Copenhagen Wrap Up: Climate crisis left unabated, diplomatic chasms created

by: Elizabeth Bast

Mon Dec 21, 2009 at 16:50

As the climate conference in Copenhagen hobbled towards a close Friday night, the United States, in a strong-arm move, slammed through the “Copenhagen Accord" – a weak, loose, and potentially backstepping agreement negotiated by a small subset of nations involved in negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The process for striking this accord was so undemocratic and peripheral to the official UN process that in the end, the parties to the UNFCCC didn’t even know what to do with it, and finally decided to “take note” of the accord. The implications of “taking note” will be discussed and hashed out by lawyers for days, if not months, to come.


The way this agreement came into being is a study in political brinksmanship. Around 9 p.m. Friday, President Obama announced to an exclusive group of reporters that an agreement had been reached. After the story that the U.S., China, India, Brazil, and South Africa had struck a deal circulated in a number of online news stories, the United States called a press conference and President Obama announced publicly that a deal had been reached, and that “most of the text has been completely worked out.” He then left to go back to Washington in advance of the imminent snow storm that hit on Saturday. It turned out that President Obama had called it a done deal before any agreement was actually reached. All these announcements seem to have happened before some countries had even had a chance to see the text under discussion.

When the text was finally presented, a number of countries spoke out strongly against it – and particularly against the manner in which it was determined by a few countries behind closed doors and then thrust upon the 192 countries participating in the official plenary session. Into the morning on Saturday, the plenary adjourned and reconvened, attempting to determine what had happened and what the implications were.

Now that the conference is offically over, those implications are still not entirely clear. It looks like a number of countries will flat out refuse to sign the Accord. The UN operates by consensus -- and there's certainly no consensus that this weak accord is the best way forward.


While the Accord endorses the two existing tracks of negotiations that are the focus of the UN process, it appears to set its own course when it comes to how countries would actually move forward on the key issues on which those tracks are supposed to yield agreement, including pledges for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and pledges to provide financial support to developing countries so they have the capacity to deal with the impacts of climate change.

All in all, the Accord looks like a deal that requires nothing.

More details on exactly how hollow it is in the extended version.

Elizabeth Bast :: Copenhagen Wrap Up: Climate crisis left unabated, diplomatic chasms created


The Accord mentions “a view to reduce global emissions so as to hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius, and take action to meet this objective consistent with science and on the basis of equity,” but lacks any system for determining whether countries' individual pledges would even come close to meeting that goal. The Accord calls for countries to put emissions reduction pledges down on paper by the end of January 2010, but would let countries use different base years when calculating the ambition level of those cuts (i.e. calculate percent reductions against emissions levels from 2005, rather than 1990, a gimmick that the U.S. already relies upon to make its proposed reductions appear more substantial than they are). This is akin to soliciting loose change in a room of people holding different types of currencies and hoping it adds up to $1000.


The picture is not much brighter on financial support for developing countries so they can deal with climate impacts. As part of the Accord, developed countries would have a goal of mobilizing US$100 billion by 2020. This is completely non-binding; there is no guarantee whatsoever that this money would materialize. The quantity is magnitudes too low compared to the need and the sources are suspect. The money is to come from both public and private, multilateral and bilateral, sources. This means that some chunk of the funding will be reliant on carbon markets. Furthermore, the $100 billion comes with conditionalities: it is contingent on other countries taking on “meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation.” (Though as a testament to its vagueness, the Accord doesn’t actually specify whether it is developed or developing countries that would be tied to this condition).

In terms of short-term funding, the Accord states that developed countries will jointly “approach” the provision of $30 billion over 3 years (through 2012). Thus, even this $30 billion is not guaranteed. The Accord makes it clear that funds will flow through existing international institutions (e.g. the World Bank and Global Environment Facility, which have poor environmental and social track records), rather than through a new fund under UN authority as developing countries are demanding.


The Accord itself leaves much to be desired, but the way in which it came about perhaps leaves even more. The consensus process of the United Nations was thrown out of the window to offer up a weak document that fundamentally fails to address the crisis at hand.

In the words of Bolivia's ambassador to the UN, Pablo Solon:

This is completely unacceptable. How can it be that 25 to 30 nations cook up an agreement that excludes the majority of more than 190 nations. We have been negotiating for months on one of the gravest crises of our age, and yet our voice counts for nothing? If this is how world agreements will now be agreed, then it makes a nonsense of the UN and multilateralism.

Well said.

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New strategy needed: (0.00 / 0)
I know the jet-setters LOVE global-mega conferences, but they don't work.

What works is direct government construction of alternative energy.

Joe and Jane Sixpack don't care where their energy comes from; as long as it is there when they need it and doesn't appear to cost too much.

But if you mention "Global Warming" to them, they will become suspicious and hostile because of the JETSET factor!*

They know instinctively that the people in Copenhagen don't really give a shit about the people in Chattanooga, Cheyenne, and Colorado Springs.

Turn this into an issue of "green collar" small contractor jobs and you will make quick and irrevocable progress.

* An opening exploited mercilessly by the right wing demagogues...

while 3rd-world nations shouldn't have been left out... (0.00 / 0)
... the fact remains that the vast majority of nations are tiny, so one-nation one-vote would be highly undemocratic.  Bolivia has fewer than 10 million people; China and India are both more than 130 times as large.  Weak as the agreement is, it did include the largest CO2 emitters, as any real agreement must.

Also, had a legally binding agreement been negotiated, the US Senate would never ratify it.  We'd just have another Kyoto.

Unfortunately, though, physics doesn't care about what is politically realistic.  Global climate change doesn't care about US domestic politics.

Decidedly different analysis: (0.00 / 0)
Sam Hummel: 5 Fallacies In Coverage of the Copenhagen Accord:

Seems like a fair reading based on video of the overnight plenary session.

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