Sum and Substance of Copenhagen

By Namrata Patodia
December 24, 2009

This article first appeared in Nature India.

 

As the Copenhagen Climate Conference drew to a close this past weekend, many debate the success of the talks. It is important at this juncture to step back and take stock of the expectations leading up to Copenhagen and what the conference delivered.

Copenhagen Accord
After a week and a half of bickering over negotiating texts and repeating hard-line positions, parties finally agreed to a deal in the late hours of the conference’s last day. The main deliverable of the conference was the “Copenhagen Accord,” a deal directly brokered by U.S. President Barack Obama with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Premier Wen Jiabao of China, President Luiz Inacio Lula of Brazil and President Jacob Zuma of South Africa. While initially the deal was struck among these countries, it garnered the support of another 28 countries including the African Union and Alliance of Small Island developing States (the number of countries supporting the accord is not confirmed since countries can sign up on an ongoing basis). The official U.N. Conference Of Parties (COP) only “took note of” the accord by consensus, a fairly luke-warm response, which took an entire additional day to achieve.

The Copenhagen Accord, while a step forward, falls short in some fundamental ways. It remains a non-binding deal with no clear goal towards achieving a legally binding outcome in the near future. It was also unable to deliver on a long-term global goal of a 50 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

As a starting point the accord lays the foundation for all the key elements of the Bali Action Plan – shared vision, mitigation, adaptation, finance, and technology.

Most importantly, it calls for mitigation actions from all major economies, and for the first time, major developing economies including India. Developed countries (or Annex I parties) must commit to absolute emission reduction targets while major developing countries (or Non Annex I parties) must take mitigation actions. To ensure transparency of actions, the accord calls for measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of actions by both developed and developing countries. In the case of the former, MRV will be conducted based on existing guidelines and those that are adopted by the COP. For developing countries, actions that receive international support will be MRV’d according to international guidelines. Unilateral domestic actions undertaken by developing countries will be domestically MRV’d with provisions for “international consultation and analysis under clearly defined guidelines.”

Financing for developing countries, which many called the key to breaking the deadlock in these negotiations, is also addressed in the accord. It calls for both near-term and long-term finance for developing countries. It establishes a prompt-start fund of 30 billion USD from 2010-2012 to assist developing countries for mitigation and adaptation actions. On long-term finance, developed countries are to help mobilize 100 billion USD by 2020 for developing countries.

Parties have also agreed to a long-term temperature goal -- “the increase in global temperature should be below 2 degrees Celsius” taking into account equity and sustainable development. Finally, the accord establishes a technology mechanism and a mechanism for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation and conservation of forest sinks (REDD plus) and calls for an assessment by 2015 including consideration of the strengthening of a long-term goal in relation to a temperature rise of 1.5 degree Celsius.

To ensure that we have a truly global response to climate change and one that prevents catastrophic climate change, it is critical that parties build on the foundation of the accord and lay the groundwork for a legally binding treaty.

Namrata Patodia is an International Fellow at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.