Copenhagen closes with weak deal that poor threaten to reject

Posted: 19 December 2009

The UN climate summit in Copenhagen formally closed today with a deal many countries admit falls far short of the action needed to tackle global warming. This report from Copenhagen comes from John Vidal and Jonathan Watts writing in the Guardian Unlimited.

The non-binding accord, which the US reached with key nations including China and Brazil, includes a recognition to limit temperature rises to less than 2C but imposes no specific targets for greenhouse gas cuts.

Obama at COP15
Obama at COP15
More confidence building between “emerging economies, the least developed countries and the developed countries” is needed before a legally binding global agreement on climate change can be reached, says US President Barack Obama. Photo © Scanpix/AFP
UK climate secretary Ed Miliband was branded both the hero and villain of the summit after he successfully intervened to salvage the accord at 6am. The talks were on the verge of collapse with the Danish prime minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, bringing his gavel down to abandon the meeting.

But at 7.45am the UN formally recognised the political statement steered through by the US President, Barack Obama, and Chinese premier Wen Jiabao late last night, outside the official negotiating process.

It is now up to national parliaments to adopt the accord, after which signatories will be obliged to take measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and start preparing to help poor countries adapt to climate change. The intention is for a full legal agreement to be signed within a year.

No specific targets

The accord achieves much wider acceptance by nations that global warming must be limited to an increase of less than 2C. It also preserves the Kyoto protocol for now. The attempt to kill Kyoto dominated Copenhagen and the resulting furore used up days of precious time, contributing to the ultimate weakness of the accord. Providing money to assist poorer nations cope with climate change was supported – $30bn from 2010-2012 and up to $100bn a year from 2020 – but no details were given on its source.

The document makes no mention of key points on which an agreement had been expected. No specific targets for greenhouse gas cuts were stated, meaning no action to keep temperatures under a 2C rise was set. There was also no deadline for the conclusion of the climate talks, despite many leaders saying previously that six months to a year should be the maximum delay.

Lumumba Di-Aping, the Sudanese chair of the G77 group of 130 poor countries, compared the proposed deal to the holocaust.

"[This] is asking Africa to sign a suicide pact, an incineration pact in order to maintain the economic dependence of a few countries. It's a solution based on values that funnelled six million people in Europe into furnaces."

Di-Aping's comments triggered immediate protests and calls to withdraw his remarks. Sweden called them "absolutely despicable" and Ed Miliband condemned what he called the "disgusting comparison" which he said "should offend people across this conference whatever background they come from".

Final deal

In the final plenary session a Venezuelan delegate cut her palm and asked if she had to bleed to have her points heard. "You are witnessing a coup d'etat against the UN," she said.

It is still unclear how many states will sign up to the accord. The European Union, Japan, the African Union and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) all urged delegates to adopt the plan, but many Latin American countries and Sudan are known to be vehemently against it.

This morning the conference said it "takes note" of the accord – and said the document setting out the final deal would specify a list of countries which agreed with it, as some nations were still adamant they would not accept it. Detailed agreements on forests, technology, finance and emission cuts will be negotiated over the next year.

The Guardian listed the following key points from the final text:

Temperature

High tide Tuvalu
High tide Tuvalu
On Tuvalu, where the highest ground is just 4.5 metres above mean tide level, islanders nervously await 'king tides', the year’s highest tides. Photo © FOEI/Gary Braasch
"The increase in global temperature should be below two degrees."

This will disappoint the 100-plus nations who wanted a lower maximum of 1.5C, including many small island states who fear that even at this level their homes may be submerged.

Peak date for carbon emissions

"We should co-operate in achieving the peaking of global and national emissions as soon as possible, recognising that the time frame for peaking will be longer in developing countries …" This vague phrase is a disappointment to those who want nations to set a date for emissions to fall, but will please developing countries who want to put the economy first.

Emissions cuts

"Parties commit to implement individually or jointly the quantified economy-wide emissions targets for 2020 as listed in appendix 1 before 1 February 2010."

This phrase commits developed nations to start work almost immediately on reaching their mid-term targets. For the US, this is a weak 14-17% reduction on 2005 levels; for the EU, a still-to-be-determined goal of 20-30% on 1990 levels; for Japan, 25% and Russia 15-25% on 1990 levels. The accord makes no mention of 2050 targets, which dropped out of the text over the course of the day.

Forests

"Substantial finance to prevent deforestation; adaptation, technology development and transfer and capacity."

This is crucial because more than 15% of emissions are attributed to the clearing of forests. Conservation groups are concerned that this phrase lacks safeguards.

Money

"The collective commitment by developed countries is to provide new and additional resources amounting to $30bn for 2010-12 … Developed countries set a goal of mobilising jointly $100bn a year by 2020 to address needs of developing countries."

This is the cash that oils the deal. The first section is a quick financial injection from rich nations to support developing countries' efforts. Longer term, a far larger sum of money will be committed to a Copenhagen Green Climate Fund. But the agreement leaves open the questions of where the money will come from, and how it will be used.

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Copyright Guardian Unlimited. Reproduced with permission.

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