There can be no doubt that the Copenhagen Accord falls short of expectations, yet there are reasons to maintain a cautious optimism for an effective global response to address climate change. It is now clear, however, that much of the hard work still remains to be done.
After days of intense negotiation and various draft documents put forward for consideration, the assembled heads state representing the Congress of the Parties (COP) agreed to “take note” of the Copenhagen Accord. This document affirms the importance of limiting global warming to 2ºC above pre-industrial temperatures, but does not define specific targets for reducing carbon emissions that such a commitment would require. It further commits developed nations to contribute $30 billion to fund climate adjustment by developing nations, with a goal to increasing this amount to $100 billion by 2020. Unfortunately, as many commentators have observed, by “taking note” of the Copenhagen Accord, COP was in effect merely acknowledging the existence of the document, nothing more.
The Copenhagen Accord emerged out of marathon negotiations between a small group of global leaders, primarily the United States, China, India, Brazil and South Africa. While many nations showed support for the Accord, there were also states that strongly opposed it, including Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Cuba. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has acknowledged that the Accord “may not be everything we hoped for”, but he has called COP15 “an essential beginning”. Head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat, Yvo de Boer, has referred to the Accord as “a letter of intent [that] is not precise about what needs to be done in legal terms”. He further argues that “the challenge is now to turn what we have agreed politically in Copenhagen into something real, measurable and verifiable”.
One of the criticisms of the Copenhagen Accord is that it does not contain specific targets for emission cuts, however, this issue will be addressed by the requirement that all signatories should submit submission targets by 31 January 2010. Tom Brookes and Tim Nuthall from the European Climate Foundation list other reasons why we should remain optimistic about COP15.
- With 110 world leaders present and a single issue on the agenda, there has never been a meeting like this. The countries that brokered the text, the US, China, India, South Africa, Brazil and the EU, also reflects a world in which the balance of power has significantly changed in the last 20 years.
- At a fundamental level, the conference redefined the debate between countries in terms of awareness of climate science and support for action. There is no longer any question that climate change is central to the political thinking of every country on the planet.
- Public awareness has also massively increased. The vast campaigns run around the world in the run-up to Copenhagen by governments, NGOs and business and the media coverage of the issue and the summit have made addressing climate change widely understood and discussed from the pubs of rural England to the bars of Beijing.
- The other very important change is that green growth is now the prevailing economic model of our time. The idea that addressing climate change is bad for business was buried at Copenhagen. Countries from both developed and developing worlds have announced low-carbon economic plans and are moving forward.
The world now looks ahead to COP16, which will be held in Mexico in December 2010. In the intervening months, however, a great deal of work will need to be done to avoid the intense negotiations and controversy that marked COP15.