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the Copenhagen Accord « Previous | |Next »
December 19, 2009

The circulating text of the Copenhagen Accord---there is some anlaysis here. It is a political agreement reached after a meeting among President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and South African President Jacob Zuma.

This green gloss on a distinctly brown political accord still needs to be approved by the 193 nations gathered at COP15. Many of them are unhappy about how the deal went down.

No doubt the US and its friends will spin "the agreement" as an historic success. However, this political fudge is more or less an inglorious ending: a grave disappointment if not failure, since the conference failed to agree on measures to stabilise global temperatures below a rise of 3C and the accord was neither accepted or rejected, it was merely "noted".


The accord is a work in progress as it drops the goal of concluding a binding international treaty by the end of 2010, which leaves the implementation of its provisions uncertain. It is little more than a general commitment to the idea that “climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time” and that “deep cuts” in global emissions are required. If the best that can be said is that it leaves the door open for a proper agreement, then consensus ended where action should have begun.

So the process is likely to undergo many months, perhaps years, of additional negotiation over the core issues (what targets to set, how to include both developed and developing countries within the same framework, and what financing would be available for international programs to help poorer nations contend with climate change) before it emerges in any internationally enforceable form. Will It?

If the big sticking point still seems to be the Chinese refusing verification involving some form of inspection, then the China-friendly verification provision rests on the "vague international consultations and analysis" clause. There is also a legacy of mistrust of the United States, which has long refused to accept any binding limits on its greenhouse gas emissions and the US Senate has not yet acted on a climate bill. All America is offering is an emissions reductions target of a 17% reduction over 2005 levels by 2020 conditional on Congress passing climate change legislation.That represents just 4% emissions cuts on 1990 levels from a country that has not and will not ratify the Kyoto protocol.

So where to next after this exercise in saving face? The world's worst polluters – the people who are drastically altering the climate – gathered in Copenhagen to announce they were going to carry on emitting and heating the planet, in defiance of all the scientific warnings. If the US has sacrificed the low-lying islands, glaciers and North Pole, then by bringing China and India into the tent he has improved the prospects for the climate change legislation passing in the Senate.

It doesn't look promising, given the systematic campaign of sabotage by certain industrial state governments, which was driven and promoted by the energy industries and supported by the political expediency of nations-states protecting corporate profits. As Hugo Chavez of Venezuela remarked these developed nations acted decisively to save Wall Street and the banks, but they could not act to save the planet.

A willingness to commit to climate actions in the national arena is not the equivalent with a readiness to sign up to a new, international climate treaty. The grim reality is that the national politics of the sort at work in most big economies (Australia being a prime current example) trumps internationalism every time.

If there is any movement, then there needs to be a way to find the most effective means of monitoring whether a nation is cutting its emissions without intruding on its sovereignty - a major stumbling block in this week's negotiations. Presumably, further negotiations t will work out what "international consultations and analysis"—means.

The idea that there is an invisible hand that will sweep up self-regarding actions into a coherent set of climate policies is a chimera. The climate is a commons, and we have forgotten how to look after anything properly that is held in common.Over forty years ago Garrett Hardin identified the result of individuals pursuing their self-interest in the context of a finite resource, even when it is obvious that it is no longer in their interest to do: the “tragedy of the commons”. This is exactly what is happening with climate change.

Robert N. Stavins observes in the Financial Times:

Climate change is the ultimate common global problem, because greenhouse gases uniformly mix in the atmosphere. Therefore, each country incurs the costs of its emission-reduction actions, but the benefits of its actions are spread worldwide. Hence, for any individual nation, the benefits it receives from its actions are inevitably less than the costs it incurs, despite the fact that globally the total benefits of appropriate co-ordinated international action would exceed the total costs (and for many countries the national benefits of co-ordinated international action would exceed their national costs of action).

This creates a classic free-rider problem, and is the reason why international co-operation – whether through an agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or through some other multilateral or bilateral arrangements – is necessary.

So what to do? Privatise the commons (Hardin’s preferred solution), or create a Green Leviathan that forces individuals and countries to keep their greenhouse-gas emissions to around 450 parts per million (ppm)? Or show that carbon technology is commercially viable by providing capital to encourage private investors to back low-carbon technologies; supporting training programmes; providing infrastructure to support new industries.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:07 AM | | Comments (7)


This deal, as it stands, will definitely result in massive devastation in Africa and small island states. Tuvalu, like the Maldives, will be the first of us to go. Asa disappointed Bolivian UN Ambassador said:

“Why we don’t accept because that means that several islands are going to disappear. Our glaciers in the mountains are going to disappear. Africa is going to be cooked. We are approaching a situation where we cannot guarantee that we are going to be able to save whole humanity.” Will the deal be adopted by all 192 countries in the full plenary session?

Just after midnight I watched a press conference given by Boliva, Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, and Nicaragua. They were very angry at the secret deal done by a few invited countries behind closed doors. They criticized the form and content of the negotiations, and they indicated that they would not accept the deal.

For my part, I'd like to check the truth claims of Western so called leaders, agains the realities implicit in the recent
"oil auction" of Iraq's mega fields and massive increases in production arising from this process.

Inadequate? Oh yes. The positive is that there is a target for 2 degrees. That in itself will necessitate deep cuts to be achieved - if this commitment is to be met then science can determine the substantive cuts required with politicians driving strategies of implementation, as it should be.
Obama's very positive international image has been a glue to keeping this together.

yes the 2 degrees is a positive and the accord can be seen as a first step towards a green and low-carbon future.

But the failure at Copenhagen is going to undermine unilateral climate policies. Those who oppose climate change---eg., the climate-denying American heartland-- will be encouraged to continue their campaign to block any reform by arguing that these policies will burden national economies with costs and damage their international competitiveness.

it does seem as if the US was able to spin the issue of China's data transparency (verification) as the "deal-breaker" for the whole Copenhagen meeting. China are being cast as the bad guys.

What was covered up was the United States's inability to take action domestically on climate change.If we use the standard 1990 base then the US is only proposing proposed 4% reductions in carbon. Australia is only proposing 5%.

In Copenhagen: A discordant accord in the Finacial Times Fiona Harvey, Ed Crooks and Andrew Wardsay that:

The real problem with the accord, however, is that it has not been formally accepted by the Copenhagen conference, which means it can easily be sidelined, an impression reinforced by China’s words. That leaves the UN with a further six months of tough and possibly hopeless negotiations to win acceptance, to be followed by the nearly impossible task of turning any such acceptance into a treaty. It also leaves the world without a global framework to tackle climate change.

So where to next?