Tenuous accord

If the Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change was aimed at putting in place concrete steps to arrest global warming, then the meet was a failure. An ‘accord’ reached at the summit – it is hardly an accord as it did not receive unanimous support — is unlikely to contain temperature rises to within the 2 degrees centigrade that scientists say is needed to avert calamitious climate change.

What has emerged from Copenhagen is a non-binding political deal reached between a US-led group of rich countries and a grouping of emerging economies, including Brazil, South Africa, Indian and China (BASIC) that the conference agreed to only “take note of”. Many have dismissed the ‘accord’ as a moth-eaten deal.

The international community has failed itself by achieving so little at Copenhagen.
However, some gains were made at Copenhagen. Given the wide gap in positions and the highly acrimonious debates before and during the summit, the fact that an accord was reached, even if it is so irresolute in its commitment to countering climate change, is an achievement.

It includes a method for verifying industrialised nations’ reduction of emissions and promises $30 billion in emergency climate aid to poor nations in the next three years and outlines a goal of eventually providing $100 billion a year to them by 2020. The rich countries were not able to jettison the Kyoto protocol.

The accord carries references to Kyoto. With all its warts, the accord saved the summit from total failure and the talks process from collapse. It is important that what was achieved at Copenhagen is built upon. If the Copenhagen accord is a ‘warm up’ intermediate deal ahead of a robust treaty next year, then the summit was not a waste of time.

The Copenhagen summit’s very modest outcome is worrying. The accord indicates that while countries have come around to recognising the need to keep warming below 2 degrees, they are still a long way from committing to doing so. As troubling is the way diplomacy was done at Copenhagen. It is hard to ignore the fact that the accord was the result of a backroom deal done by a handful of countries. While the BASIC countries did manage to stop the rich nations from steamrolling their agendas, it does seem that the accord left them isolated from the G-77. Is a new climate order emerging that pits the world’s poor against the rich and BASIC?

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