EU looks beyond ‘weak’ Copenhagen climate deal

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After two weeks of extenuating talks, world leaders delivered an agreement in Copenhagen that left Europeans disappointed as it failed to commit rich and poor countries to any greenhouse gas emission reductions. EURACTIV reports from the Danish capital.

The face-saving deal, dubbed the ‘Copenhagen Accord‘, failed to produce a binding agreement to tackle climate change, which Europe had said it expected prior to the opening of the UN conference.

The resulting text, agreed in the early morning of Saturday (19 December) after hours of wrangling, states that deep cuts in global emissions “will be required” and that countries will take action to maintain the global temperature increase below 2°C.

But the final text does not mention a long-term vision on emission reductions for 2050, nor does it include medium-term targets for 2020.

Speaking in Copenhagen, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said the deal was “clearly below” the European Union’s goal. “I will not hide my disappointment,” he said.

He was echoed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said “the path toward a new agreement is still a very long one.”

Merkel added that the deal was not ambitious enough for the EU to increase its commitment to cut carbon emissions by 30% by 2020 from 20%.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon put on a brave face, welcoming the agreement and calling it an “essential beginning”. “Many will say that it lacks ambition,” Ban admitted. “Nonetheless, you have achieved much,” he told conference delegates.

The Copenhagen Accord is based on a proposal tabled by a US-led group of five nations, including China, India, Brazil and South Africa. US President Barack Obama called it a “meaningful agreement”.

The closed-group negotiations sparked protests from delegates who felt they had been excluded from the process and did not agree with the wording of the document. The accord, they claimed, did not go far enough in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, which are blamed for causing global warming.

Emission reduction targets sidelined

Until the final hours of the conference, countries kept to their initial positions. China and India resisted making any commitment to contribute to efforts to cut global warming by 50% by 2050, while some poor countries – particularly those most vulnerable to climate change, like small-island states – were pushing for global temperature rises to be limited to a 1.5°C ceiling instead of 2°C.

Their inflexible position was matched by President Obama’s own constraints. Held back by partisan infighting over a domestic climate bill in the US Senate, Obama failed to come up with more ambitious targets and reiterated his initial proposal to curb emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, a drop of about 4% below 1990 levels (see EURACTIV LinksDossier).

“China and the US have the main responsibility for the weak outcome of the Copenhagen conference. The US has failed to adjust its reduction targets to global needs. China has refused to sign a treaty with international obligations,” said German Socialist MEP Jo Leinen, who headed the European Parliament’s delegation in Copenhagen.

Climate finance delivered

The accord commits developed countries to providing new and additional funding amounting to 30 billion dollars for the period 2010-2012 in order to help poor nations tackle global warming.

The so-called fast-start money will be allocated to poor countries that need to adapt to climate change, but also to reduce their emissions and embark on a low-carbon development path. The short-tem financing will also be used to prevent deforestation.

Developed countries also agreed “to set a goal of mobilising jointly 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries”.

The agreement was based on an announcement on Thursday (17 December) that the US would contribute to a fund of $100 billion a year (€69.8 billion) until 2020 to help poorer countries to tackle climate change and adopt cleaner energy.

Verification of mitigation actions

However, Obama insisted the aid would be tied to the imposition of monitoring, reporting and verification requirements on China and other large developing countries regarding their emissions curbs. China has resisted such calls, saying they would be intrusive and violate its sovereignty (EURACTIV 18/12/09)

The final accord takes note of these tensions and foresees that mitigation actions taken by developing countries will be subject to domestic measurement and verification systems.

But the deal also provides for actions seeking international financial support to be monitored by international verification.

Tackling deforestation gets green light

If there was one point on which all countries agreed, it was the crucial role played by stopping deforestation in fighting climate change, as 15% of global warming emissions are attributed to clearing forests.

The accord calls for more action to be taken by mobilising financial resources in developed countries.

As part of the agreement, a fund called the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund was also proposed. Money will be channelled through the fund to support different initiatives for adaptation, emission reduction and technology development. A mechanism will also be established to intensify technology transfer between developed and developing countries.

International governance the big loser

The absence of a strong deal in Copenhagen has damaged the credibility of the United Nations and undermined its legitimacy in tackling climate change, which is enshrined in the 1992 climate convention treaty.

“The Copenhagen conference demonstrated the highly unsatisfactory and inefficient method of UN conferences. A deep reform of the decision-making in the framework of the United Nations is an urgent necessity,” said MEP Leinen, head of the European Parliament delegation.

The UN climate convention is the flagship agreement on global warming and its outcomes are supposed to be negotiated among all parties. But the final deal was presented to other world leaders on a take-it-or-leave-it basis by small group of powerful players. It is now questionable whether the UN convention will be able to reinvent itself as it tries to get back on its feet.

What next?

The deal sets an end-January 2010 deadline for all nations to submit plans for curbing emissions to the United Nations. A separate text proposes an end-2010 deadline for reporting back, but dropped plans to insist on a legally-binding treaty.

Positions

"I would have liked more. This will not solve the threat of climate change. But it is a first step, an important step," Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt told a press conference after the end of Friday night's meeting.

"What we wanted to achieve when we came here to Copenhagen was to get us out of the deadlock. Either we do something or we land in nothing. And now we have seen countries make efforts and set goals. Even countries that said they wouldn't make any commitments have presented figures," said Reinfeldt, holder of the rotating EU presidency.

UK Climate Minister Ed Miliband said the deal was "an important start". "This is a very significant moment because it indicates developed and developing countries are both signing up to the notion that they should say what they are going to do in terms of cutting carbon emissions," he told Sky television.

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said "we have made a start". "What we need to follow up on quickly is ensuring a legally-binding outcome."

Delegates from the European Parliament in Copenhagen called the accord "weak" and "a huge disappointment". Jo Leinen MEP (S&D, Germany), chair of the Parliament's environment committee, said the document "lacks a long-term vision for 2050" and does not have short-term targets for 2020 either.

Leinen placed the responsibility for the weak agreement at the feet of China and the US. "The US has failed to adapt its reduction targets to global needs. China has refused to sign a treaty with international obligations," he said, adding that "the Copenhagen conference demonstrated the highly unsatisfactory and inefficient method of UN conferences. A deep reform of the decision-making process in the framework of the United Nations is an urgent necessity".

BusinessEurope, the confederation of European business representing more than 20 million small, medium and large companies, said it was "disappointed by the limited outcome of the Copenhagen climate summit".

The Copenhagen Accord, it said, "has not brightened the prospect for a global level-playing field in the future" for European companies, which are tied down by obligations to reduce their emissions under the EU's emissions trading scheme when other low-wage countries such as China and India are not. "We strongly regret […] that our major economic partners only repeated their limited mitigation commitments," the group said, adding that the risks of factory delocalisation outside Europe – so-called 'carbon leakage' - are "as high as they were before Copenhagen".

However, BusinessEurope did not lose hope that all countries would agree to a legally-binding deal in 2010.

The Copenhagen accord, it said, "now has to quickly lead to a legally-binding agreement because companies need predictability to develop the new green solutions on which a future low-carbon economy will depend".

Jason Anderson, head of EU climate and energy policy at WWF, said the Copenhagen Accord represented no more than "a declaration of will which currently binds no-one and fails to guarantee a safe climate for future generations". "As it stands, this weak accord will not keep global warming below the dangerous level of two degrees," Anderson said.

However, he said the game was not over yet. "While some people may think it's all over, this deal is far from done […] While today's declaration from the US and several other large negotiating blocks is deeply disappointing, industrialised countries have been given until February to commit to their emission reduction pledges. It is vital that they take this opportunity to increase ambition."

"Governments must also act urgently to set out a clear timetable for when a legally-binding agreement will be reached - the world is still awaiting the leadership it needs," Anderson said, calling on EU leaders to "step up their game" and raise Europe's greenhouse gas emission reduction target to 30% by 2020, up from 20% currently.

"The poor result of the negotiations demonstrates that Europe's decision to make their pledges largely dependent on action by others has failed to prove an effective negotiating strategy. As a result, not only is the deal brokered in Copenhagen largely toothless, but Europe's reduction ambitions remain mired at 20%, a level far below what is needed, achievable and affordable," he said.

Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of Oxfam, a development NGO, said the Copenhagen Accord represented "a triumph of spin over substance". "The deal which has been announced by the US, India, China and South Africa has not been endorsed by the EU and many other countries," he said.

Tim Gore, EU climate change policy advisor at Oxfam, said EU leaders "have been squeezed out of the deal" in Copenhagen. "The EU had some real leverage to exert in Copenhagen, but allowed the US and China to dominate the play," he added.

According to Gore, the EU should have put an offer of long-term finance on the table in order to broker an agreement. "EU leaders should be kicking themselves tonight for not playing that card before the last night in Copenhagen – had they done so, they might have changed the game and the outcome," he said.

For Gore, the EU should pursue its course unilaterally and raise its emissions target even further. "To get it right next year, they should prepare to put a target for 40% emissions cuts into law, and guarantee that the money they have pledged for poor countries isn't diverted from aid commitments," he said.

Caritas, an alliance of aid and development agencies, described the Copenhagen Accord as "a weak and morally reprehensible deal which will spell disaster for millions of the world's poorest people". While conceding that countries had expressed a willingness to continue working, Caritas said the proposed deal itself "presents no clear time line for concluding a fair ambitious and legally-binding agreement in the coming months".

Background

From 7-18 December, governments from 192 countries meeting in Copenhagen tried to thrash out a sweeping agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, amid growing signals from scientists that global warming is occurring more quickly than expected.

The document produced at the end is a political accord agreed between a small group of global heads of state and government, which were divided when commenting on the outcome of the negotiations.

The biggest challenge was to find a way to share global emission reductions between rapidly developing countries, like China and India, and more industrialised regions, like the US and Europe, which are responsible for the bulk of historical CO2 emissions.

Bridging those views was far from easy, as decisions by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have to be taken unanimously.

Further Reading

  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC):Homepage
  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC):Press Room
  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC):Kyoto Protocol
  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC):Convention on Climate Change
  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC):Bali Roadmap
  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):Homepage

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