Saturday, 19 December 2009

The Copenhagen Accord: the beginning of a beginning

Earlier this week I called my fellow US journalists cynical when they refused to entertain the notion that US president Barack Obama might announce a US contribution to long-term financing here in Copenhagen.

They were right. I was wrong. But who's cynical now? With an accord that from the European perspective looks so much like failure and the more than 12 hours that were needed even to adopt this flimsiest of declarations, it's hard to be optimistic about the future.

But my American friends feel differently. What did you expect, they ask me? Did you really think Obama would show up and announce a 30% emission reduction target? Does Europe realise to what extent he is already sticking his neck out just by proposing a 17% cut below 2005 levels?

This proposal is at the very upper end of the reduction range in a draft US climate bill currently stuck in the senate. It needs 60 votes to go through and it's got about 42 right now. Many of those other 18 wouldn't necessarily vote for it even if the economy was breezing along, I'm told. The Washington journalists are not at all sure it'll get through.

But Obama's been given some fresh ammo here in Copenhagen they say. He's got an accord to which he can point and say "look, China's committing to action too". Look at the US environmental NGOs, the journalists say to me and see how they've reacted.

And, much to my surprise, when I go to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of America's leading conservation groups, I find a press release dated to yesterday in which NRDC president Frances Beinecke says:

"We have taken a vital first step towards curbing climate change. For the first time in history, the US is joining with other major emitters to take real action against global warming. Real cuts in carbon pollution. Real American jobs at home. Real measures to make clear which countries make good on their vows. And real help for the world's most vulnerable people exposed to droughts, famine and storms made worse by climate change."
This reads quite differently from Friends of the Earth Europe's reaction from the same day:

"Copenhagen has been an abject failure. Rich countries have condemned millions of the world's poorest people to hunger, suffering and loss of life as climate change accelerates. The blame for this disastrous outcome is squarely on the developed nations. We are disgusted by the failure of rich countries to commit to the emissions reductions they know are needed, especially the US, which is the world's largest historical emitter of greenhouse gases."
UN climate chief Yvo de Boer, who has just delivered the final briefing of the Copenhagen climate summit, didn’t welcome the accord with outstretched arms but didn't dismiss it as a disaster either.

His main criticism is that it is not an agreement that is legally binding. It is "a letter of intent". But this he hopes to fix at COP16 in Mexico City a year from now. The American journalists here are inclined to be more patient. This is the beginning of the beginning, they say, and while it may take time, the important thing is we've got going.

IT'S OVER AT LAST - now the road to Mexico City

"What we've got to do in Mexico is to achieve all the things that we should have achieved here in Copenhagen," said Yvo de Boer, the Dutch civil servant who runs the secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. He was speaking at the final press conference of the COP 15 climate summit.

The 16th Conference to the Parties of the UNFCCC takes place in Mexico's capital just under one year from now. As I type, the last plenary session of the conference is finally ending after an often fraught but mostly extraordinarily dull, nit-picking, procedure-fixated session of almost 12 hours. Yes, IT'S OVER.

Mr de Boer looked dour, but that's usual. He put the best possible face on things. "I would not agree this conference was a disaster." The Copenhagen Accord was "politically incredibly significant" because, for the first time, it had involved dozens of world leaders in the real detail of intensive negotiation over climate change issues.

He himself had spent hours in a stuffy room with the likes of Obama, Brown, Sarkozy and Merkel dealing with "the nitty gritty of drafing the final text" of the accord.

The Copenhagen Accord's biggest defect was that it was not legally binding, he said. Such a legally binding treaty was still necessary, hopefully to be negotiated within the year. Those who have followed the two years of snail paced negotiation since COP13 in Bali will realise what a tall order that is.

As well as being a non binding agreement, it has not been adopted by the Conference. Instead it has been 'noted'. That, said Mr de Boer, meant "taking note of something that is there but not necessarily associating yourself with it." So only countries which sign up to the accord need feel bound by it, and then only on a purely voluntary basis.

A few more essential points about this two and a half page accord, which will be analysed fully in Monday's ENDS Europe Daily and the next issue of the ENDS Report.

  • It recognises the scientific view that the increase in global temperatures caused by man -made greenhouse gases should be below 2 degrees C, and that deep but unspecified and untimed cuts in global emissions are required to achieve this. Humanity's still-rising emissions should peak "as soon as possible", though no time period is specified.
  • Developed countries should file their emission reduction pledges for 2020 to the UNFCCC by the end of January 2010. How much, and how defined, is up to them.
  • Developing countries should also take action to reduce their (generally rising) emissions. There is a long and convoluted paragraph about their obligations to report these reductions, resulting from the battle between the USA and China over "transparency" versus national sovereignty.
  • There is a short paragraph recognizing "the crucial role" for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation - (REDD); this is all about wealthy nations paying poor ones to protect their forests and stop their stored carbon escaping into the atmosphere. That would be good, says the accord.
  • The document also favours "various approaches, including opportunities to use markets" to promote cost-effective emisson reductions. That keeps the door open for carbon trading, including taxes or cap and trade schemes for international aviation and shipping.
  • There are promises of big new flows of money from rich to poor countries to help them adapt to climate change and reduce their emissions. There will, it says, be new and additional fast track funding "approaching" $30 bn over the period 2010-12, with the most vulnerable and impoverished nations - such as small islands and African countries - being given priority.
  • In the longer term, developed countries "commit to a goal of mobilizing jointly $100 bn a year by 2020 to address the [climate change related] needs of developing countries." But this funding depends on those developing countries taking "meaningful" actions to reduce their emissions, and "transparency on implementation" - i.e. showing that they are delivering these reductions. The funding will come from private and public sector sources, possibly including carbon markets.
  • "New multilateral funding for adaptation will be delivered through effective and efficient fund arrangements, with a governance structure providing for equal representation of developed and developing countries." This is something developing nations have long demanded - they do not want funding bodies dominated by wealthy nations, like the World Bank, to control the climate purse strings.
  • Much of this money will flow through a Copenhagen Green Climate Fund, controlled collecively by UNFCCC member states. A new 'Technology Mechanism' will accelerate technology development and transfer from developed to developing nations, to help them adapt to climate change and reduce emissions. Very little is said about either the fund or the mechanism.
  • There will be a review of the implemenation of the accord in 2015. This will include considering strengthening the long-term goal of the accord and the convention: preventing a dangerous rise in global temperatures "including in relation to temperature rises of 1.5 degrees C."

But the pledges from developed and developing nations announced so far will not keep the temperature increase below 2 deg C. By 2015, it will be extremely hard to lower emissions fast enough to keep to a 1.5 deg C increase.

And there's a basic howler in the accord - it does not mention that these temperature increases are from a 'pre-industrial baseline'. For temperatures are already some 0.6 deg C above this baseline, thanks to a couple of centuries widespread use of fossil fuels.

As we come to the conclusion of COP15 and MOP5...

Yes we're still here. The plenary debate lasted throughout the night followed by a "short" 3-hr adjournment requested by the UK's Ed Miliband when the debate hit a wall.

It resumed and continues as I write. Danish PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen has disappeared - the poor man has collapsed into bed we suspect - and someone else has taken over.

When this morning's session resumed at around 11am the new chair - he looks familar but we have yet to place him in our tired brains - read out proposed wording for a COP decision which said parties would "take note"of the Copenhagen accord of 18 December 2009. Attached to that accord would be a list of parties that chose to subscribe to it. Its provisions would only apply to them. The gavel slammed down.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon held a press conference where he said: "Finally we see a deal and it is a real deal. Bringing leaders to the table was worthwhile."

Assistant secretary general for policy and planning at the UN Robert Orr said: "If there had not been a deal, the momentum of the recent months... could have been lost." Involving leaders made it work but also made it a lot more complicated, he added. He went on to describe the "beauty of a multilateral negotiation", and called it the "most genuine negotiation I've ever seen".

Perhaps so, but has it delivered? Many have said no, but it's hard to answer definitively since coming back from the press conference at 12:30 there still appeared to be unsolved issues - the plenary debate continues.

New final draft texts available at the document distribution centre make no mention at all of a "legally-binding instrument" to be signed at COP16, but they have re-inserted a reference to the 1.5 degrees goal in the context of a 2015 review.

Are these texts the final, final ones? The people at the document distribution centre couldn't tell us.

Copenhagen countdown starts to count up

The 'Countdown to End of Copenhagen' clock which has dominated the Energy and Climate Change Department's website for months has gone into reverse, now that Copenhagen has gone beyond its timetabled end without an outcome.

Now, each passing second the quantum of time grows higher, rather than lower. It stands at more than 1 day and 10 hours. And still no end to this summit.

The plenary adjourns, the accord is in trouble

After some four hours of talking in which representatives of dozens of countries have spoken, the plenary session has adjourned to try to sort out what happens now. It's 8.30 am in Copenhagen, and many delegates have been up now for two whole nights.

The Copenhagen Accord - the brand new, much reviled, non-legally binding draft agreement to tackle climate change, has NOT yet been agreed to by the 192 nations attending. It is clear that the great majority of nations here support it, but UN decisions require no nation to object to them. It doesn't work through voting.

So the exhausted, beleagured president of the conference, Danish PM Lars Lokke Rasmussen, has agreed to a short break for talks to try to sort things out. At the request of the UK's Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband, who has made several interventions (and is also looking shattered). The 'short' adjournment has already lasted for nearly half an hour.

The vast press hanger, with room for more than 1,000 journalists, is starting to fill with journalists again after becoming strangely empty - but plenty of journalists and delegates are now leaving Copenhagen. As have most or all of 118 presidents and prime ministers who attended.

7:30am: And still the plenary rolls on

The end was in sight we thought. But no. It's Saturday morning and at least one delegate has told the plenary he needs to leave at 8am to catch a flight out of Copenhagen. He does not want to leave without a deal, he said.

A deal is still not forthcoming however. A "COP decision", which is the format the Copenhagen Accord currently takes, requires unanimous support from all nations to be adopted. Nicaragua, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Venezuela, Sudan and Tuvalu all oppose it.

The first four said they would withdraw their objections if the accord was re-tabled as a "MISC" document, a "for your information" document rather than any kind of declaration. They also originally wanted COP15 to be suspended, with its work to continue into next year, but later appeared to withdraw that request.

Danish prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen wearily agreed there could be no COP decision without consensus. It was 5:30am and it seemed like the conference might finally draw to a close. But the Sudanese leader Lumumba Di-Aping took the floor and launched into a virulent attack on the accord, saying it threatened the "existence of the African continent and her people".

He spoke of a "gross violation" of the right to exist of Africans and, in a statement that drew expressions of outrage from countless delegations after, made an analogy to the Holocaust. A 2 degree global temperature rise would equate to a 3.5 degree African temperature rise and Africa was therefore being asked "to sign a suicide pact".

He also took the opportunity to accuse the Danish PM of being biased and "violating all the rules of procedure and transparency". A stony-faced Mr Rasmussen said "thank you very much".

Since then over twenty countries have taken the floor, some of them in passionate defence of the text in question not as a perfect accord but as an essential starting point. Two that stood out for me were the Maldives and Grenada.

The Maldives delegate applauded Mr Rasmussen's work. "We have a danger of the UNFCCC going the same way as the WTO," he said. "But science suggests in climate change it's not possible – we have a window of seven years." The Maldives wanted reference to a 1.5 degree maximum temperature rise in the accord he said, which was "blatantly obstructed" by large emitters.

But, he added:

"This is a beginning and we can migrate from this document to many aspirations. If we cannot have a basic understanding of the parameters we will never have a fruitful conclusion to the talks. I beg all nations to please back this document and do not let these talks collapse."
The woman speaking on behalf of Grenada and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) began with "good morning Copenhagen". It was after 6am by then. AOSIS was part of the Friends of the Chair group that developed the document she said, and "fought for everything we came out with and as you can see we didn't come out with much." A murmur of tired laughter.

She continued, close to tears:

"I cannot sit here and see the work of my government, my prime minister, and my long tired self be discredited. I call on my brother, my brother from Sudan to rethink his conclusions and get hold of his emotions. We need to help each other, not condemn each other."
The speaker from Papua New Guinea suggested some of the flaws in the document also emanated from the G77 themselves. At least some developed countries pushed for commitments to deep long-term emission cuts, he said, and the G77 blocked this. Many G77 countries sent public servants rather than leaders to the talks, he added.

Ethiopia, speaking on behalf of the African Union, said it fully backed the document. A postponement is "not in the interests of people who will be affected by climate change," it said.

The UK and US were two of few nations who explicitly urged the conference to adopt the document, which they stressed had been developed in a transparent manner, as a COP decision. It does a limited number of things but important things, said Ed Miliband from the UK: "We can get the money flowing and maintain the credibility of this conference."

"It's extremely disappointing and extremely disturbing for the ongoing health and existence of this body [the UNFCCC]," said the US delegate. "We should adopt a decision and not let this work go to waste."

It is 7:30am and there are still another 15 speakers or so on the Danish PM's speakers' list. Another delegate has just asked the UNFCCC secretariat about re-arranging flights. That is not proving easy he was told because 8,000 people have planned to leave Copenhagen today and the holiday period is starting. But the UN is seeing what it can do. In the meantime, on rolls the plenary.

The end is in sight – and a miserable one it is

Two years down the line from that uplifting moment in Bali when a deal was signed after blood, sweat and quite literally tears, the same strange mix of exhaustion and ecstasy is sadly lacking. There is only exhaustion. And a feeling of impending doom.

The Copenhagen climate summit is ending in failure. Country after country is taking the floor to reject an accord that is already largely meaningless. Nicaragua is the latest to accuse the US and others of riding roughshod over its rights by going behind their backs to announce a deal when there was none.

It is the death blow to an accord that European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso earlier said "will not solve the climate threat". The EU press conference was a depressing affair. Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and commission president Barroso looked tired and defeated. The commission president said:

"I will not hide my disappointment. Our level of ambition has not been met. There is no agreement on the need for a legally-binding agreement."

The EU had pushed hard for a reference to the need for a new legally-binding climate agreement in the main accord, but it was eventually relegated to a COP decision extending the mandate of the UNFCCC negotiating track, a commission official said. And now the whole package is being rejected.

"We have not risen to the challenge collectively tonight," one EU environment minister told journalists.