Copenhagen is over, but we're not done yet

Posted by jamie — 19 December 2009 at 5:25pm - Comments

It's over. The fifteenth session of the Conference of the Parties has this afternoon officially drawn to a close (or rather all but collapsed), but what are we left with? Very little is the honest answer and, no matter how the politicians spin it or how the media interprets it, it sucks.

Obama called it a "historic first step" and it's neither historic nor a first step. The Kyoto Protocol was both, yet in the 12 years since it was laid down, we've barely progressed - the increasing severity of climate change impacts and the urgent warnings from scientists should have had leaders scrabbling for solutions. Instead, yesterday a small group of these leaders flew in, claimed the deal was done and flew out again, leaving chaos in their wake – and other leaders outraged.

Just how feeble is this so-called 'Copenhagen Accord' (which, incidentally, has not even been formally adopted by the conference)? Let's see.

Is it fair?
Hardly. The absolute bottom line for any climate deal is to protect the most vulnerable societies. Yet rather than ensuring the future of the island nations and other regions which are already suffering the effects of climate change, the agreement panders to the whims of the industries which generate the most greenhouse gases. In particular the oil and coal interests which have lobbied so hard against a fair deal.

Is it ambitious?
Far from it. There are no increased reductions targets for wealthy nations and no new agreement on how developing countries can keep theirs low while still improving the quality of life of their populations.

There is a ray of light here, though – two, in fact. Developing countries have agreed to voluntarily reduce their emissions and make deeper cuts if funding is provided by rich countries. And the agreement provides for a Climate Funding Mechanism to deliver that money, with a nod towards the need for large-scale financing of up to $100bn a year but no explanation of where that money will come from or how it will be managed. It's short of the minimum of $140bn which many people have been proposing, but it's something.

Is it legally binding?
Certainly not. The Kyoto Protocol (which is legally binding) survives and is on the table for negotiations as they head into 2010, but it needs to be amended to increase emissions targets for industrialised countries. But Kyoto only applies to industrialised countries, so a second treaty needs to be drawn up that involves developing countries in a way that ensures their emission reductions don't throw their citizens even further into poverty.

Most importantly, the US needs a legally binding emissions target. It's the only country not bound by the Kyoto Protocol and, as one of then biggest emitters on the planet, that's a huge omission. However, the conference failed to decide on how to progress forward on such a treaty.

So negotiations carry on into next year, but there is no plan or instructions to reach a legally binding deal. This mess is largely down to the actions of some industrialised countries - the arrogance of a few powerful leaders who took over and twisted the negotiations to their particular needs is truly astounding, and as Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, stated last night, "If the climate were a bank, they would have bailed it out already."

Climate change politics may have suffered a setback but 'not done yet' is the message coming out of Copenhagen. We'll rest, regroup and take it forward into 2010 and beyond, because we can't afford to do anything less. And because – quite frankly – the planet and millions of impacted people deserve something more.

About Jamie

I'm a forests campaigner working mainly on Indonesia. My personal mumblings can be found @shrinkydinky.

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