Copenhagen: Accord Missing links

The much awaited UN conference on climate change (known as COP 15 because it was the 15th such Conference of Parties) in Copenhagen could only deliver a disappointing Copenhagen Accord. By failing to produce an ambitious and legally binding treaty, leaders disappointed the hopes of millions of people around the world, ignored the scientific consensus on the level of action needed to avoid climate disaster, and even squandered the efforts their own negotiators had made over the two years since the Bali climate summit.

Copenhagen was overwhelmed by the self-interest of the developed and emerging economies and produced only a weak accord through an unpredictable, undemocratic and non-transparent process. The Copenhagen Accord can not prevent global temperatures rising beyond two degrees Celsius, a level at which millions of people around the world become exposed to dangerous climate change risks, especially in poor and developing countries such as Nepal.

In the Copenhagen Accord, science-based recommendations offered by the think tank Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were ignored. Developed countries have been informed that they must reduce emissions by 25 to 40 percent by 2020 on 1990 levels - they did not agree to this. Global emissions must peak and then begin to decline by 2020 - the Accord sets no peak year. And global emissions must be reduced by at least 80 percent by 2050 on 1990 levels - in the Accord, both short and long term targets to curb the world’s greenhouse gas emissions were neglected.

There was an unprecedented level of interest and assembly from all sections of civil society at Copenhagen. However, the call for urgent and immediate action to avert dangerous climate change went unheard. Over thirty-five thousand people who reached Copenhagen to influence the outcome went home underwhelmed, disappointed and frustrated.

The developed countries, along with some big emerging economies like China and India, might have gone back home pleased to have avoided an ambitious climate deal, but this left poor developing and small island states disheartened. Over 100 nations including Least Developed Countries, Small Island States and African countries are exposed to the heaviest cost of climate change impacts. And these countries have the least resources and capability to cope with the burden. Many countries are going under water due to sea level rise, while many others face prolonged drought, desertification, glacier melt and floods.

The interest of these nations were supposed to be represented by countries like China and India, but when it came to real negotiations they were deserted, left to go it alone against heavy-weights like US, Australia and the EU. China and India were busy locking horns with the US to test their growing pre-eminence. At the end, the Copenhagen Accord, drafted between developed countries led by US and the emerging economies along with few others, was forced upon the rest of the world as the best compromise they could hope for. The voice of small and less powerful countries went unheard during the final summit. Tuvalu’s plea for survival and existence was shattered. Many negotiators returned home in hopelessness, resentment and depression.

The Copenhagen Summit also drew heavy flak for ignoring the democratic and participatory practices that should occur in UN meetings. The powerful players dominated the climate politics and spun the negotiations in their interest. Though countries like Nepal sent decent-sized delegations, there was little they could do. Accessing the inner negotiations was impossible.

To harvest hope, the Copenhagen Accord does have some positive elements. For the first time, it refers to keeping temperature rise below 2 degrees - though it offers no commitments or pathways to achieve that. It also calls for an assessment of the implementation of the Accord to be completed by 2015 - including assessing whether more ambitious targets are needed. The developed countries have agreed to provide fast track financing of US dollar 30 billion for the period of 2010-2012 and US dollar 100 billion a year by 2020 to address the needs of the developing countries. Much of this is expected to service the much needed adaptation assistance for poor and most vulnerable countries. Mechanisms on forests and technology transfer have also been agreed. Good though these things are, they fall far short of the fair, ambitious and binding deal that civil society was calling for from Copenhagen.

Overall, the Copenhagen Accord is not in the interest of both the developed North and the developing South in the long run. Global warming and climate change is a global problem that everyone must act to prevent. World leaders have given themselves one year from now to come up with a fair, ambitious and binding treaty. Let us hope they keep their promise. While leaders procrastinate, the poorest and most vulnerable will continue to suffer.

Chhetri is an advisor to United Mission to Nepal