The Copenhagen Accord21 December 2009

"The Conference of the Parties takes note of the Copenhagen Accord," says a final decision at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference in Copenhagen (COP15). The Copenhagen Accord was formally recognised by the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC on Saturday morning. Drawn up last Friday by the United States, China, India, Brazil, and South Africa, the Copenhagen Accord is the somewhat sobering outcome of two weeks of intense and difficult negotiations. It is not the legally binding treaty that was aimed for and it is yet unclear how many countries will actually sign the Accord since countries do not have to endorse it. The key points of the Accord are: The recognition that ambitious cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are essential to maintain chances to hold an increase in global temperature at below 2°C; In essence, a continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, with binding emissions reduction targets for developed countries and voluntary pledges for developing countries (China, India, Brazil, and South Africa are classified as developing countries, the US has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol); The recognition of "the importance of reducing emission from deforestation and forest degradation and the need to enhance removals or greenhouse gas emission by forests"; Pledges to improve the transparency of monitoring and verification of emission reductions, especially by emerging economies, and reporting of the result to the UN every two years; The promise of a total of US$ 30 billion "fast track" (short-term) climate fund from developed countries to support and finance immediate adaptation measures for least developed countries and countries most affected by climate change from 2010 to 2012, as well as a promise of mobilising US$100 billion per year by 2020; and Mechanisms to support capacity building and technology development and transfer in developing countries. The Copenhagen Accord is not the outcome many had hoped for. The agreement appears to be more of a letter of intent than an ambitious action plan on climate change. Especially developing countries, which are most vulnerable to the effects and consequences of climate change, are mostly dissatisfied with the outcome. Earlier commitments to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2050 have not been included and there are no binding commitments to any emissions cuts by any country in the text. The Accord also falls short on addressing rising emissions from aviation and shipping, or limiting the future sale of emissions permits held by many eastern European nations, the so-called "hot air". A key issue remains whether and how significant greenhouse gas emission cuts can be achieved to maintain the 2°C threshold. Some recent scientific findings already suggest that past anthropogenic emissions might result in more than 2°C warming, even if stringent cuts would be implemented immediately. The proposed 1.5°C threshold by the Alliance of Small Island States may not even be achievable. A second remaining key issue concern the financing of adaptation and mitigation efforts. The promised support in regards to capacity building, including financial and governance structures, seems to present a positive outcome of Copenhagen. However, African nations and small island states have claimed they would not receive enough money under the Copenhagen Climate Fund. Industrialised countries are concerned that developing nations currently may not be able to handle a substantial influx of financial support. The Copenhagen Accord does not discount the responsibilities of any country, particularly industrialised nations and the major emerging economies, to commit to substantial emission reductions. Those countries that have drafted the Copenhagen Accord have already conceded that addressing climate change requires more than this document. Commentators have already criticised that effective climate action cannot be achieved by employing the easy solution for solving tough problems: procrastination. Tackling climate change requires determined and ambitious action - the sooner the better (and cheaper). In the following 6-12 months, it remains to be seen if the Accord can be turned into legally binding action, the Copenhagen Climate Fund be launched, and if mitigation efforts are increased. There appears to be a general consensus among the majority of UNFCCC members that an increase in global temperature of no more than 2°C warming, and therefore dangerous climate change, is to be avoided. For future meetings the question remains whether scientific recommendations to drastically cut emissions can be transformed into meaningful action. The next annual UNFCCC Conference (COP16) will take place in late 2010 in Mexico City, preceded by a major two week negotiating session in Bonn, Germany, scheduled 31 May to 11 June. Alexander Stathakis, project manager of the Sustainable Business Unit at UQ Business School on the outcome of the COP15 Conference in Copenhagen. Contact: a.stathakis@business.uq.edu.au, or (07) 3346 8175.
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