The road after Copenhagen

The road after Copenhagen
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First Published: Mon, Dec 21 2009. 10 21 PM IST

Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Updated: Mon, Dec 21 2009. 10 21 PM IST
The accord from the Copenhagen climate change conference wasn’t the result of a negotiation, but unidirectional concessions by developed countries to developing ones to support an agreement that obliged the latter to offer nothing in return.
Consider the scorecard.
Before departing for Copenhagen, India’s minister of state for environment Jairam Ramesh stated in a speech to Parliament that he only wanted a “flexible” agreement, with non-negotiable positions on “legally binding emission reduction cut(s)” for developing countries and requiring them to “announce when their emissions will peak”. And in the Copenhagen Accord, India secured recognition that a developing country’s emissions would only peak at some point in the future and an obligation to declare what emissions reduction actions it will take.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Throughout negotiations, China opposed being held to the same standard as developed countries for international measuring, reporting and verification of its domestically funded emissions reduction programmes. And under the accord, India and China are only required to have international assessment for programmes funded by other governments or international finance pools.
Coming to the conference, African countries and the island states wanted financing for a mitigation and adaptation fund. And in the accord, developing countries secured a $30 billion fund from developed countries for the next three years, with a goal of a further $100 billion a year by 2020.
By comparison, the US succeeded in securing a concession to “commit to implement...economy-wide emissions targets” rather than being bound through a Kyoto Protocol model that it didn’t want. It also secured acceptance to increase its emissions baseline year to 2005, as did Canada to 2006—meaning emissions reductions would be less than in Europe which has a 1990 baseline year.
The US concessions were as much from Europe as developing countries. As a consequence of giving up so little in these negotiations, developing countries have succeeded in keeping all their leveraging power available for the next scheduled mid-year negotiating round in Bonn and the next major conference in Mexico City at the end of 2010.
A challenge for the Mexico negotiations is to avoid repeating the hyped ambitions of Copenhagen. The silver lining: the separation between the perception and the reality of what Copenhagen could deliver was largely built on government “spin” to secure public support for domestic climate change policies. Such spin cannot be credibly repeated in 2010. And while Copenhagen was considered as a deadline after the 2007 Bali summit, the Copenhagen Accord deliberately excludes any such timeline impositions for the next negotiations.
Still, the problem last weekend—one the negotiations next year will also face—is achieving even the slightest consensus. The near-collapse of negotiations at Copenhagen should not have come as a surprise because the Bali summit that led to these negotiations didn’t even agree to the commencement of a new international treaty. Instead, the negotiating road map supported the vaguest diplomatic “agreed outcome...(for) a shared vision for long-term cooperative action”.
Following the accord’s announcement, the text has already been universally condemned for not doing enough to cut global emissions. And the accord clearly has many problems.
For example, the accord doesn’t include any comprehensive proposals on how to facilitate and promote the transfer of climate-friendly technologies beyond the establishment of mitigation and adaptation financing pools funded by developed countries. How these finance pools will be funded is also left open, with proposals still on the table.
The accord also ran into other major barriers. For instance, on Saturday morning (the conference’s “overtime”), a bloc comprising governments from Africa, as well as South and Central America, objected to its proposition and ensured the consensus necessary for its adoption was lacking. As a consequence of all this, the accord is now a meaningless footnote to the conference and carries no diplomatic weight.
Instead, it is being considered merely as the basis for future negotiations. But if countries want to negotiate an agreement built on the weak architecture they now have for a future climate change deal, they would be better off revisiting whether the United Nations (UN) system is even capable of delivering on their lofty ambitions.
Given such ambitions, the process might just be doomed. To secure the sort of climate change agreement that brings in all the countries of the world would be the most ambitious ever negotiated through the UN system and would impact every aspect of society and the economy it covered. It would be even more ambitious than the agreements under the World Trade Organization (WTO)—the only agreements comparable in scope and ambition—but unlike other multilateral institutions, WTO happens to function outside the ambit of the UN, that too with its own dispute settlement and enforcement mechanisms.
As a consequence, countries will always be reticent to commit to a treaty with deep obligations, especially when there are currently no options for recourse if they are not enforced.
Tim Wilson is director of the climate and trade unit at Australia’s Institute of Public Affairs. Comment at theirview@livemint.com
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First Published: Mon, Dec 21 2009. 10 21 PM IST