For what it's worth- a Copenhagen Summary

Copenhagen climate talks

Better than nothing

Dec 19th 2009 | COPENHAGEN

The accord delivered by the Copenhagen climate talks is hardly far-reaching


EVEN its biggest fans—if such people exist—would be hard-put to find the Copenhagen Accord on the climate a rousing success. "Many," admits Ban Ki-moon, "will say it lacks ambition." Despite the emotional support and demands of tens of thousands of activists gathered in the Danish capital, expectations of the UN climate conference among participants were not so high that they were hard to meet. But the accord put together on Saturday December 19th by an informal grouping of countries, including America, China, India and South Africa, barely made it over, and was only incorporated into the conference's conclusions after a tense all-night session.

The accord offers to enhance long-term co-operative action against climate change, and recognises the need to provide help to poor countries for adaptation. It provides a way to bring together the offers of emission reductions made by various countries before the conference began—and, should they so wish, to raise them—as long as they are confirmed in the next few months, and gives a special status to the idea of holding global warming to no more than 2ºC. It finds words that provide a way forward on the vexed issue of monitoring reductions undertaken by developing countries off their own bat, which is important not least because it is something the American Senate wants reassurance on with respect to China. It offers short-term funding for projects in developing country of $30 billion, and aspires to a long-term system that would, in principle, provide $100 billion a year for mitigation and adaptation from 2020 onwards. And, perhaps the component of clearest value from outside the world of climate politics, it moves forward on REDD, the plan for reducing deforestation. 

To many environmentalists, the accord's great deficiency is that it sets no targets for emissions; earlier drafts had room for specific figures for developed-country reductions in 2020 and both developed-country and global reductions by 2050. Such language is seen as important in defining a widespread shift of the world economy away from fossil fuels. The emissions reductions the accord enshrines are, at least so far, significantly smaller than is needed to provide any confidence about the 2ºC target, and there is much yet to be sorted out about getting the money it talks about distributed equitably.

Nor does the accord provide a solution to the fundamental flaw of the negotiating process; that the Kyoto protocol, the only instrument with which the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) can act on emissions, imposes obligations only on the developed countries that have ratified it. It requires nothing from developing nations, even China, the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide. And it requires nothing of America.

The UNFCCC's discussions on "long-term co-operative action", which began in Bali two years ago, are meant to produce a new agreement that does tie in America and the other big developing economies, while maintaining the convention’s commitment to "common but differentiated responsibilities". When the accord was announced by heads of government at various different press conferences, many believed on the basis of earlier drafts circulating that the accord would be accompanied by a mandate requiring by this time next year that the ongoing long-term co-operative action talks deliver the text of a legally binding agreement. The leaders then, for the most part, disappeared into the night, leaving their delegations to sort out the details of where the accord fits into the rest of the negotiations. The expected mandate for a legally binding treaty vanished at much the same time, and a concerted effort to keep the accord from being adopted by the conference by a small group of countries kept things going all night, very nearly succeeding a few hours before dawn.

Some procedural legerdemain, coupled with the fact that the vast majority of the countries present preferred this accord to no accord, managed to get the text adopted in such a way that it will enter into force. The UNFCCC process, though—quite remarkably fractious and unproductive over the past two weeks—looks in need of some serious attention. Though there was a fair bit of mess involved, and their achievement was far from monumental, the leaders who turned up in Copenhagen seem to have made a difference by finding their way to a suboptimal deal rather than none at all