by Jack Rosebro
Following an all-night session that sent two weeks of climate talks into overtime, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 15th Conference Of Parties (COP 15) yesterday tentatively approved a non-binding, three-page political statement that had been hashed out the previous night in face-to-face meetings between leaders of Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, South Africa, the UK, and the United States at the Bella Centre near the Copenhagen airport.
The accord calls for action to hold mean warming of the Earth’s surface to no more than 2 ºC above pre-industrial levels, but does not define reductions in greenhouse gases that might be employed to achieve that goal. Although it was hoped that the 113 attending world leaders would be greeted towards the end of the Copenhagen summit by a draft text with no more than two or three issues outstanding, almost two hundred remained by Friday.
As heads of state convened, an abbreviated document was hurriedly produced to minimize sticking points and shopped around among leaders of developed countries. With the clock running out on final negotiations—in part due to the timetable required to fly US President Barack Obama back to Washington ahead of a heavy snowstorm—key statements were rapidly deleted from the document, much to the dismay of European leaders, including an agreement among developed countries to reduce worldwide greenhouse gas emissions by 80%, as compared to 1990 emissions, by year 2050.
Quizzed by The Observer as to which country had objected to the 2050 target, director-general of Sweden’s Naturvårdsverket (Environmental Protection Agency) Lars-Erik Liljelund quipped, “China. China doesn’t like numbers.” Already the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases by most accounts, China may have been looking to future negotiations, when it is likely to be categorized as a developed rather than developing country.
Another prerequisite lost in the final process was the stipulation that the principles of the accord be embedded in a treaty at some point in the future. Although many leaders, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, had campaigned for the transformation of the Copenhagen Accord into a binding international treaty within six months, the timetable was pushed back to twelve months (COP 16, in México), according to an early draft of the accord, before eventually being deleted altogether.
After presidents, premiers, and prime ministers departed, COP 15 reconvened so that delegates could vote on the accord. By daybreak Saturday, however, talks were deadlocked as delegates from developing countries expressed outrage at being shut out of the draft consultation, and Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, who was presiding over the session, signaled that he would call COP 15 to a close without agreement.
Diplomats were recalled from their hotels to block the move, and Rasmussen instead called a brief adjournment following intervention by UK Energy and Climate Secretary Ed Miliband, as well as Australian and US officials.
Rasmussen, who had succeeded Danish Climate and Energy Minister Connie Hedegaard as COP President just two days prior, was quickly replaced by Philip Weech, Director of the Bahamas Environment, Science, and Technology Commission. Weech secured consensus before mid-morning by calling a vote to “take note” of the accord, rather than approve it.
In the end, 188 countries voted in favor of the motion, with Cuba, Bolivia, Sudan, and Venezuela voting against it. The accord will not become an official United Nations document unless unanimous approval is secured.
Emissions Reduction Targets Shuttled To The Side
The formal acknowledgement of the Copenhagen Accord ended a particularly contentious and chaotic set of negotiations, ostensibly capping more than a decade of deliberations towards a framework to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions beyond the terms of the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. Although hundreds of issues had remained outstanding as COP 15 talks got underway, most of them revolved around five core goals:
Developed countries, including the United States, would agree on short-term emissions reduction targets which would collectively define the peaking of global greenhouse emissions.
Developed countries would reach agreement with emerging economies such as Brazil, China, and India as to whether or not emerging economies should set emissions reduction targets.
Finance structures would be created and funded by developed countries, encouraging developing countries and emerging economies to minimize future emissions and adapt to future effects of climate change.
The relative valuation of potential emissions offsets (e.g. afforestation, avoided deforestation, carbon capture and storage, energy efficiency measures, renewable energy generation) would be established.
All agreements would be legally binding, and would be subject to independent verification.
However, two additional issues emerged early to shape the talks. Spurred by a leaked draft treaty which sought to cancel the commitments of the last two years of the Kyoto Protocol, developing countries dug in, concerned that developed countries were planning to introduce the draft, known as the “Danish text”, toward the end of the conference, thereby undermining gains already won.
Developed countries quickly distanced themselves from the draft, but discussions of whether or not a Copenhagen treaty should replace the Kyoto Protocol engulfed many sessions, and consumed almost a week of negotiating time.
The second issue was the initial rejection of the 2 ºC maximal warming limit by member states most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, primarily because observational data subsequent to the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), which had cited the 2 ºC guardrail (earlier post) as a prudent limit, has indicated that a lower maximal warming limit may be required to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change. In particular, the small island nation of Tuvalu briefly put a stop to negotiations after then-COP President Connie Hedegaard declined to consider the target as well as require a binding treaty by summit’s end.
Although the Copenhagen Accord has failed to deliver tangible progress on major issues, it commits agreeing parties to a 31 January 2010 deadline by which they would submit national emissions reduction goals. For developed countries, specific reduction targets as well as the reference year used to calculate those targets must be provided; for developing countries, including emerging economies, actions to reduce emissions must be submitted, but do not have to be quantified.
The accord also sketches out the financing of climate mitigation and adaptation measures in developing countries, much of which was separately offered by developed countries in parallel with the climate talks.
Support for such measures is defined in the accord as “approaching USD 30 billion” during the 2010-2012 period, and scaling up to USD 100 billion per year by 2020. Financing of adaptive measures would be prioritized for the most vulnerable countries, such as small island states and sub-Saharan African nations. In a nod to deteriorating support among developing countries for the 2 ºC target, the Copenhagen Accord also recommends “consideration of strengthening the long-term goal referencing various matters presented by the science” by 2015, “including in relation to temperature rises of 1.5 degrees Celsius.”One US non-negotiable in Copenhagen—which it failed to secure—was the insistence that China and India submit to independent verification of claimed emissions reductions. President Obama later distanced himself from that requirement, remarking afterward “we can actually monitor a lot of what takes place through satellite imagery and so forth... I think we’re going to have a pretty good sense of what countries are doing.”
“We must be honest about what we have got”, said UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer. “The world walks away from Copenhagen with a deal. But clearly, ambitions to reduce emissions must be raised significantly if we are to hold the world to 2 degrees.”