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Copenhagen: No Consensus About the Copenhagen Accord

From the negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol it could be learned that a slow progress during consecutive sessions is no reason to panic and worry about the final outcome of the negotiations. As discussed in Chap. 3, during the AGBM process several nice ideas were tabled, which varied from measurable and verifiable policies and measures proposed by the EU, to smart formula’s for calculating developed countries’ individual and differentiated emission reduction commitments. Eventually, however, in Kyoto, a lot turned out to be different with commitments for developed countries and a global scope for emissions trading. Despite the hard work at the AGBM sessions, success in Kyoto was largely due to the address by US Vice-President Al Gore, the momentum of ‘boiling’ negotiations at COP-3 during the final hours of the meeting, and the leadership of key negotiators such as AGBM Chairman Raul Estrada (Argentina).

After one COP (held in Poznan, Poland, 2008), seven sessions of AWG-LCA and nine sessions of AWG-KP, Parties, reached COP-15 in Copenhagen (December

2009) with the goal to conclude the negotiations on the Bali Action Plan and agree on a climate regime for the period after 2012. ‘Copenhagen’ was by far the biggest COP session in the history of the UNFCCC with over 40,000 participants registered (whereas the venue for the session could only host 15,000 persons). It was also a COP which took place against a different political and economic backdrop. At Bali, two years earlier, negotiations were fed by a new assessment report by the IPCC and increased international familiarity with and sense of urgency about the issue of climate change. By the time of ‘Copenhagen’, however, the world was suffering from the impacts of a strong financial crisis and the resulting economic recession. It was generally feared that in the national planning of many countries, rescuing the financial systems in the short run had become more urgent than saving the climate in the longer run.

On a positive note, the election of Barack Obama in 2008 as US President had been met with an increased hope of a stronger willingness of the USA to agree on an ambitious climate package. Obama’s position on climate change was more positive in terms of willingness to take action than that of the former US President George W. Bush, under whose leadership the US government had formally withdrawn itself from the Kyoto Protocol (which was an important reason why negotiations between Bali and Copenhagen took place within two separate negotiation tracks, as discussed above). This hope had been substantiated by the proposal of the Obama Administration to reduce the US greenhouse gas emissions by 17 % by 2020 below 2005 levels (Bianco et al. 2013).

Nevertheless, the course of the negotiations at Copenhagen were a clear example of why choosing the right tactical manoeuvres is so important, especially for the COP President to find a balance between being a leader and a facilitator. Any country hosting a COP hopes to conclude it with a declaration carrying the name of the city of the COP venue, such as Berlin Mandate, Kyoto Protocol and Marrakech Accords. Moreover, COP host countries are often keen on writing history by leading a negotiation process that results in a historical agreement. This may be what the Danish government tried to achieve when it prepared a negotiation text for the COP and showed it to a small group of countries at a preparatory meeting for the COP (held in November 2015). When the Danish COP presidency announced during the opening of the COP that it intended to table its own negotiation text(s), and when this text was leaked to the press during the first week of the COP (Vidal 2009; IISD 2009, p. 28), many negotiators criticised this attempt of leadership as they felt that the negotiations held during 2008-2009 had been insufficiently reflected in the text. As a consequence, after a few days of discussions, negotiations continued only with texts produced by the AWG-KP and AWG-LCA. But trust turned out to be difficult to regain.

Another tactical mistake during the COP was the fact that President Obama announced, during the final day of the session, an agreement on a Copenhagen Accord, while many negotiators were still unaware of that. Obama had been negotiating with a small number of other leaders in a ‘Friends of the Chair’ consultation and reached an agreement, which most negotiators first read about on the internet (IISD 2009, p. 28). Friends of the Chair sessions had been successful before as an enabler for more focussed discussions, but it is important that all countries feel represented by the ‘Friends’ and this was not the case at Copenhagen. It seemed that the attempt to ensure the participation of the USA and China in a future climate regime strengthened the feeling of other countries that they were being neglected. When all countries eventually were asked, at a final plenary meeting, to adopt the Copenhagen Accord, COP President Rasmussen was confronted with much resistance and eventually the refusal of a few developing countries, among them Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba and Nicaragua as most outspoken ones, to agree on the Accord. Without consensus, the maximum that could be achieved was that COP-15 took note of the Copenhagen Accord.

The Copenhagen Accord therefore was not legally binding and as a consequence the several mechanisms proposed in the text (e.g., Copenhagen Green Climate Fund and the Technology Mechanism) could not be implemented yet and needed to wait for the formal acceptance of the accord by the COP at a later session.

The Copenhagen Accord (UNFCCC 2009a) nevertheless invited industrialised countries to submit individual or joint quantified economy-wide emission targets for the year 2020. In addition, it stated that “Non-Annex I Parties to the Convention will implement mitigation actions” (UNFCCC 2009a, p. 6, para 5). Both developed and developing countries were requested to submit their targets and actions to the UNFCCC Secretariat by 31 January 2010 (UNFCCC 2009a, p. 6, para 5). This deadline was met by 55 countries who submitted national pledges to cut and limit their greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 (Climatico 2010, pp. 7-8). These countries together accounted for over three-quarter of global emissions from energy use. Of these countries, several presented proposals for medium term targets. The EU made clear that it would hold on to its pledged emission reduction of greenhouse gases by 20 % by the year 2020 (below 1990 levels).[1] Another important signal came from the so-called BASIC group (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) which proposed the following greenhouse gas emission reduction targets (JIN 2009-2010):

  • • Brazil: 36 % emission reduction below business-as-usual by 2020;
  • • South Africa: 34 % emission reduction below business-as-usual by 20;
  • • India: 20 % reduction in the carbon intensity[2] by 2020 compared to 2005 levels;
  • • China: 45 % reduction in the carbon intensity by 2020 compared to 2005 levels.

The US climate position remained uncertain. Before Copenhagen, Obama’s Energy and Climate bill had passed the House of Representatives, but not the Senate (JIN 2009-2010). Later, due to mid-term elections in 2010, the Democratic Party lost its 60-40 majority in the Senate, which reduced the chances of the bill being adopted.

The political process moved on, but towards the next COP in Cancun, Mexico, a lot of faith in the process had to be regained. ‘Copenhagen’ had made clear that negotiators wanted the process to be more participatory with texts being developed during preparatory meetings and completed at high-level COP sessions. From now on, COP sessions would become more inclusive with participation of all Parties.

An overview of milestones during the post-Kyoto negotiation process from 2005 (Montreal) through 2009 (Copenhagen) is presented in Fig. 5.1.

Fig. 5.1 Summary of post-Kyoto negotiations 2005-2009 (author’s own elaboration)

  • [1] Before Copenhagen, the EU had stated that it would be willing to reduce emission by 30 % ifother key emitting countries would also offer ambitious reduction targets at Copenhagen. Now,that COP-15 had not resulted in a legally-binding agreement, this offer was from the table, at leastfor the time being.
  • [2] Carbon intensity in these proposals means greenhouse gas emissions per unit of gross domesticproduct.
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