Authors: Nyla Sarwar & Sabrina Chesterman

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during the final hours at COP15

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during the final hours at COP15

As the climate demonstrators started to pack away their banners and the Christmas shoppers descended on a freezing Copenhagen (-7C), over 100 leaders and statesmen headed back to their various countries. Many are left to now ponder about what has actually been achieved, except a huge carbon footprint created by the tens of thousands of people who travelled to Denmark in the anticipation of being part of an expected key moment in history.

“The conference of the parties takes note of the Copenhagen Accord,” says a final decision on Saturday 19th December 2009.

The Copenhagen Accord (see final text here) was negotiated on the basis of political superpowers asserting their national sovereignty and many have pointed the finger at China for being so dogged in their approach to the negotiations. The head of the Chinese delegation, Xie Zhenhua and Chinese Prime Minister, Wen Jiaboa, remained resolute in their refusal to discuss and put on the table figures for emissions cuts. Although Obama may hail the drafting of the Accord as a success over China, there are huge loopholes. Developing nation delegates, exhausted, frustrated and now worried, returning to countries on the front line of climate change with no clear guarantee or safeguard that climate change can be slowed or its worst effects abated.

The agreement, drawn up by US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa, lacks any legally binding commitments, or interim targets for developed or least developing countries, removed at the last minute to appease disgruntled negotiators.

Several texts had been presented to the delegations over the course of the 10-day conference in Copenhagen, including two surprise Danish texts, which were both angrily rejected by developing countries, which questioned the transparency of the proposal having worked on the same text over the last 2 years.

On Day 9, Hilary Clinton delivered a press conference to bolster hopes of a positive contribution from the US in ongoing negotiations. She announced that the US was in support of the $100bn/pa fast start fund for adaptation in developing countries, and the US’s contribution was later announced to be $3.6bn pa annum by 2020, to support the $10bn/pa from Europe and the $15bn/pa from Japan.

Day 10 began with optimism, as over 120 Heads of State gathered in one location, to discuss the threat of climate change, for the first time since the Second World War.

Obama’s 8am arrival on Air Force One, into Copenhagen fuelled hopes for a positive breakthrough in negotiations at the conference. As the world’s largest economy and second largest emitter, the US had (as always) a very powerful position in the negotiations. However, Obama failed to provide any further commitments in the chaotic final phase of negotiations, and knocked heads with the Chinese Premier Wen Jibao and Brazilian President Lula in intense meetings upon arrival. Saying he was “here not to talk but to act” he failed to provide any further commitments from the US and did not even press the Senate to move ahead on climate change legislation, which environmental organisations have been urging for months.

His disappointing, lackluster speech was frustrating for conference delegates and heavily criticized by many, including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Despite ongoing tensions and disagreements behind the scenes, Obama made the announcement of a ‘deal’ before his departure at around 6pm on Friday for his Christmas holidays. He delivered a press conference to highlight the ‘agreement that had been reached’, which China and many other developing countries vehemently rejected in the plenary session later.

The Copenhagen Accord was reached from the depths of desperation on Saturday morning, stating that average global temperature increases should be limited to 2C, but no legally binding targets for emissions reduction were set to achieve this. This a major blow for many LDCs and small island states, who pushed for a global temperature increase to be limited to just 1.5C, which they believed to be crucial for their survival.

Developing nations, and notably Africa, have presented themselves as a key power force in an era of supposed global climate governance. The big emerging economies, India, China, Brazil and South Africa allied to prevent a developed country domination of the negotiations. Success was made in terms of the fast start finance of $30 billion/year from next year to 2012, and the long-term pledge of $100 billion/year to 2020. Although President Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, representing the African country block was criticised for accepting this deal, his ‘compromise’ on this issue ensured it was formalised in the Copenhagen Accord.  The efforts of Chavez and the block of Bolivia, Nicaragua, Sudan and Saudi Arabia, attempted a last minute block to the talks just as it seemed the Copenhagen Accord would be agreed upon.  Although with the help of UK Energy & Climate Change Minister, Ed Miliband this move was averted, many question the viability of Chavez and others in their fidelity to finding a common ground to climate changes, instead using their speeches in the High Level plenary to lament on the silent ‘ghost’ of capitalism driven by Obama, Nobel man of war, that was the root cause of climate change.

Attempts to kill the Kyoto Protocol also dominated the negotiations at Copenhagen, with LDCs furious at the suggestion of a new agreement, which opens up the possibility of them being required to measure and report their emissions (which only Annex I countries are required to do under the conventions of Kyoto). Several developed countries have begun to back the idea of creating a new treaty which would clean the slate and start again addressing emissions from both developed and developing countries. These divergent views led to wasted hours of precious negotiating time at the conference and significantly weakened the Copenhagen Accord, with many agenda items simply postponed for discussion at COP 16 in Mexico City next year.

Some organisations felt that the deal was a positive start, and a successful outcome that we can strengthen in future negotiations.

“This deal provides a solid foundation for international action, including emissions targets, a new financial mechanism and transparent reporting and review to assess countries’ performance,” said Jennifer Morgan, Director of WRI’s Climate and Energy Program.

“But more is needed to ensure a functioning legal instrument, and the ambition of the emission cuts still falls far short of what the science indicates. The agreement will need to be strengthened over time.”

The UN process was also disputed, with many arguing that it had become totally unworkable and impossible to forge consensus among disparate countries fighting over environmental guilt, future costs, and who should referee the results. It might therefore be more likely going forward that discussions about tackling climate change are raised at other forums – the G8, G20 – where approximately 30 countries are likely to represent over 90% of global emissions. This smaller group of nations will tackle a narrower agenda of issues, like technology sharing or the merging of carbon trading markets, without the chaos and posturing of the United Nations process. A version of this already exists in the 17-nation Major Economies Forum, which has been a model of decorum and progress compared with what the world saw unfold at the climate talks.

We would argue that the whole concept of consensus agreement, as enshrined in the convention, is totally flawed and close to impossible for a contentious and political agreement of this sort. Majority votes may sideline those most vulnerable, but might encourage more unity in negotiations. However, Copenhagen has already represented some of the divisions and back-stabbing that prevails with deep disputes occurring within groups like the G77, Association of Small Island States (AOSIS), and the African Group. The process is fundamentally driven by politics, not the science, to deliver short-term economic and political gains, rather than what the planet demands.

The torturous path to the Copenhagen Accord was dismissed by speaker after speaker from the developing world, denouncing the deal as a sham process fashioned behind closed doors by a club of rich countries and large emerging powers. The NY Times reported that the heated debate even saw the Sudanese delegate likening the effect of the accord on poor nations to the Holocaust.

It is unclear how many delegates will sign up to the Accord. The EU, AOSIS, Japan and the African Group all urged delegates to adopt the Accord, though the Latin American countries and Sudan are believed to be in angry opposition.

As the air hung thick in the Bella Centre, one NGO representative commented, just as we emerged from the plenary, “You’re in there with the presidents, I work with the poor. We all know who the real heroes of climate change are.”

Yvo de Boer, UNFCCC Executive Secretary, highlighted that the challenges now remain in attempts to ‘move towards something real, measurable and verifiable.’ Watch out Bonn and Mexico City, the circus is coming.

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