Copenhagen Summit Outcomes: Experts Weigh In

posted by Dr. James G. Hood
Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What the experts say

Copenhagen climate deal: Spectacular failure – or a few important steps?

We ask leading climate change experts for their assessment of the Copenhagen deal

Activists demonstrate outside the Bella Center in Copenhagen at the end of the COP15 UN Climate Change Conference, 19 Dec 2009. Photograph: Olivier Morin/AFP/Getty Images

Fuqiang Yang, director of global climate solutions, WWF International

The negotiations in Copenhagen ended without a fair, ambitious or legally binding treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Despite this, what emerged was an agreement that will, at the very least, cut greenhouse gases, set up an emissions verification system, and reduce deforestation. Given the complexity of the issue, this represents a step forward.

I hasten to add that much of the hard work still lies ahead. The Copenhagen accord, the text that came out of the talks, leaves a long list of issues undecided. Among them are the emissions targets industrialised nations will accept, and how much climate finance they will offer.

The accord essentially allows countries to set their own greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals for 2020.

But I am optimistic, because the talks did achieve $100bn in aid from industrialised countries to poorer nations. China, as well, submitted to an emissions verification system under which all nations will report.

The accord also includes measures to help cut greenhouse gases and reduce deforestation, particularly in heavily forested developing nations such as Brazil and Indonesia.

These are big steps forward, and I think it is important to remember that there were achievements made in Copenhagen. There is still a great deal that needs to be done by China and all other signatories. Specific, binding targets are extremely important and need to be worked out. But we did see a move towards an agreement that could keep atmospheric Co2 levels from rising above dangerous levels.

John Prescott, climate change rapporteur for the Council of Europe

I’ve read a lot about so-called Brokenhagen and the failure to get a legally binding agreement. Frankly we were never going to get one, just as we didn’t get one at Kyoto, when I was negotiating for the EU.

What you need is a statement of principle. At Copenhagen this was a final admission that we cannot let temperature rise 2C above pre-industrial levels.And to get approval from 192 countries on this principle is remarkable, considering Kyoto dealt with only 47 nations.

The details and targets to meet that principle will be settled at COP16 in Mexico in 12 months’ time. Until then, countries must show, as Ban Ki-Moon said, greater ambition to turn their backs on the path of least resistance.

Many of the countries have set out their own carbon action plans by 2020. So let’s see them put those plans into action and put those figures in the annexes to the Copenhagen accord. The rest of the world will follow.

Copenhagen’s achievements are an acceptance of the science (contested at Kyoto), an admission there will be global emission cuts, and an acceptance that there will have to be verification.

Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, master of Trinity College, professor of cosmology and astrophysics, university of Cambridge

Plainly the outcome of Copenhagen was less than many hoped – but perhaps not substantially less than could be realistically expected. The involvement of India and China was clearly going to be crucial. But the grandstanding by particular nations (and the insistence by some on an unreasonable target of 1.5 degrees) was plainly unhelpful to the negotiations.

We in the UK should surely acclaim the constructive and committed role played by our government, and by Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband in particular, both in the lead-up to Copenhagen and during the frustrating and exhasting negotiations last week.

Next year, one hopes the US internal debate will evolve further, so Obama feels able to play a less muted role. Let’s hope also that negotiations within groups of nations are carried forward. There is more hope of something being agreed among a group of up to 20 key nations (provided the group covers developing and developed countries), which others then sign up to.

And to be positive, the Copenhagen meeting, circus though it was, carried the process forward. For instance, it stimulated pledges of funding from developed nations (albeit, not as firmly as might have been hoped) and made progress on forestry. And it maintained global long-term concerns about climate change on the international agenda.

Bryony Worthington, climate campaigner with sandbag.org, who helped draft the UK climate change bill

Copenhagen was a spectacular failure on many levels. The UN process was stretched to breaking-point, with no consensus on any pressing issues.

The accord that was signed was clearly designed to meet the needs of the US, who always wanted a voluntary “pledge and review later” type agreement with minimum enforcement.

The sums of money agreed to help developing nations adapt to climate change are so low as to be insulting.

The future of the major mechanism driving private capital into solutions, the carbon market, has been left with a question mark over its future, and the long-anticipated agreement on stopping deforestation lacked clarity.

What happens next? The most honest answer would be to accept that under the current arrangements consensus will not be reached.

We have to focus on domestic action in big fossil-fuelled economies: the US, China, and Europe. All three have made pledges about t



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