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Copenhagen: Success or failure?

Copenhagen: Success or failure?

Regardless of where you stand, most people would agree that the outcome of Copenhagen did not live up to expectations, writes Elisa de Wit, head of climate change at Norton Rose Australia.

JUST over a month since the dust settled on the last minute all night negotiations which went into making the Copenhagen Accord, viewpoints on the outcome of the Copenhagen climate change talks have been extremely mixed.  

On the positive side, the Copenhagen Accord has been described as an “important political tool", "vital first step”, or in the words of President Obama, a “meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough”.  

On the negative side, however, the descriptions have ranged from “climate change scepticism in action”, “fiasco”, “death warrant” or more graphically, a “colossal pile of fudge”!  

Regardless of which side of the fence you stand, it is fair to say most people would agree that the outcome of Copenhagen did not live up to expectations.

So, where did the Copenhagen Accord succeed or fail?

Dealing firstly with the negatives, the primary failure is that the Copenhagen Accord is not a legally binding document; it is merely a political agreement.  

Moreover, the Conference of the Parties (COP) (the main decision maker) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) did not feel able to do any more than “take note” of the Accord.  It had been anticipated that the Accord might be “adopted” or at least “accepted” by the COP.

In terms of the actual content of the Accord, what is missing is any specified emissions reduction targets.  In earlier versions of the Accord, there was inclusion of an 80 per cent reduction target for 2050, and reference to 2020 targets (although the percentages for these was not specified).  

By the final version of the Accord, all targets had disappeared.  The other main omission was reference to a peaking year.  

Texts of earlier documents included reference to 2015 which is considered on the latest science to be when emissions should peak, however, the Accord simply talks about achieving peaking “as soon as possible”.

On the positive side, however, the Accord documented that the aim should be to achieve a reduction of global emissions so as to limit the increase in global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius, with a call for a review in 2015 to consider, amongst other matters, whether the goal should be increased to a limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius.  (Of course, if the science is right that peaking needs to occur by 2015, this review may be too late).  

Another positive was the commitment of finance to the developing countries by the developed countries, namely US$30 billion for the period 2010 to 2012, with a goal of US$100 billion a year by 2020.  A Copenhagen Green Climate Fund will be established to provide allocation of such funding.

What does the future hold?

To quote United Nations Yvo de Boer, “Copenhagen did not produce the final cake, but it left countries with all the right ingredients to make a new one in Mexico”. 

 The real issue is, if a legally binding agreement could not be reached in Copenhagen notwithstanding the high level of political involvement, is it really likely that agreement will come forward at Mexico? There are some who are even wondering whether the consensus process of the UNFCCC is the right approach going forward.  

In the more short term, the next key date is 31 January 2010, when both developed and developing countries are required to submit information to complete the two appendixes to the Accord.  

Developed countries are required to submit their emissions reductions targets for 2020, and developing countries are required to put forward their nationally appropriate mitigation actions.  

However, with no legal imperative driving this process, the question is, which countries will step up to the mark, and will there be any greater levels of commitment than those already publicly stated?  We wait with bated breath.

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Copenhagen: Success or failure?
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