If there was going to be a fall guy for the chaos that was Copenhagen, Yvo de Boer was the natural choice.
As the executive secretary of the U.N. climate secretariat – one whose own profile has risen along with that of the climate issue – Yvo is closely associated in many minds with the perceived failure of Copenhagen. With parties’ confidence in him at an all-time low, it was no surprise that he announced today he would be departing July 1.
The fuller significance of the Copenhagen Accord became a little clearer this week – and a little murkier too.
The nonbinding deal struck six weeks ago by a couple dozen world leaders left open two immediate questions: exactly which countries would be signing on to it, and just what targets or actions they would be promising. The parties gave themselves until January 31 to fill in those blanks.
Only time will tell whether the deal struck in Copenhagen proves a true turning point in the effort against climate change. Flying home after two chaotic and exhausting weeks, I find I’m of two minds.
The deadline of December 18, 2009, in fact drove many governments further than before. In the weeks preceding, the United States, China, India and others felt compelled to come forward with explicit emission pledges. Under the Copenhagen Accord, countries have until January 31 to put these numbers on record; then there is no taking them back.
These pledges are not binding. They are statements of intent, not obligation. But that is not what disappoints me. I never expected Copenhagen to produce more than a political accord.
What troubles me is that governments did not resolve to move next to a legally binding treaty. That goal was part of the tentative agreement announced by President Obama. But then he left, and in final deal-making, it somehow vanished. The negotiations will of course continue. Governments agreed they’d meet next year in Mexico, the year after in South Africa. But with what type of agreement in mind? That’s unclear.
This post first appear in Opinio Juris.
COPENHAGEN -- The climate negotiations ground to a halt for much of Monday, as negotiators debated the organization of work for the second and final week of the meeting. The ostensible cause of the breakdown was concern among some developing countries that the Kyoto Protocol (KP) track in the negotiations is moving more slowly, and getting less attention, than the Convention track (the so-called Long-Term Cooperation Action track, or LCA) Although since the LCA track is itself moving very slowly, it is a bit difficult to understand the concern.
For many members of the G-77, the differentiation enshrined in the Kyoto Protocol between developed countries (which have quantified emission reduction targets) and developing countries (which do not) is sacred. All last week, developing countries had been emphasizing the importance of continuing the Kyoto Protocol, rather than merging it into a single comprehensive agreement that addresses both developed and developing countries (as the EU, Japan and other industrialized countries would prefer). At the procedural level, this developing country position is reflected in a desire to maintain the complete separation between the two tracks in the negotiations, rather than merging them into a single discussion, as the Danes apparently envisioned.
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Amid the distracting dramas of purloined emails and secret texts, it’s easy to lose sight that Copenhagen has already proven a catalytic event. Every major power arrives here with its own explicit pledge to curb emissions. That these promises will be delivered in most cases by heads of state reflects an absolutely unprecedented level of political will.
It’s also easy to lose sight of precisely what more we need from this conference.
A year ago in Poznan (the site of last year’s climate summit), my colleagues and I got beat up pretty badly for suggesting out loud that Copenhagen was unlikely to produce a final deal, and the aim instead should be an interim political agreement. Here we are in Copenhagen, working on an interim political agreement.
What’s that mean? There’s a lot of emphasis from the United States and others on this being an “operational” agreement delivering “immediate” results. Let’s hope so. But an equally important test for Copenhagen is whether it charts a clear path toward the next agreement – one that turns political pledges into binding legal commitments.
“Verifiable.” That is arguably the most important word in the Bali Action Plan, the agreement two years ago that launched the global climate negotiations about to culminate in Copenhagen. Our future climate commitments and actions, governments agreed, must be “measurable, reportable and verifiable.”
This construct is critical because, done right, “MRV” offers the promise of a global climate agreement in which countries can confidently ascertain whether others are doing what they promised.
Yet many governments now seem decidedly uncomfortable with the concept. Developing countries say MRV shouldn’t apply to any actions they take on their own, only those receiving international support (a point underscored last week by China when it announced its new carbon intensity target). In the case of a country like China, that means virtually none of its actions would be subject to international verification.
The United States, for its part, has offered up an MRV proposal that avoids the term verification altogether. This is a worrisome omission, one that underscores perhaps the most glaring weakness in the U.S. position going into Copenhagen – its absolute silence on the question of compliance.
This post originally appeared in Yale Environment 360.
Two years ago in Bali, climate negotiators set an extremely ambitious goal for Copenhagen that quickly came to be viewed as a deadline for achieving a new, ratifiable global climate agreement. Striking such a deal is certainly in line with what the science says is urgently needed. But political realities, not the science, dominate global climate negotiations.
And the political reality is that many of the major players are not yet ready to sign a binding deal. Many, including the United States, China and India, are making encouraging progress domestically. Yet there remain wide differences among parties on many of the core issues – the nature of parties’ commitments, how they will be verified, how to generate new public and private finance, etc. So the objective in Copenhagen must be a strong interim agreement that captures what progress has been achieved and creates fresh momentum toward a full and final deal.
Two major components involve carbon cuts and money. On emissions, a probable Copenhagen deal includes pledges from developed countries to meet reduction targets and pledges from major developing countries (e.g., China, India, Brazil) to meet other mitigation actions such as carbon intensity goals. On finance, developed countries would pledge near-term funding to help developing countries adapt to climate change and develop low-carbon strategies. It’s also imperative that Copenhagen produce a clear deadline for concluding a final legal agreement, with the December 2010 Mexico City climate summit providing a reasonable timeframe.
A Copenhagen deal should also go as far as possible in outlining the architecture of a legally-binding treaty. This includes: the nature of commitments for developed and major developing countries; how to verify that countries are complying with their commitments; and new financial mechanisms.
Achieving strong national pledges of action and making available some quick-start money to address immediate climate-related needs for developing countries will represent genuine progress, and will help bridge the gap between developed and major developing countries. But to be a true success, Copenhagen must be a springboard toward a legally-binding agreement in 2010.
Read more here.
Eileen Claussen is President