If we look beyond our immediate disappointment, we can just about view a glimmer of hope in what some bloggers are calling ‘Flopenhagen.’ The Copenhagen Accord, deemed ‘a disaster’ by Sweden and a ‘suicide pact’ by the G77, could actually represent the chaotic conception of a post carbon world order. At least it is so vague that it leaves massive room for improvement.
First, causes for hope coming out of COP15:
- 194 nations have spent the last 2 weeks feverishly focused on forging a global deal to mitigate climate change. While they may not have managed to produce a real one, they did manage to draw massive global attention to the ordeal.
- 194 countries have, by dint of their Herculean efforts, unequivocally legitimized climate change as a) real b) the largest universal problem ever faced by human society on the planet and c) unacceptable. Climate deniers can go home.
- As one blogger wrote – what Copenhagen has just hosted was the world’s first major Accountability Summit. Civil society is now engaged with this space. Informal media is all over it. Activists are using New Media to engage civil society in unprecendented, highly innovative ways. Citizen journalists are reaching deeper into local networks and touching more and more people. Finally, we have a global civic movement on our hands. 15 million people of all cultures are uniting on this front.
- Thanks to Tuvalu and the incredible work of tcktcktck and the dedication of their millions of followers, 350 ppm is, though shelved in the last 18 hours by the new G2 (US and China), unofficially back on the table. For a moment last week, it was the moral measuring stick. It’s not going to go away either. Many developed countries expressed their frustration at the stalling effect of Tuvalu’s protest on an issue many considered already agreed, and some even suspected a coordinated campaign, backed by China. But the truth is that the 350 campaign does a fantastic job of highlighting a) the fact that climate change is already happening, and means the disappearance of homelands for many people b) the serious gamble that a 2 degrees rise actually represents, according to the science. It reminds nations to aim high.
- Let’s imagine the worst-case nightmare scenario of climate-nobyl of the climate talks with neither China nor the US budging an inch. We didn’t see that. In a way, the ‘Accord’ is a hallmark of human cooperation. The beloved Obama personally appeared at the talks (don’t quite understand how it could even have been a possibility for Obama not to appear at these talks – but for all those out there who haven’t quite yet grasped the gravity of the climate crisis, Obama’s intervention signaled what a big deal climate change really is). He and the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, supposedly a passionate environmentalist, agreed in concept to work towards a legally binding treaty to keep warming to 2 degrees C and measure and verify regional emissions. It’s a start.
- We did have movement on financial aid - a small amount of short-term funding to help the poorest countries adapt ($30 billion total for the next three years), and a larger longer-term package ($100 billion per year by 2020). Surprisingly AOSIS (the Island Nations) agreed to back the Accord at 5 AM on Saturday morning in exchange for initial fast-start funding pledged by the U.S and the EU. The Maldives thinks we can work towards a more ambitious, legally binding treaty.
- A Der Spiegel reporter called Inhofe ‘rediculous’ to his face during his own press conference. Hah!
Now the drawbacks:
- What happened to the UN process? From Day 2 onwards accusations of a lack of transparency echoed throughout the conference hall, and many countries expressed their dissatisfaction with Denmark’s handling of back room negotiations and the drafting of an unprecedented 3 page text that bypasses the UN process. The 3 page text was essentially manhandled into being by the US and the BASIC group - China, India, Brazil, South Africa plus 20 additional ‘friendly nations.’ While this group is accountable for more than 80% of global emissions, not all nations have signed on to it. Bolivia, Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela have in fact opposed it. But perhaps it is simply impossible for a world forum like the UN to produce a global framework - perhaps we should abandon an heroic attempt at hyper-multilateralism. We certainly have to take our hats off to the Danes for attempting to reach unanimity on this utterly complex and intractable issue.
- The Accord is not a UN sanctioned consensus document, and joining it is voluntary for each nation. The US delegation made it very clear that this document cannot be modified by UN officials, and that the accord was made far above the level of UN officials. The UN has officially moved to “take note” of the agreement, which basically means it MAY be considered in future COP’s as the framework for the legally binding agreement. This means it could be easily sidelined, and the UN is faced with another six months of tangled, slow moving negotiations in order to be able to formally accept it. Check out the WRI’s Q&A for some legal details.
- The Accord establishes the target of max 2 degrees C rise in mean global temperature but it does not give a target date. This is really bad news as the emissions trajectory and the peak out year is absolutely essential. Scientists are saying we have to have reached peak emissions globally by 2015 in order to avoid runaway climate change.
- According to the C-ROADS simulator, the current voluntary pledges to reduce emissions amount to a 3.9 degrees C rise. This is way beyond what would be deemed ‘safe’ for the planet.
We have a lot more work to do!
Some pretty confusing stuff, that’s for sure.
Here is the background:
There are two negotiating tracks – the COPs and the MOPs. Back in 1992 150 nations signed up the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) including the U.S. at the Earth Summit in Rio, and began holding Conferences of the Parties (COPs).
In 1997, the COP3 established the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty that set binding targets for Greenhouse Gas emissions for 37 industrialized countries (cutting emissions 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012). Back then, developing countries like China and India were not included. (China overtook the U.S. as the world’s largest carbon emitter in 2007).
The U.S. Senate never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, but 184 other countries did. That was when the Meeting of Parties (MOPs), or meetings to administer the Kyoto Protocol, were born. FYI – Since 2005 COPs and MOPs have been held at the same time.
The key difference is that the convention encourages industrialized nations to curb emissions while the protocol binds them by law to do so.
Bali in 2007 or COP13 was the next major milestone. The outcome was that parties set a 2 year deadline to reach a long term global deal for mitigating climate change. The convention set up a working group called “Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA)” and the deal coming out of the LCA track is meant to include the US and everyone else.
Major developing nations like China, India, and Brazil favor extending the Kyoto Protocol to future commitment periods, because - it doesn’t legally bind them! (In other words, they will not face any fines or other sanctions if they fail to reduce.) The U.S and other western countries favor creating a new accord out of the LCA that would cover the leading developing nations because these nations are quickly becoming the world’s highest emitters.
Last week at COP15 we heard from a new voice – the AOSIS or Association of Small Island States. Tuvalu in particular spoke out for their largest concern – the survival of their low lying nation. Tuvalu demanded two treaties, one from Kyoto and one from the LCA, so that every country is tied in to a legally binding treaty that is ambitious enough to meet a 350 ppm target with developed world peak outs in 2015. Simply put, without China and India and the U.S. all on reduction pathways, countries like Tuvalu will cease to exist.
What has happened has been nothing less than revolutionary – the 350 ppm target, or 1.5 degree Celsius rise, is back on the table. Or, it has at least become the moral measuring stick. At Bali leaders were agreed on limiting global average temperature rise to 2 degrees C. But 2 degrees C actually means that small island nations like Fiji, Tuvalu and the Maldives will be under water, glaciers will melt (shrinking water supplies for millions of people around the world), and arctic sea ice will become a figment of our collective imagination by as early as 2015.
Tuvalu asked to suspend sessions last week to when it appeared that its proposal for a second legally binding treaty to complement Kyoto and meet 350 ppm targets was being sidelined. See Tuvalu’s emotional plea and scooping of the moral high ground here: http://us.oneworld.net/article/368325-tuvalu-fate-my-country-rests-your-hands
This intervention created a rift among developing nations – the AOSIS countries have nothing to lose but their lives, while larger, increasingly economically prosperous nations like China don’t want to retard economic growth (China’s has put reductions in carbon intensity of 40% by 2020 on the table- but this is not absolute emissions reduction).
Another key issue that is still being discussed is the level of financing that the developed world will channel to the developing world to help support sustainable development, and crucially to help countries adapt to climate change (the effects of which many are already feeling). See here for some numbers on what is at stake from the World Humanitarian Forum in Geneva:
The developing world believes that reparation payments should be made for the damage being caused by climate change – so the money should be granted, not loaned. The developing world also want $200 billion a year in additional climate assistance (so not repackaged aid money), not the roughly $10 billion that is currently being offered.
Today, African nations walked out and refused to continue talks unless the Kyoto Protocol track is prioritized over the LCA. Sessions have since resumed. Listen to Nnimmo Bassey’s thoughts from Friends of the Earth here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_gn98Uvw3w
Over the weekend, we saw the greatest distributed global climate demonstration ever, with over 1 million people sending out a strong and clear message to leaders, demanding a 350 ppm deal with up to $400 billion long term adaptation aid to the developing world and a legally binding treaty for all big emitters. According to the Grist.org blog, the grassroots have spoken, helping to reframe the discussions so that 450 ppm or 2 degrees C now seems like 2nd choice.
There will likely be continued posturing and delegate walk outs through the week, with outcomes decided in the 11th hour. We are hoping that the global call for 350ppm will get through to negotiators, and that we will have a continued, tougher Kyoto Protocol and a new global accord involving big developing world emitters with tough reduction targets at the other end of the tunnel.
Check out 350.org to join the 350 movement and please stay up to date on what’s going on in Copenhagen on the tcktcktck.org website (with live streaming).
P.S. Our favorite quote of the summit so far comes from the Pablo Solon, Bolivian Ambassador to the UN, venting his frustrations on the negotiating process and referring to the earlier ‘leaked’ Danish document:
“We are asking for a transparent democratic and inclusive process. It seems negotiators are living in the Matrix, while the real negotiation is taking place in the ‘Green room,’ in small stealth dinners with selective guests.”
“The presidency of the UNFCCC says that its informal consultations will be based on regional participation, but have not indicated how these will be chosen. They are creating an undemocratic parallel process where they can pick and choose only some countries.”
“It seems the only ones who have taken the “red pill” and are aware of the reality are those who marched in the streets on Saturday, who have denounced the rich countries for trying to stitch a deal that will undermine their obligation to tackle this urgent climate crisis.”