The Copenhagen Accord – behind the headlines

The Copenhagen Accord – behind the headlines

The UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change said on 16 December that it would be a ‘tragedy’ if Copenhagen failed to reach an agreement because of substance, and a ‘farce’ if it failed because of process. In the final outcome there were elements of both tragedy and farce.
The Copenhagen Accord hammered out by a small group of world leaders on 18 December undoubtedly represents a significant step towards international commitments to address climate change. Its significance is assured by the involvement of the US following Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s dramatic intervention on 17 December, and by the inclusion of China, India and South Africa.
http://unfccc.int/files/meetings/cop_15/application/pdf/cop15_cph_auv.pdf
A UN Agreement?
The conference continued after world leaders had left the Bella Centre. The plenary session went on into 19 December. Media attention focused on the resolution adopted on Saturday morning to ‘note’ the existence of the Copenhagen Accord.
There was no prospect of obtaining full acceptance or adoption of the Accord. A group of Latin American States, some African delegates and the righteously indignant Ian Fry of Tuvalu stood against any vote that would provide the unanimity necessary to rubber stamp the political deal.
Questioned on the status of the Accord, UN Deputy Secretary General Robert Orr explained that the conference’s decision to ‘note’ the existence of the Accord left it open to each country to decide whether to go further and to ‘associate’ itself with the deal. The incentives for developing countries to take that step are:
• Access to the short and longer term funding for mitigation and adaptation promised by the Accord, and
• The promise of a review by 2015 to include consideration of strengthening the long-term goal to temperature rises of 1.5 degrees Celsius
That interpretation was endorsed by Yvo de Boer in his final press briefing.
The end of the UNFCCC process?
The melee of the final days in Copenhagen was viewed by many as an indictment of the UNFCCC process. The formal parts of the conference can be described as ten days of deadlock, two days of irrelevance. The ‘real deal’ was hammered out entirely outside the formal structures of the conference. The UNFCCC’s contribution to that political process was to pay the rental for the Bella Centre and provide the coffee and sandwiches, more positively stated by Yvo de Boer when he said that the political agreement was reached ‘in a UN setting’.
Yet the UNFCCC process still has an important part to play. It provides a forum and organisational machine to pull together the huge volume and range of evidence and input required to give flesh to the bare bones of the Copenhagen Accord. Crucially, the final text of the Accord omitted a clause found in earlier drafts that would have killed the Kyoto protocol.
It is clear that the US, EU and others are pushing hard for a single new agreement to supersede Kyoto. It is equally clear that developing nations are clinging tenaciously to Kyoto. It is the only legally binding process in place, and it provides the rules and criteria governing crucial feeding mechanisms for carbon market, the clean development mechanism (CDM) and Joint Initiative (JI). As Yvo de Boer repeatedly emphasised, it took 8 years for Kyoto to be ratified, and ditching it before a comprehensive replacement is available would be a major setback for developing countries, and also for the ‘innovative financing’ arrangements looked forward to by the Copenhagen Accord.
That brings us to the final acts of COP15. In the plenary session that dragged wearily on into 19 December, the plenary adopted two key decisions designed to preserve the texts on Long Term Cooperative Action (LCA) and on a further ‘commitment period’ under Kyoto. The decisions are terse. In each case they acknowledge the progress made by the working groups, and mandate those groups to continue their work. On KP, the plenary emphasised that it is ‘determined to ensure that there is no gap between the first and second commitment periods under the Kyoto Protocol’. On LCA, the plenary extended the remit of the working group and mandated Mexico (as President of COP16 in December 2010) to ‘make the necessary arrangements in order to facilitate the work towards the success of that session’.
The effect of those decisions is to carry through to the next meetings the drafting hammered out on deforestation and degradation, enhanced adaptation work and amendments designed to simplify the administration and extend the scope of CDM.
That work will continue, probably next coming to media attention in Bonn where the next negotiating meeting is scheduled for 31 May – 11 June.

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