Last-minute agreement at Copenhagen marks turning point for the world

13.1.2010 (Guardian   Environment)
by Jonathan Lash

Spin is the political language of Washington, but I have never encountered such
conflicting currents of hype as those that have swirled around the globe since
the gavel fell on the
Copenhagen climate summit. Depending on whether you live in Beijing, Berlin or Boston the assessment ranges from catastrophe to success to somewhere in between. But what lies ahead?

First let us take stock. In important ways the Copenhagen accord signals significant and promising changes in the world’s approach to global
warming under the United Nations Framework Convention on
Climate Change, not just in what it says, but also in how it was negotiated.

The dramatic story of a last-minute agreement fashioned in a meeting among the leaders of the “Copenhagen
5”, Brazil, China, India, South Africa,
and the United States reveals a profound change in global politics. One in which,
for the first time, the rapidly developing giants of Asia, Africa, and
Latin America emerged as key to the solution.

The ad hoc leadership by the so-called Copenhagen 5 (C-5), representing 45% of
the world’s population and 44% of global greenhouse gas emissions, constitutes
a new and potentially historic alliance, a symbol, perhaps, of a new world order.

The Copenhagen accord signals other changes as well. It sets a goal of limiting global warming to 2C, and was accompanied by a requirement for explicit, quantitative pollution reduction
commitments across the world.

The key obstacle that was overcome in the C-5 negotiations was the United States’
insistence that all parties agree to verification of fulfillment of their carbon-cutting
commitments. When the major developing economies
agreed to a form of verification, they set in motion a process can be the basis for building the trust necessary
ultimately to strengthen the accord.

Finally, the fact that the accord was negotiated by heads of state, and the way
it became the Copenhagen accord, may be a significant step toward overcoming a
dysfunctional negotiation process which requires that decisions be reached by
consensus among all 190+ parties to the UNFCCC. Despite opposition from a small
minority of countries, heads of state found a way to move the accord ahead without
unanimity. By doing so they demonstrated their seriousness and exerted the capacity
of the majority of nations to move forward when they agree.

However, unlike the Kyoto protocol, the accord is not legally binding, and provides
neither rules to structure international carbon markets, nor means to enforce
compliance. This creates daunting uncertainties about how nations and markets
will interact over greenhouse gas reductions.

Europe, which was not part of the C-5 meeting from which the accord emerged,
but endorsed it almost immediately, faces important decisions. First, what is
the future role of the KP? Will Europe pursue two paths, both a second commitment
period under the KP, and participation in the accord? Second, will Europe which
has led the world toward collective action on climate, put aside disappointment
about how the Copenhagen process played out, and seize the lead in creating a
process to implement the accord?

The next few months will offer strong indicators of whether nations whose heads
of state endorsed the accord will treat it as binding. Various signposts will
suggest which way the road is heading. The first deadline to watch for is January
31. By then, developed countries must register national commitments — and developing
countries national plans of action — to reduce greenhouse gases. Major defections
at this point would doom the accord, but early indications are that countries
that offered commitments coming into Copenhagen will register them.

A second key indicator that the accord has legs will be how fast and effectively
key countries seek to implement its terms. It remains unclear who “owns” the Copenhagen
accord, who staffs its implementation and even who has the authority to convene
the next meeting to keep the process going. Will negotiations around the accord’s
implementation be included in the next UNFCCC meeting in late May, or does it
require an entirely separate process? The accord includes promises of adaptation
assistance, a green climate fund, and forest protection and technology “mechanisms”.
The question of who moves the process forward needs to be resolved in the next
few months.

China has already invited the other emerging countries behind the accord, India,
Brazil and South Africa, to meet this month to devise a united front on a way
forward. Will Europe take the initiative to define a workable process?

There will be two more important signposts during 2010, from the two largest
emitters. China will launch its 12th five-year plan, and much will ride on the
strength of the measures they include to improve energy efficiency, and develop
low-carbon sources of energy. Already since Copenhagen they have adopted new measures
requiring electric utilities to purchase wind and solar energy.

Similarly, the US Congress will decide whether to complete action on legislation
to reduce US emissions, as a bi-partisan trio of Senators —
John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman — strive to find an acceptable compromise
bill that addresses both climate and energy security.

One last hope. Because the accord may reflect a reordering of global political
dynamics it may make possible a profoundly important shift in which action on
climate change is no longer seen as a threat, but rather the key, to development
and the future of poverty eradication is recognised as low carbon development.
That would be an historic achievement.

• Jonathan Lash is president of the World Resources Institute (WRI)
see also
As recriminations fly post-Copenhagen, one writer offers a fly-on-the-wall account
of how talks failed

by Mark   Lynas ( who was in the negotiating room as the Copenhagen Accord was