x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Is the Copenhagen Accord a meaningful agreement?

What the US president hailed as 'an unprecedented breakthrough' in tackling climate change others described as a 'shameful and monumental failure' saying Mr Obama 'has disappointed the whole world' As two weeks of contentious negotiations on tackling climate change concluded with the declaration of the Copenhagen Accord, which the US President Barack Obama described as a "meaningful" agreement, it was unclear in what sense the accord actually constituted an agreement.

As two weeks of contentious negotiations on tackling climate change concluded with the declaration of the Copenhagen Accord - which the US President Barack Obama described as a "meaningful" agreement - it was unclear in what sense the accord actually constituted an agreement. "The climate deal reached between US, China and other great powers on Friday night is so vague, hastily hatched and non-binding President Obama isn't even sure he'll be required to sign it," Politico reported. " 'You know, it raises an interesting question as to whether technically there's actually a signature... It's not a legally binding agreement, I don't know what the protocols are,' said a bleary-eyed Obama, before hopping in Air Force One for the trip back to Washington." As The New York Times noted: "The three-page accord that Mr Obama negotiated with the leaders of China, India, Brazil and South Africa and then presented to the conference did not meet even the modest expectations that leaders set for this meeting, notably by failing to set a 2010 goal for reaching a binding international treaty to seal the provisions of the accord. "Nor does the plan firmly commit the industrialised nations or the developing nations to firm targets for midterm or long-term greenhouse gas emissions reductions. The accord is nonetheless significant in that it codifies the commitments of individual nations to act on their own to tackle global warming. " 'For the first time in history,' Mr Obama said, 'all major economies have come together to accept their responsibility to take action to confront the threat of climate change.' "The accord provides a system for monitoring and reporting progress toward those national pollution-reduction goals, a compromise on an issue over which China bargained hard. It calls for hundreds of billions of dollars to flow from wealthy nations to those countries most vulnerable to a changing climate. And it sets a goal of limiting the global temperature rise to 2C above preindustrial levels by 2050, implying deep cuts in climate-altering emissions over the next four decades. "But it was an equivocal agreement that was, to many, a disappointing conclusion to a two-year process that had the goal of producing a comprehensive and enforceable action plan for addressing dangerous changes to the global climate. The messy compromise mirrored the chaotic nature of the conference, which virtually all participants said had been badly organised and run." The accord that Mr Obama helped negotiate would have been almost worthless without recognition by the plenary session of all the delegate nations at the summit. But as The Guardian recounted, when the Danish chairman, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, gave delegates just an hour to consider the accord, he was assailed by a storm of criticism. "The Venezuelan representative raised a bloodied hand to grab his attention. 'Do I have to bleed to grab your attention,' she fumed. 'International agreements cannot be imposed by a small exclusive group. You are endorsing a coup d'état against the United Nations.' "While the debate raged, China's delegate, Su Wei, was silent as Latin American nations and small island states lined up to attack the accord and the way it had been reached. " 'We're offended by the methodology. This has been done in the dark,' fumed the Bolivian delegate. 'It does not respect two years of work.' "Others resorted to histrionics. The document 'is a solution based on the same very values, in our opinion, that channelled six million people in Europe into furnaces,' said Sudan's Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping. "It was too much for Rasmussen, who looked strained and exhausted after a week spent vainly trying to bridge the schisms between the parties. He raised his gavel to close the debate, which would have aborted the Copenhagen accord and condemned the summit to abject failure. "The document was saved at the last second by [Britain's secretary of state for energy and climate change, Ed] Miliband, who had rushed back from his hotel room to call for an adjournment. During the recess, a group led by Britain, the US and Australia forced Rasmussen out of the chair and negotiated a last-minute compromise. The accord was neither accepted or rejected, it was merely 'noted'. This gave it a semblance of recognition, but the weak language reflected the unease that has surrounded its inception." Andy Atkins, the executive director of Friends of the Earth, responding to a speech by Mr Obama said: "The president is right that the endeavours in Copenhagen will go down in history - but unless we see a massive shift in the US position, it will be for all the wrong reasons. "If the president's idea of action is to cut US emissions by 4 per cent on 1990 levels then we're heading for climate catastrophe. Barack Obama should have taken the opportunity to up his proposed cuts to at least 40 per cent by 2020 and ditch carbon offsetting. "Obama has deeply disappointed not just those listening to his speech at the UN talks - he has disappointed the whole world." Tim Jones, climate policy officer at the World Development Movement said: "This summit has been in complete disarray from start to finish, culminating in a shameful and monumental failure that has condemned millions of people around the world to untold suffering. The leaders of rich countries have refused to lead. They have been captured by business interests at a time when people need leaders to put justice first. "Rich countries have failed the poorest people in the world and history will judge them harshly. They have failed to offer the emissions cuts that science and justice requires. To say that this 'deal' is in any way historic or meaningful is to completely misrepresent the fact that this 'deal' is meaningless." The Guardian reported: "The blame game over the failure of the Copenhagen climate talks started last night with countries accusing each other of a complete lack of willingness to compromise. "The G77 group of 130 developing nations blamed Obama for 'locking the poor into permanent poverty by refusing to reduce US emissions further.' " 'Today's events are the worst development for climate change in history,' said a spokesperson. "Pablo Solon, Bolivian ambassador to the UN, blamed the Danish hosts for convening only a small group of countries to prepare a text to put before world leaders. 'This is completely unacceptable. How can it be that 25 to 30 nations cook up an agreement that excludes the majority of the 190 nations.'" The New York Times noted: "Even President Obama, a principal force behind the final deal, said the accord would take only a modest step toward healing the Earth's fragile atmosphere. "Many participants also said that the chaos and contentiousness of the talks may signal the end of reliance on a process that for almost two decades had been viewed as the best approach to tackling global warming: the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and a series of 15 conventions following a 1992 climate summit meeting in Rio de Janeiro. "The process has become unworkable, many said, because it has proved virtually impossible to forge consensus among the disparate blocs of countries fighting over environmental guilt, future costs and who should referee the results. " 'The climate treaty process isn't going to die, but the real work of coordinating international efforts to reduce emissions will primarily occur elsewhere,' said Michael Levi, who has been tracking the diplomatic effort for the Council on Foreign Relations. "That elsewhere will likely be a much smaller group of nations, roughly 30 countries responsible for 90 per cent of global warming emissions."

pwoodward@thenational.ae