agreed to (the developing world wants a 1.50C target) as well as providing for too much flexibility for variations of plans for developed nations, too much control by the World Bank and a sidelining of the concerns of the small islands and developing nations. Reports are that many delegates are “seething” over what they see as skulduggery behind the scenes.

“Trouble at mill” indeed.

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