The morning after world leaders leave town, UN climate talks formally acknowledge Copenhagen Accord, closing negotiations

Publish date: December 19, 2009

Written by: Charles Digges

COPENHAGEN – With major world leaders already safely home from a day of treading through landmines to scrape together very literally a last minute deal, negotiators worked through the rest of the night to “take note” of the accord that was dropped on them by American, China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

The snappy wind up of two weeks worth of work leaves the fate of the Copenhagen Accord somewhat murky, and opening the question of whether this effort to curb greenhouse gases from the world’s major emitters would gain the full support of the 193 countries bound by the original, and largely failed, 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change.

In an announcement that came mid morning Copenhagen time, the UN climate conference, after an all night plenary session that replayed much of the drama of the last two weeks, Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen gavelled the decision to “take note” of the Copenhagen Accord specifying those who agreed with it in the title.

UN Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon told journalists on Saturday morning: “Finally, we sealed the deal,” but also made comments acknowledging that the process was not fully solved.

“It may not be everything we hoped for, but this decision of the Conference of Parties is an essential beginning,” he said.

But the UN Secretary General also said, “We must transform this into a legally binding treaty next year. The importance will only be recognised when it’s codified into international law.”

In the meantime, he told reporters that “the UN system will work to immediately start to deliver meaningful results to people in need and jump-start clean energy growth in developing countries.”

UN Endorsement seems unlikely

All 193 nations present at the talks must endorse it under UN guidelines for it to be adopted as a UN agreement, a prospect that seems unlikely.  

“Objections from several countries mean it has not been formally adopted. Delegations are now trying to introduce language making some bits legally binding,” wrote Richard Black, the BBC’s environmental correspondent, in his Copenhagen blog.

“A global deal? That’s looking less and less likely… whether it matters, whether the Chinese and US architects care, is another matter,” wrote Black.

Good trades and bad losses

Yet, the triumph by US President Barack Obama of getting China, India and South Africa and Brazil to agree on a deal providing for monitoring and verifying emissions – something China particularly had fought with full ballistics for nearly two weeks of talks – is undeniable.

But the transparency gain came with perhaps the heaviest trade off of the negotiations – setting actual midterm or long-term greenhouse gas reductions targets for industrialized and developing nations. But with that trade came another significant gain: the codification of the commitments of individual nations to act on their own to tackle global warming.

There also remain unresolved questions on finance to struggling nations, one of the tangible centrepieces of the agreement during the two weeks of talks.

The accord includes $10 billion in annual funding from rich nations for the next three years but set only an aspirational goal for raising $100 billion in annual funding by 2020. Yet it skipped mention, though a half dozen multimillion dollar pledges have been made, about where that funding would come from – public coffers, carbon markets or elsewhere.

The accord also by-passed setting the 2010 climate talks as a goal for reaching a legally binding international, a weighty issue to pass on because scientists have warned that the longer nations wait to make deep greenhouse gas emission cuts, the harder it will be to avert dangerous climate change.

It was one of the weightiest losses, according to observers, as the 2010 deadline for a legally binding agreement was one of the more modest goals that negotiator had set for themselves. Many observers, however, have noted that a legally binding accord will forever remain elusive.

Yet even the language in the accord specifying a 2 degree Celsius rise in global temperatures above pre-industrial levels is not an unequivocal target, but “rather an acknowledgement the that group recognises the scientific view” that temperature increases should be held below this number, said one party delegate. At the same time, the accord does provide for scientific review in 2015, at which point as dictated by the science, the signatories would pursue a limit of a 1.5 degree Celsius increase by 2050.

The deal does include language calling for completing a scientific review of the accord by 2015, the same year the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will issue a comprehensive assessment of the latest scientific findings on global warming. But the document calls only for “consideration of strengthening the long-term goal” of reducing emissions.

The environmental take on the accord

The Copenhagen Accord was embraced by some environmental groups that portrayed it as the best first step along an extraordinarily daunting decades-long path toward a world of ample energy without greenhouse pollution.

But it was bitterly attacked by others that portrayed it as both grossly insufficient and undermining the United Nations process, enshrined in a global, fully ratified 1992 treaty.

Overall, Bellona praised the document for dealing with a number of logistical hurdles that can be anticipated in future negotiation – based on unfortunate experiences at this one.

“This is pretty good,” said Bellona President Frederic Hauge after viewing the fifth, and final 3 page draft. “It is a way of avoiding future obstructions from the G-77 bloc of nations and is a way of setting things in motion without distraction and without destruction,” he said.

Speaking late last night from the Bella Center, Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, agreed.

“The world’s nations have come together and concluded a historic — if incomplete — agreement to begin tackling global warming,” he said.

“Tonight’s announcement is but a first step and much work remains to be done in the days and months ahead in order to seal a final international climate deal that is fair, binding and ambitious. It is imperative that negotiations resume as soon as possible.”

Accord expedient for US political purposes

US Congressional representatives who were on hand for the negations said the accord as signed would be essential for passage of climate legislation at home – especially with the transparency factor from China settled.

Massachusetts Representative Ed Markey, co-author of the House of Representative climate bill, which the congressional body passed over the summer, told Bellona Web in a telephone interview that Obama had to advocate a strong transparency provision to make sure America’s economic competitors were, in fact, cutting back on emissions.

According to Markey, this will be essential for passage of the Senate climate bill, which has yet to be debated.  Such language on transparency would make the outcome “politically acceptable,” said Markey, adding, “That, in turn, will create momentum for passage of legislation. It’s important that the world knows the Chinese are keeping the promises they are making.”

Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and lead author of the Senate’s climate change bill, said the accord would drive the Congress to pass climate change legislation early next year.

“This can be a catalyzing moment,” he told reporters. “President Obama’s hands-on engagement broke through the bickering and sets the stage for a final deal and for Senate passage this spring of major legislation at home.”

All night push and pull for accord

Last night’s accord, announced by Obama a half hour before he sped rapidly to Air Force One to beat an East Coast snowstorm, provided a kind of best of a worst case scenario for negotiators to fret over for the rest of the night, and many national blocs struggled in groups to either block or come to the accord.

Other countries, including Britain, quickly sought its approval by the full assemblage of the 193 countries, but past dawn on Saturday another group, from Saudi Arabia to Sudan, stridently fought the pact

Several South American countries, such as Nicaragua and Venezuela, were also among a group saying the agreement had not been reached through proper process.

The EU also remained dissatisfied with the accord, but said it pumped oxygen into future meetings.

“What could be agreed today, falls far below our expectations but it keeps our goals and ambitions alive,” an EU spokesman told the BBC.  “It was the only deal available in Copenhagen.

Most vocal, according to reports from the Bella Center, were denunciations from Sudanese diplomat Lumumba Di-Aping, who represents the G77 bloc of countries developing countries, which, until last night, had also included China and India.

“The developed countries have decided that damage to developing countries is acceptable,” he told reporters, saying that the 2-degree target would “result in massive devastation to Africa and small island states.” He and many other representatives of the most vulnerable countries wanted a target of 1.5 degrees.

“Today’s events, which really are a continuation of the history of the negotiations for the last two years, represent the worst development in climate change negotiations in history,” Di-Aping said last night.

Sergio Serra, Brazil’s senior climate negotiator, who is reported to have moderated much of the final discussion between America, India, China, Brazil and South Africa that brought about the accord in its final form, told reporters the G77 was bound to be unhappy with the results.

Serra said that the process left many alienated, particularly the smaller countries that have little influence in a major international negotiation. Many involved in the process here suggested this would be the last time that 193 nations would gather in this way to negotiate such a complex accord.

“Certain groups like G-77 are not happy when a few people make decisions,” Serra said. “It’s not an inclusive exercise. Perhaps it can’t be.”