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Copenhagen Accord has initiated a drift in climate change negotiations

Dr. Arvind Gupta was Director General at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • January 04, 2010

    The much awaited climate change negotiations culminated in Copenhagen on 18th December 2009 at Copenhagen when the Heads of States and Governments adopted a declaration, the Copenhagen Accord, on climate change. The Accord seeks to lay out the future action plan for containing climate change. The key points of the Copenhagen Accord are:

    1. CO2 emissions will be kept below 2 degrees Celsius level. Efforts will be made to “peak” them as early as possible.
    2. Annex I countries (i.e. the developed counties) will submit their emissions reduction plans for 2020 by 31 Jan 2010.
    3. Delivery of reductions and financing by developed countries will be measured, reported and verified in accordance with existing and any further guidelines adopted by the Conference of the Parties, and will ensure that accounting of such targets and finance is rigorous, robust and transparent.
    4. Non-Annex I Parties to the Convention will implement mitigation actions, including those to be submitted to the secretariat by non-Annex I Parties by 31 January 2010.
    5. Mitigation actions subsequently taken and envisaged by Non-Annex I Parties, including national inventory reports, shall be communicated every two years on the basis of guidelines to be adopted by the Conference of the Parties.
    6. Non-Annex I Parties will communicate information on the implementation of their actions through National Communications, with provisions for international consultations and analysis under clearly defined guidelines that will ensure that national sovereignty is respected.
    7. In the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation, developed countries commit to a goal of mobilizing jointly USD 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries. This funding will come from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance.
    8. A significant part of this assistance will be provided through Copenhagen Green Climate Fund. The Copenhagen Green Climate Fund shall be established as an operating entity of the financial mechanism of the Convention to support projects, programme, policies and other activities in developing countries related to mitigation including REDD-plus, adaptation, capacity building, technology development and transfer.
    9. A Technology Mechanism to accelerate technology development and transfer in support of action on adaptation and mitigation that will be established.
    10. An assessment of the implementation of the Copenhagen Accord to be completed by 2015. This would include consideration of strengthening the long-term goal referencing various matters presented by the science, including in relation to temperature rises of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

    How much consensus does the Copenhagen Accord enjoy? Although an overwhelming majority of the 193 countries present have signed it, there has been widespread criticism of the Accord. Even those who signed the Accord, such as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, have expressed disappointment with the outcome.

    According to reports, the Accord was hammered out by the US with the BASIC group of countries represented by Brazil, South Africa, India and China. It was shown to only a handful of countries before it was put up to the Summit plenary for approval. The EU seems to have been marginal to the Copenhagen Accord. Thus, Copenhagen seems to have signalled the emergence of a few developing countries as being influential in the climate change negotiations. With its enormous economic clout and also due to the fact that its emissions have surpassed those of the US, China was obviously the star developing country. How strong and cohesive the BASIC group of countries will remain is still an open question?

    In the US, there has been quiet satisfaction at the Copenhagen Accord. Obama has been credited for having brought China on board while avoided any legally binding emission cuts by the US.

    The Copenhagen Accord is weak and a step back from the Bali Action Plan which talked about four pillars of negotiations – mitigation, adaptation, financial support and technology transfer. Even a cursory reading of the Copenhagen Accord brings out the fact that the world leaders had little to offer besides platitudes and vague promises to contain the problem of climate change.

    Take for example the Kyoto Protocol. The Annex I countries have not only fulfilled their obligations of emissions reductions, they have also gotten away without having to undertake legally binding quotas for the period up to 2020. Although the Copenhagen Accord talks about the need for “deep cuts”, how much the cuts will be is left to individual countries. The lack of agreement on legally binding emission cut after the Kyoto Protocol runs out in 2012 is a serious setback to emission reduction efforts. After 2012, the developed countries will have no legal obligations to cut emissions.

    The Accord has succeeded in getting developing countries to agree to reduce their emissions by undertaking mitigation measures. True, no legally binding quotas have been mentioned but it is clear that developing countries have been coerced into accepting the idea of mitigation in lieu of funding and technology transfer from the developed countries.

    The developing countries had been insisting on transfer of substantial sums of funds from the developed countries. They will be disappointed in this area too. There are some vague assurances about the transfer of $100 billion by the year 2020 to developing countries. The promise made at Copenhagen is so vague and contains much conditionality that it is unlikely that the any significant funds will be transferred any time soon to the developing countries.

    The Copenhagen Accord mentions setting up of a Technology Mechanism to transfer green technologies to developing countries. This is a double edged sword. Technology transfers may create dependencies in developing countries and make them vulnerable to pressures from developed countries.

    Perhaps the most controversial provision of the Accord is the one that relates to the idea of international “consultations and analysis” of the mitigation actions by various countries. The developing countries will be required to have their actions reviewed and analysed by the international community. There has been much comment in the media on this phrase. Does this mean that there will be international monitoring of emission reduction efforts of the developing countries? While words like ‘scrutiny’, ‘monitoring’ etc have been avoided, the intent is clear – there has to be some international oversight of mitigation efforts of various countries. The Accord mentions that suitable “guidelines” will be developed to give content to the phrase ‘consultations and analyses’. Thus, there will be additional pressures on developing countries to fall in line if they wish to avail of the funds and technologies from developed countries.

    Developed countries have also been successful in getting two additional concepts approved: one of the “peaking year” for CO2 emissions and the other of 2 degrees Celsius as the tipping point for climate change. Developing countries will come under pressure to contain their emissions to meet these two concepts.

    The main action required to contain climate change is to curb excessively consumptive life styles in developed countries. About this there is nothing in the Copenhagen Accord. The Accord has also not a word about per capita emissions as being the basis of equity in climate change negotiations.

    The Kyoto Protocol provided some guidance to the future. But the Copenhagen Accord has begun the era of drift in climate change negotiations. From today onwards it will mostly be haggling and deal making.

    For countries like India there is not very much in the Copenhagen Accord. India is an emerging economy. It will have to continue with the development oriented growth strategy to lift millions out of deep poverty. But it will have to do so in a sustainable manner. It will need to become self reliant in renewables, and energy efficient clean technologies.

    From today onwards it appears that the climate change negotiating groups might fragment. Climate change negotiations are likely to be extremely complex as several new groupings might arise both in the developed and developing countries camp. Coordination among developed countries and developing countries as the US-BASIC interaction showed might become more common.

    A significant number of developing countries see their interests being betrayed by the Copenhagen Accord. IPCC Chief R.K Pachauri was quoted as saying that the BASIC countries must take along other developing countries. Delivering a stark warning he said, “India should keep in mind that if it is taking a selfish approach then it will have serious implications not only in climate change but in other areas too. Indian authorities must express and show concern for protecting the ecosystems of this planet and should not allow their words or actions to be interpreted as being only in India’s national interest.”

    The Kyoto Protocol may not see a successor. Climate change negotiations might be conducted on a piecemeal basis along several tracks rather than holistically. There would be a race for technological solutions based on clean technologies. The market for clean technologies is likely to grow exponentially.

    As the experience of the WTO’s Doha Round negotiations show, international negotiations on contentious issues tend to be long drawn, complex and tortuous. The danger is that in the absence of legally binding targets, climate change negotiations might enter into a phase of drift. That will be a set back for the efforts to control climate change.