Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

The bright and green future has been delayed ... for now

euinside, December 22, 2009

After hard negotiations and extending the deadline the leaders of 193 countries, participating in the 15th UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen agreed on a 3-page document, called in its very beginning the Copenhagen Accord. The document is not legally-binding but it is written in the text that it becomes operational immediately. In spite of the disappointment and the impossibility for reaching the maximum of the programme, it is an emanation of compromise - such that has never been reached so far against the background of hard international relations.

The agreement is a result of decades of accumulation of difficult political and economic interests, the results of globalisation, of inequality in development of one group of states against another, of world conflicts, of the lack of political will to reform major international institutions and, most of all, it is a result of the social and economic structure of all these 193 countries. Last but not least, the deal is based entirely on the way global economy is functioning.

Using the above as a basis, the main discontent and disappointment from the painful compromise is due to the lack in the agreement of concrete commitments, especially regarding the scale of emissions reductions. To avoid endless arguments and quarrels, the nations have agreed to write in the document that the reduction of global emissions would be done according to scientific data, aiming at preventing global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. Beside science, emissions reductions should also be based upon equality.

As a main priority the document outlines eradication of poverty in developing countries and low-carbon economy will be an indispensable part of sustainable development for which developed countries have committed to pay regularly.

By 31st of January 2010 the countries from Annex I of the Kyoto Protocol (where the developed countries are enlisted) should provide an implementation plan for emissions reduction individually or jointly by 2020. An interesting new term is introduced in this sentence - "Annex I Parties commit to implement individually or jointly the quantified economywide emissions targets for 2020" (the new term is economywide and probably it should gain reasonable meaning in the future in the different languages).

Regarding the other disputable issue at the conference in the Danish capital - monitoring and verification of commitments, nations have agreed that mitigation and financing by developed countries will be measured, reported and verified in accordance with existing and any further guidelines adopted by the Conference of the Parties, and will ensure that accounting of such targets and finance is rigorous, robust and transparent.

Non-Annex I countries, which are most of the 193 participants in the conference - mainly poor, island, coastal, developing or emerging markets - are committed also by 31st of January to provide their targets in the context of sustainable development. And least developed countries and small island developing states may undertake actions voluntarily and on the basis of support, the Accord says. This means that, firstly, they will have to estimate on their own whether to invest time and efforts to achieve growth through low-carbon instruments and, secondly, they will do that if there is assistance from developed countries.

There are 2 annexes to the document. The first one is for the developed countries. It has 3 columns: for the names of the developed countries, their targets by 2020 for emissions reduction and the third column is for them to show which year they will take as a base one for the reductions. All the three are empty which might mean only that no country is obliged to fulfill the annex. Separately, creating a column for a base year for emissions reductions makes all the efforts meaningless because the US, for example, have said they will reduce their emissions by 17% by 2020 below 2005 levels, while most developed countries have used 1990 as a base year. Thus, the US will reduce its emissions by only 4% below 1990 levels, which makes the picture quite different.

The second annex is for all the rest of the countries. It has only 2 columns: for the names of the nations and for the actions they intend to undertake. Again, these columns are empty and is a matter of their will for them to fulfill the columns.

For the period 2010-2012 developed countries have committed to provide new and additional financial resources through international institutions up to $30 bn. In the document it is written that the money will be balanced between adaptation and mitigation. Funding for adaptation will be prioritized for the most vulnerable developing countries, such as the least developed countries, small island developing States and Africa. Beside this, developed countries have committed to jointly mobilise $100 bn by 2020 to meet the needs of the developing countries. This funding would come from various sources, private and public, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of financing.

The latter means that even among developed countries there are disputes related to the alternative sources. The EU insists all global transactions to be taxed and the money to be used to finance the new Copenhagen Green Climate Fund. However, the US opposes the introduction of such a tax.

Regarding the Fund itself, a High Level Panel will be established to study the contribution of the potential sources of revenue, including alternative sources of finance, towards meeting this goal. The Fund will be established as an operating entity of the financial mechanism of the Convention to support projects, programme, policies and other activities in developing countries.

On the issue of transfer of clean technologies from developed countries to the developing ones, the Accord envisages the establishment of a Technological Mechanism to accelerate technology development and transfer in support of action on adaptation and mitigation that will be guided by a country-driven approach and be based on national circumstances and priorities.

The 193 nations have also agreed to make an assessment of the implementation of this Accord to be completed by 2015, including in light of long-term goals, again, based on science as well as upon whether it would be possible to limit global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius, what the small island countries insisted for.

Of course, we could argue endlessly on whether the summit was a success or a failure. For the poorest and most vulnerable nations, the summit was an absolute failure because the agreement was not legally binding and the collection of money also seems to be quite vague. Nevertheless, we should wait until 31st of January to see which countries what commitments will make when they fulfill the annexes of the Accord. It would be very interesting to see whether the EU will continue to defend its leading role in fighting climate change by committing to reduce its emissions by 30% by 2020.

But it is a fact, that the Accord, although without firm commitments, satisfies the interests of al groups of countries - from the poorest to the richest through the fast and sustainable developing ones. And this, against the background of everything else, should be considered a serious step forward. It remains only to see whether climate change would be inclined to accept these efforts as an attempt for unification over a common cause - to keep our only planet suitable for life for the next centuries and millenia.