Reading the Accords – the morning after

Climate change negotiations closed Saturday 19 September without reaching an internationally legally binding agreement. Re-reading them on the morning after makes for disappointment, given what was needed. But it also shows that key issues did move – for some.

The benchmark was high. South Africa  had pushed for a two-track agreement – amendments to the Kyoto Protocol setting up a 2nd commitment period, and a legally binding agreement under the Convention to bring in the US, bind finance for adaptation and mitigation and, in return, allow some developing countries to commit to actions on mitigation, with support.

These very substantial issues have not been capable of agreement in the UNFCCC for the last two years – four on the Kyoto track. In Copenhagen, Parties were still too far apart – and too obsessed with process rather than substance – to reach agreement in the formal negotiating process. Process is important, since it determines outcomes, but some ill-restrained interventions combined with poor decisions by those guiding the process meant that process problems caused the loss of three days – previous time indeed.

To move forward the process, the COP Presidency (taking over the Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen from his Climate Minister, Connie Hedegaard) convened a ‘commitment circle’ of Heads of State and Government drawn from the UN process. These included chairs of regional groups and key interests (e.g. OPEC, small islands, least developed countries), but notably excluded Latin American Bolivarian countries – the ALBA group – not helped by the fact that Latin America has for years not coordinated the region effectively.

With the direct involvement of South African President Jacob Zuma and other world leaders, Copenhagen did reach a political agreement on many of the issues preventing progress. Those central to critical disagreements were able to resolve issues politically – but not all. And without representation from ALBA, the political deal could not – and indeed should not have been – agreed in the Conference of the Parties, the formal UNFCCC process. In the end, the Copenhagen Accords were put into a box – attached to a very short decision that also forwards the bracketed negotiators’ texts to the next meetings and to the COP in Mexico

In  particular, the political deal resolved important issues:
Bringing the US in, by agreeing how to record economy-wide binding emission reduction targets for developed countries, including the USA; these would need to be turned into commitments attached to a legally binding instrument;
Simultaneously, for the first time, creating a space to record at international  level the emission reducdtion actions by the more advanced developing countries. Information from  China, India, Brazil, South Africa, but also Indonesia, Mexico, South Korea, as well as some small countries Philippines, Maldives was available, but formally must be submitted by 31st January 2010, at the same time that developed countries must put in their quantified emission reduction commitments
The leaders represented also agreed how to internationally measure, report and verify developing countries’ mitigation action, resolving a key dispute over review vs transparency;
Actions will be supported by transparently accounted finance $10 bn per year up to 2012, i.e. approaching $30bn immediately up to 2012 and $100 billion per year by 2020. The long-term finance is still beset by conditionalities, but it is the first time that this scale of money is on the table.
The broad institutional architecture for a technology development and transfer mechanism.

The Copenhagen Accord did not deliver on other issues. There was lack of agreement on the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol. An attempt by South Africa in the final plenary to get the Kyoto ratifiers to agree to continue the second commitment period was again blocked by the EU – even after the decision had been gavelled through. The level of ambition of developed countries targets remains low (14-19% below 1990 level by 2020) – which implies that developing countries must do more, or the finance will have to become real, unconditional and internationally verified. In short, there needs to be agreement on the equitable sharing of the remaining carbon development space (very little left), a long term target to cut emissions (the language on 50% reductdions by 2050 from 1990 levels was dropeed) and a comprehensive international adaptation programme as a priority. These gaps, together with process problems, prevented consensus agreement to adopt this deal by all 193 countries.

This first reading suggests that work can go forward.  Much more reflection and analysis will be needed to fully digest what really happened in Copenhagen.  Certainly it was not the break-through that the world expected and the climate needed.  It is weak, in that it is partial, and political rather than legally binding. But with some key issues resolved among world leaders represented should help move forward.  Where, how and when that happens will occupy us for a while.