Copenhagen: Step Forward or Failure?

The Copenhagen UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) discussions ended last weekend after more than two weeks of negotiations, including a last-minute intervention by President Obama. While the final text calls for limiting the warming of the earth by two degrees celsius, there was no binding committment to this increase or greenhouse gas (GHG) emission targets. The meeting resulted in a short “statement of intention,” or political statement, that has no international legal power (see a detailed review of all that was agreed in the political statement). The New York Times wrote that the contentious discussions also reflected poorly on the UNFCCC-run process, and left the future of the UNFCCC’s central role in climate change negotiations more vulnerable. There have been 15 UNFCCC-organized meetings since the 1992 Rio Summit.

Around 30 countries are responsible for 90 percent of global CO2 emissions. Some commentators see smaller groups as more effective at reaching binding agreements. Michael Levi, Council of Foreign Relations, told The New York Times: “The climate treaty process isn’t going to die, but the real work of coordinating international efforts to reduce emissions will primarily occur elsewhere.”

Climate change experts are split on whether the non-binding political agreement represents a step forward or illustrates the conference’s failures. Many countries and negotiating blocs (i.e. the G-77 or European Union) have been pointing fingers at each other for the past week. As an example, the U.K. and China have been engaged in a post-Copenhagen feud, writes The New York Times

Copenhagen Was a Major Step Forward:

Frank Loy, former U.S. climate change negotiator, and Michael Levi, Senior Fellow at Council for Foreign Relations, write: “The Copenhagen Accord is a serious step forward, if a severely limited one. It starts by establishing a concrete and demanding goal: keeping the rise in global temperature to two degrees Centigrade. Up to now we have been working with a slippery aim of avoiding dangerous harm to the atmosphere.” Read the op-ed.

John Prescott, Council of Europe Rapporteur on Climate Change, says: “The real headline is that Copenhagen has become the first global agreement on climate change. The Copenhagen accord reaffirms the science that we shouldn’t allow the temperature to rise more than two degrees, establishes a green climate fund providing $30bn from 1 January and a new form of verification. This isn’t failure. It’s not as good as it should have been but as Ban Ki-moon said, it’s another important step to control climate change.” Read the op-ed

Ed Miliband, U.K. Climate and Energy Secretary, adds: “We have also established an unprecedented commitment among rich countries to finance the response to climate change: $10bn a year over the next three years – starting to flow now – rising to $100bn a year by 2020, the goal first set out by the prime minister in June. In the months ahead, these concrete achievements must be secured and extended. We must work to ensure that developed nations in particular, such as Australia, Japan and the EU nations, deliver on the highest possible emissions cuts. And as the US Senate considers its legislation, it is important it delivers.” Read the op-ed.

Copenhagen Was a Failure:

The Financial Times wrote a scathing review: “One wonders how a conference to conclude two years of detailed negotiations, building on more than a decade of previous talks, could have collapsed into such a shambles. It is as though no preparatory work had been done. Consensus on the most basic issues was lacking. Were countries there to negotiate binding limits on emissions or not? Nobody seemed to know.” Read the op-ed.

William Gumende, author of Poverty of Ideas, adds that the deal was bad for Africa (and therefore bad for industrial nations as well): “In industrial countries, civil society organisations and individuals must expose their leaders’ bullying of African countries to their citizens and unmask the blame-shifting (to developing countries) used by their leaders to cover up the bullying. A failed climate change deal is not only bad for citizens of African and developing countries – it is for industrial nations too.” Read the op-ed.

Tom Friedman, noted New York Times columnist, called Copenhagen a “bust,” but says U.S. needs to replicate the success of the actual city of Copenhagen, Denmark, a leader in clean energy technology, and use climate change to create new green jobs: “My fellow Americans, the fact that the recent Copenhagen climate summit was a bust in terms of solving our energy/climate problems doesn’t mean that we can ignore those problems — or that we can ignore how individual countries, like Denmark, have effectively addressed them. With unemployment in Denmark at about 4 percent, compared with our 10 percent, maybe we should at least consider putting a few of its ideas on our table.”

Read New York Times, Guardian, and Climate Progress coverage of the talks, and text of the interim accord.

Image credit: Getty Images

One thought on “Copenhagen: Step Forward or Failure?

  1. David (Dave) C. Racker, FASLA 01/13/2010 / 4:52 pm

    The Copenhagen UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is a hilarious joke, a farce not to be taken seriously.

    To think these egotistical excuses for scientists and scholars can convoke, advocate or legislate to keep the rise in global temperature to two degrees C. is preposterous. They might just as well round up all the tornados, hurricanes and corral them to prevent damage to the costal areas as think they have jurisdiction or control over the temperature of the atmosphere.

    The creation of the earth including weather and atmosphere were acts of God (OK, “Mother Nature” for you gender sensitive folks) as are earthquakes, floods and tsunamis by legal definition today. Damages caused by the unusual cold winter in Europe this year will be labeled the same.

    About the time a mere mortal landscape architect can stretch forth his puny arm and stop the Missouri river in it’s decreed course, or turn it upstream, then about the same time I’ll consider President Obama’s last-minute intervention of significance or give a rat’s pa-toot about all the high level yammering and political posturing going on in Copenhagen, Rio or River City.

    Individually and collectively we should all work to improve our stewardship of “Planet Earth” but for crying out loud my friends let’s get real about what is within our realm of influence as a profession.

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