The Copenhagen Accord: A Beginning


This guest post was written by Dan Shepard, United Nations Information Officer.

It took two years of intense negotiations and the full engagement of world leaders, but the deal reached in Copenhagen represents a marked break with the deadlocked political landscape that has prevented action on climate change for years. Reaching the Copenhagen Accord wasn't pretty but the implications are huge.

For years the positions have been intractable and for much of the Copenhagen Conference, it appeared that those positions would prevail. Developing countries put a strong emphasis on the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, which mandates legally binding obligations on developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. But the United States never ratified the Protocol and as a result, there have been no legal obligations to force the world's two largest greenhouse gas emitters, China and the US, to reduce their emissions.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the Copenhagen Accord "marks a significant step forward in negotiations for the first truly global agreement that can limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, support adaptation for the most vulnerable and help to establish a new era of environmentally sustainable growth."

Instead of demanding actions by countries, the Copenhagen Accord commits countries to meet targets that they have stipulated. In many ways, the Accord finds a way to bridge the differences that have bedeviled negotiators for so long. For the first time, countries agreed to limit global temperature rise to below 2ºC. They pledge to finance efforts to prevent deforestation and degradation and support adaptation efforts through ramped up funding, US$30 billion for immediate implementation over the next three years, and $100 billion a year by 2020. The funding would go through a newly established Copenhagen Green Climate Fund.

Many developing countries, including Brazil, China, India and South Africa have adopted new climate strategies with proposed emission reductions, and the Accord would provide a way to record those efforts.

It was the presence of world leaders at the Conference--almost 120--who helped change the tenor of the climate talks and it was heads of state who actually forged the Copenhagen Accord. From Brazil's President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to China's Premier Wen Jiabao to US President Barack Obama, every major economy was represented at the highest level.

While most countries supported the adoption of the Accord, several countries, including Cuba, Nicaragua, Sudan and Venezuela, objected and since the Conference works on a consensus basis, a formula had to be worked out that would allow the Conference to "take note" of the Accord.

Interest in the two-week conference was extraordinarily high. More than 45,000 people, most of them NGOs, registered for the meeting while the Copenhagen conference center could hold only 15,000 people at one time. There were 3500 members of the press and easily, it looked like everyone was interviewing everyone else.

But in the end, the Conference did not deliver what most activists wanted--either a legally binding agreement or at clearly defined new commitments. NGOs, such as Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace, called the Accord a "non-deal."

During Copenhagen, all sides trotted out familiar positions. The US contended that unless China had real obligations, there was no way possible to achieve meaningful emissions reductions that would limit temperature rise. China, on the other had, contended that even though it is doing a lot on its own to limit emissions, it was unreasonable to give it legally binding obligations because it also had to grow its economy in order to bring150 million more people out of poverty. The European Union offered the most ambitious emission cuts, but complained that without the US and China doing more, it made no sense to do more on its own.

At the same time developing countries offered a variety of positions. The G-77 and China, led by Sudan, took an uncompromising position that demanded aggressive action and extensive financing from industrialized countries. Small islands, who are acutely feeling he impacts of climate change, wanted the world to take immediate action to limit global temperature rise to no more than1.5 degrees Celsius this century. And the least developed countries called more financing to help them adapt to climate change and to help them achieve a greener path to development.

Negotiations have crawled along ever since they were launched in Bali. As the talks come right down to the wire, it was unclear whether countries were willing to budge. The President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, from one of the most climate-impacted countries, sought pragmatism over principle. Fearing that there was a danger of UNFCCC negotiations going the same way as WTO talks, he noted that the negotiations "were not taking us to any fruitful conclusion." While noting that the Accord was not "what we were looking for," he said the Accord set parameters and allows negotiations to continue toward a legally binding agreement. "I beg all countries to back this document and do not let these talks collapse."

To review day-by-day accounts and pictures of the Copenhagen climate conference, visit our Copenhagen Field Notes section of the Gateway to the United Nations System's on Climate Change.

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