Politics, Accord and Steps Towards a Better Tomorrow

05 Jan, 2010    ·   3037

Ashok Sharma assesses the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit

On 19 December at the Copenhagen climate summit, representatives of 192 nations struck a historic accord on the common goal of reducing global warming by two degrees. The tedious, politically maneuvered marathon summit of world leaders culminated in an “accord” which is far from the legally binding treaty design to tackle global warming issues for the next decade that was the main goal of the summit. But, it is certainly a step towards tackling global warming and climate change issue.
Before the ‘accord’ was reached, the Copenhagen Summit witnessed the politics of climate change which included maneuvering tactics, barging into meetings uninvited, breaking the groups, protesting to leaders using personal charm. While the US, Europe and other rich nations tried to push a legally binding deal on cutting emissions, the developing and fast industrializing nations like China, India, Brazil and South Africa had their own interests to safeguard. These countries have to ensure the developmental needs of their vast population and growing economy and pushed for voluntary emission cuts. They did not accept the dictates of developed countries on signing a legally binding climate deal on emissions cuts. Many small and vulnerable countries, mainly island nations, were concerned over the existential threat faced by them due to rising temperatures and sea level.
Despite negotiations the US and European leaders could not reach a plan for legally binding treaty. Finally, the summit was salvaged by reaching a compromise with US President Barack Obama saying that the United States had reached a ‘meaningful’ deal with four emerging economies but this was not enough. The ‘Copenhagen Accord’ in its condensed form emphasizes that:
•    Emission cuts must be made to hold the global temperature rise to two degrees.
•    All nations will submit their plans for reducing emissions to the UN by 31 January which would facilitate legally binding treaty to be pinned down by the end of 2010.
•    Guidelines will be developed for measuring cuts and reporting back to the UN every two years.
•    Up to US$30 billion by 2012 to be allocated by rich nations to help developing countries adapt to unavoidable climate change.
Although, the accord sets out to keep global warming under two degrees Celsius, the threshold for dangerous climate change, but does not set out sufficient steps to meet it. And US$30 billion over the next three years to help the poorest countries to cope is not sufficient.
The ‘Copenhagen Accord’ stands as a first attempt to bring the biggest greenhouse gas polluting countries, the US and China, into an agreement to curb rising global emissions. The vagueness around the wording in the depth and timing of emissions cuts is a concession to the Washington. And Beijing was adamant that a phrase stating respect for national sovereignty be inserted in the section about international measurement and scrutiny. The issue of monitoring China's fast growing emissions was highlighted, a genuine one, but was played up as a diversion by the US and others to distract attention from their own inadequate emissions cut target. The deadlock over US emission reduction continues. The emissions cuts on the table do not come close to the ideals in the accord. If the US is somehow able to move towards larger cuts, a legally binding treaty based on the ‘Copenhagen Accord’ might be possible in 2010 congregation.
In countries like Australia and New Zealand climate change always figures prominently even in the domestic political debate. Australia has already declared it would follow its maximum greenhouse gas cut of 25 per cent on 2000 levels by 2020 if all major developed countries fix similar targets.  This means that, in the absence of a change in US policy, Australia's maximum effort will be 15 per cent. On the basis of the Copenhagen outcome, it could argue for adopting its minimum target of 5 per cent.
The outcome of the accord shows that China along with India, South Africa and Brazil hold a great deal of power, and the fate of future negotiations depends on their approval. Environmentalism and climate change issues have often been seen as a division between wealthy developed nations and developing nations, and suspected by developing countries to be a ploy by rich developed nations to prevent them from developing and competing. Hence, any move by the US and other developed countries in the direction of addressing climate change will have to ensure that their move is free from any such design that may reduce the prospects for the legally binding agreement next year.
The deal is far from the desired goal which developed nations had hoped for and many environmental groups and vulnerable nations have called it a ‘catastrophe’. Despite this, the fundamental points of the accord will direct subsequent negotiations and provide a foundation for decisive action to avert the worst effects of climate change. World leaders have settled for the first time, the exigency to limit temperature rise to two degrees and all the biggest emitters have accredited they must build their response around conventional climate science, the discipline indicates they must do so promptly.