The Accord was the document that came out of last year’s negotiations. It is a document that aspires to restrict global warming to 2˚ centigrade but is not legally-binding. Consequently it relies on voluntary pledges from nations to reduce their emissions.
This report essentially runs the numbers submitted by various countries and compares them to climate modeling scenarios that would “likely” result in the 2 degree stabilization. Because there is no consistency in the commitments submitted by 138 countries in response to the Accord, the report develops four basic implementation scenarios.
The main takeaway is that no matter how you cut it, the Copenhagen Accord commitments are likely insufficient to keep global emissions at a level that limits global warming to 2 degrees.
The report does indicate that the gap can be lessened by having strict accounting for land use offsets and for limiting the number of Kyoto-era reduction credits applicable to Copenhagen Accord commitments.
One of the main problems with the Accord is the lack of specificity in how it “counts” emissions reductions and offsets. Although the meeting in Cancún is not expected to result in a legally binding treaty, there could be movement towards developing a shared understanding of some of these ambiguities. Whether negotiators choose strict accounting methods or allow a multiplicity of loopholes could give some indication about the efficacy of the Accord and the seriousness of the 2 degree warming limit.
After I wrote my earlier post on countries that submitted their emissions targets under the Copenhagen Accord, I visited the tally sheet maintained by the US Climate Action Network and noticed that they had a copy of the official US letter.
Dated today, the letter commits the US to a 17% reduction in greenhouse gases from 2005 levels by 2020 “in conformity with anticipated US energy and climate legislation, recognizing that the final target will be reported to the Secretariat in light of enacted legislation.”
There was also no mention of the Copenhagen Accord fitting into a legal process or treaty-building exercise.
The letter does say that the US expects other countries to meet the 31 January deadline for reporting their emissions under the Accord, contradicting Yvo de Boer’s description of Sunday as a “soft ” deadline.
The US response is not a surprise. The Obama Administration gives itself an “out” if Congress fails to pass legislation or passes a climate bill with a weaker target.
Failure to mention steps beyond the Accord suggests to me that the US is not enthusiastic about the viability of the UN process. But the reiteration of the 31 January deadline means that the US doesn’t want other countries to delay and that they want to be able to point to positive steps towards addressing global climate change.
Like I said, none of this is surprising; but it shows us how the battle lines are beginning to solidify and what to expect in the way of points of contention as international negotiations continue over the next few months.
On the domestic front, assuming that major emitters (especially India and China) meet the deadline for reporting their targets under the Accord, the Obama Administration will surely use this progress to pressure the Senate into passing an energy bill.
Although Obama didn’t utter the words “cap and trade” during his state of the union speech last night, he did hit the “clean energy/jobs” angle pretty heavy. Large emitter endorsement of the Accord will likely help the Administration in moving climate and energy legislation.
With Sunday’s deadline fast approaching for countries to officially offer their emissions reductions targets under the Copenhagen Accord, we are starting to get a glimpse into how the parties to the UN climate convention are interpreting the rather vague document.
The Accord was a deal brokered in the final minutes of last month’s Copenhagen conference by the leaders of the major emitters. It was nearly derailed in the formal session at Copenhagen. The compromise which was hashed out at that session was not a full-fledged endorsement, but merely a reflection that the Copenhagen Accord was “noted” by signatories to the UN climate treaty.
I won’t get into the arcana of UN climate decision-making, but the significance of “noting” the decision has been unclear. Is it a “legal” document? Are countries under some obligation to meet its dictates?
Underscoring the uncertainty of the document, the head of the UN climate secretariat, Yvo de Boer, had to send out a letter to parties stressing that the Copenhagen Accord does “not have any legal standing in the UNFCCC process.”
Therefore, it will be interesting to see how countries themselves interpret the Accord in order to get a sense for its significance.
Meeting the Sunday deadline for submitting emissions reductions targets to the UN is one way to gauge the seriousness of countries. Last week, de Boer called the 31 Jan. deadline “soft,” raising concern that it will be ignored.
As far as I can tell, the major emitters (aside from South Korea) have not yet presented their commitments to the UN.
What is interesting though, is that some of the smaller countries–e.g. Marshall Islands, Singapore, Samoa, Bangladesh –are insisting that the Copenhagen Accord be a step on the path towards a legally binding treaty. We are seeing this in their pre-Jaunuary 31 communications.
Even a major emitter like the United States ostensibly wants a legally binding treaty. But how this plays out within the context of the existing UN framework is extremely uncertain.
One thing that has never been resolved–although it was supposed to have been dealt with in Copenhagen–is the future of the Kyoto Protocol. Fast-growing developing countries like China and India have been reluctant to give up on Kyoto since its architecture does not obligate them to reduce emissions.
The key advantage of the Copenhagen Accord is that it does ask these emergent economies to plan for some commitment to reductions from business-as-usual levels. Earlier this week the BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India & China) released a statement indicating that they want the Kyoto discussions to continue, while simultaneously expressing their interest in signing on to the Copenhagen Accord.
At some point a different architecture is going to have to be developed. Kyoto is binding (for those who have ratified it) but ineffective. Copenhagen is voluntary, but it is still too early to judge its effectiveness. Thus, these early communications from countries could be key in determining the ultimate efficacy of the Copenhagen Accord.
If we see a large number of smaller, developing countries highlighting in their communications that the Copenhagen Accord is part of a process leading to a legally-binding treaty, one way of interpreting it would be that these countries are seeking to maintain the Kyoto architecture since Kyoto is the main legal expression currently in force.
It will be interesting to see how some of the larger emitters respond. For instance, it is not clear whether South Korea mentioned anything about their commitments being part of the effort to forge a treaty.
If you get key countries like the US, Mexico, Indonesia, the EU, Japan, excluding mention of a treaty in their communications, it may not bode well for the UN negotiations later this year in Mexico.
Environment ministers from the BASIC countries–Brazil, South Africa, India, China–met in New Delhi over the weekend to coordinate their responses to international climate change negotiations in advance of the 31 January deadline for parties to communicate their emissions reductions strategies to the UNFCCC.
The meeting ended with a joint statement that reasserts their support for both the UN process and the Copenhagen Accord which has a tenuous and uncertain relationship to the global climate regime. The countries call on the Prime Minister of Denmark to convene five meetings leading up to the big, COP 16, meeting in Mexico. But they also indicated their intentions to submit emissions reductions targets by Sunday’s deadline.
Perhaps more significantly was their emphasis on the Accord’s immediate $10bn annual pledge for adaptation in developing countries. In news reports several of the environment ministers pointed to that pledge as a test of developed countries’ seriousness.
On related note, the Guardian reports today that the United Kingdom is contemplating reallocating money from existing overseas aid budgets to finance climate change adaptation. This, of course, is objectionable to developing countries who insist that climate assistance should be above and beyond existing aid.
Things aren’t much better in the United States where the climate envoy Jonathan Pershing said yesterday that the government is “currently looking at the financing in the budget” suggesting that the “fast track” funding is far from immanent.
The UN climate change talks in Copenhagen ended in a dramatic flurry of activity, diplomacy, and negotiation early Saturday. The activity, however, did not translate into any significant momentum towards resolving the major impediments to a truly global response to the climate crisis.
The main takeaway from the talks was the “Copenhagen Accord,” [.pdf] a document largely negotiated by the large emitters, including the United States, China, India and Brazil. The details of how the accord was negotiated are still sketchy, although some the initial reporting suggests that world leaders were actually going line-by-line through the text–an activity normally reserved for lower level diplomats. Interestingly, it seemed as if China & India were savvy in keeping the EU and the US at bay. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao sent his underlings into meetings with Western leaders and apparently rejected both the EU offer of reducing its emissions by 30% by 2020 from 1990 levels and the general developed country commitment of an 80% reduction by 2050 under the questionable guise that by 2050 they will be considered “developed” and subject to reductions.
After the accord was endorsed late Friday night by the few countries engaged in its drafting, it needed to be presented to the larger “conference of the parties” to the UN climate treaty. The floor debate began around 3:00am and was quite rancorous. There was significant opposition from Latin American countries and small island nations who were cut out of the accord’s drafting.
Decisions under the climate treaty generally require consensus from all participating countries and at one point it seemed as if the conference would break up without considering the accord. Apparently the head UK climate negotiator, Ed Miliband stepped in to defend the accord and the conference wound up “noting” the accord as opposed to “supporting” or “endorsing” it.
Such a tepid response sullies the accord’s significance within the context of the UN decision making framework.
So, what does the Copenhagen Accord say?
First, it is a political agreement, so there are no legal obligations on the part of signatories to follow its directives.
Second, the accord does say that “the increase in global temperature should be below 2 degrees Celsius.” This is in keeping with other political proclamations over the past year by developed countries–in particular the G8. However the use of the word “should”–rather than “shall”–doesn’t imply a significant level of commitment.
Third, instead of a timetable for a globally-binding treaty, the accord simply says that “we should cooperate in achieving the peaking of global and national emissions as soon as possible.” Again, no “shall,” and more significantly, no mention in the accord of translating its framework into a legally-binding treaty–an outcome of Copenhagen that was hoped for by many before the talks began.
Fourthly, the accord asks both developed and developing countries to submit their own national emissions targets by 31 January 2010 to include in the accord. Significantly, developing countries’ mitigation targets “will be subject to their domestic measurement, reporting, and verification” procedures. This represents a strike against the US position, which had insisted throughout the talks that China and India–in particular–needed to be subject to international “MRV” procedures. The accord does say, however, that if a developing country is receiving international financing for a specific mitigation action then that particular action needs to be subject to international monitoring.
Fifth, the accord does recognize the importance of forest conservation and endorses an “immediate establishment of a mechanism” to provide financing for stopping deforestation.
Sixth, the accord provides specific numbers for financing from developed countries to developing countries to deal with adaptation and mitigation. The commitment is collective–meaning the specific breakdown of each country’s share has not been established–and will be $30 billion for three years. By 2020, the number should rise to $100 billion per year. These aggregate numbers are lower than amounts discussed before the conference and the specific mechanisms on how money will be allocated are unresolved.
The accord discusses setting up a “Copenhagen Green Climate Fund” that will monitor climate aid and should be accountable to the parties to the UN convention. Although I’m not a lawyer, it is not clear to me what the significance of the parties’ lack of clear endorsement of the Copenhagen Accord might have on the governance of this fund.
Finally, the accord calls for its implementation to be completed by 2015 and a future “consideration of strengthening of the long-term goal referencing various matters presented by the science, including in relation to temperature rises of 1.5 degrees Celsius.” This, obviously, was a rather torpid attempt to placate small island states and the growing body of scientists and activists who argue that the risks of accepting a 2 degree rise in global temperature are too great.
The summation of the Copenhagen Accord has been best expressed by Kim Carstensen of the World Wildlife Fund, who calls it “half-baked and unclear.”
It doesn’t really resolve anything, but brings up even more questions about how the problem of global climate change can be addressed.
Some of these questions include: If the signatories to the declaration really want to keep the planet from warming 2 degrees, what are they going to do to see that goal realized? What will happen if/when, at the end of January after countries present their mitigation goals, it becomes apparent that the voluntary commitments will be insufficient to stave off harmful global warming?
The accord says that it should be fully implemented by 2015. This is also the year that IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri said that global emissions need to peak in order to stay within the 2 degree warming threshold. How can can emissions peak by 2015 given the leisurely timeline for implementation?
What is the future of the UN climate change convention? If the Copenhagen Accord is the product of a backroom deal that fundamentally eclipses the Kyoto Protocol and the larger UNFCCC process, does this mean that the effort for a legally binding treaty is effectively over? Regardless of what happens to the UNFCCC, how can differences in the US, EU, China and Indian positions be resolved if we are to live on a planet safe from the risks associated with escalated global temperatures?
Is the financing adequate to help the most distressed peoples of the world avoid catastrophe? The numbers in the accord don’t seem to add up and are not nearly ambitious enough to deal with the crises many less developed countries are experiencing right now in their struggles to adapt to changing climatic conditions.
These questions were the ones that were supposed to have been resolved at Copenhagen. The fact that nothing has been resolved is testament to a failure in leadership of many countries involved and especially those who pushed through the accord, namely the US, China, and India.
The next few weeks will be crucial. Pressure from civil society on national leaders will be essential if actual progress can be made on mitigation. If the numbers presented on 1 February don’t hold up to scrutiny, each of the signatories needs to be quite explicit on how the international community will actually address the reality of the science.
That leaves the last unresolved question which comes out Copenhagen, namely the future of civil society in pushing for a fair, binding, and ambitious deal. The UNFCCC and Danish government’s failure to adequately accommodate civil society in Copenhagen leaves a bitter taste for many who had hopes for the talks. Expelling civil society observers from the Bella Center for the last days of the conference undoubtedly made it easier for the major emitters to push through a “half-baked” accord. It will be difficult, but the many civil society groups involved in climate policy will have to regroup and redouble their efforts to pressure national leaders to develop an actual deal.