Copenhagen: no FAB deal

Barry Coates’ last blog from the Danish capital looks at what was actually achieved and where we go from here, and includes his final analysis of the conference. The full set of Barry’s updates are posted at Oxfam’s web site and also at Pacific Scoop.

Day 13 – Saturday 19th December

Looking back, looking forward

This is the way the summit ends. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. 119 world leaders came, they saw and they certainly didn’t conquer. They were captured by their limited vision, their vested interests and the lack of trust between them that has it roots in long standing divisions, including a denial of historical responsibility on the part of the major developed countries.

There was some serious damage done to reputations. The United Nations processes were deeply flawed, countries like New Zealand have been exposed as self-interested blockers and President Obama doesn’t walk on water. Some leaders came out with credit. The vulnerable countries, particularly the Pacific, negotiated hard and fought for 1.5°C to be included in the Copenhagen Accord – they succeeded but their efforts to have a clear aim for a legally binding treaty through this process was stripped out late last night. President Lula from Brazil assumed the mantle of world statesman with a powerful speech and an offer to help other developing countries. Thousands of civil society activists were able to build public support and attention across the world.

But to little avail. The final agreement was empty of content and extremely weak on the level of ambition. We came into the Summit calling for a Fair, Ambitious and Binding deal. We lost the Fair early on when Annex 1 countries could not agree to a financing package beyond the next three years. It was closely followed by the Ambition – leaders could not even commit to a global goal of keeping global temperature rise below 2°C. Then in the wee hours of this morning, the Binding was stripped out in a very untransparent way.

Next steps are for emissions reduction offers to be tabled by 31st January 2010. As explained below, that is a dangerous development, given the lack of political will to decent offers from Annex 1 countries. Then there will be a two week negotiating session in Bonn Germany from 31 May to 11 June 2010, followed by the next annual UN Climate Change Conference (CoP 16) towards the end of 2010 in Mexico City. None of that gives us much confidence that they will be able to muster the political will or bridge the political divides that are needed to provide the political mandates that are essential for a FAB deal.

Because their job is not done, nor is ours. We need to build a far more powerful campaign for the future. We must ensure that the politicians who caused this problem are held to account for this missed opportunity.

I am in a hotel with Oxfam colleagues from around the world, all having worked so hard but feeling pretty empty after this empty outcome. We are off to a bar to cheer ourselves up and to ask some of the tough questions about where to from here. And I will do so with partners in the Global Campaign for Climate Action (the TckTckTck campaign). Anything is on the table for re-thinking. Except wavering in our determination to secure this FAB deal. Anything else is unthinkable to ourselves, our kids, our planet and for billions of vulnerable people.

Since waking up this morning, I have been working with colleagues to prepare the following analysis. I hope you find it useful. But now I’m signing off from this blog and will take a few days off, to recover my health and my sleep. Happy Xmas to you all and thanks for reading these posts.

What the Copenhagen Decisions mean

December 19, 2009: There is extreme urgency. The scale of the crisis means that emissions need to peak within five years. People are already suffering unnecessarily from a lack of protection and support. We have just lost a year. The hope of millions of people has been frustrated and potentially a base of political support has been lost.

Status of Decisions:

AWG-LCA: Document UNFCCC/CP/2009/L6

The document setting out the conclusions of the work of the AWG-LCA was agreed. Tuvalu and Barbados sought to ensure the process would lead to a binding protocol.

CoP Decision:

“CoP takes note of the Copenhagen Accord 18 Dec 2009.” It is not agreed, only noted. Because there was not consensus on the Accord, it was agreed the Parties supporting it would be listed.

The Reasons for the Impasse

There were two interrelated issues that were to blame for the turmoil during the summit, although it should be recognised that the roots of this failure extend back at least to the initiation of the Bali Action Plan.

1. The Process

There were a small number of countries that came to this Summit without the intention of negotiating in good faith. They were generally countries that have massive vested interests in fossil fuels, or that exclusively focus on their short-term competitiveness. These countries often undermined the negotiations dynamic.

Many countries were left out of the ‘friends of the Chair” process and withheld their agreement. While there was an attempt to include negotiating groups, the selection of participants was not open and transparent. The problem was also that the Danish Presidency grossly mismanaged the process. It was most unfortunate that Heads of State found themselves effectively negotiating from the podium, rehearsing their national positions rather than proposing breakthroughs which had not been achieved in the preparatory meetings.

The usual brinkmanship was relied on to deliver an agreement after hours of late night working. This forced an agreement under conditions of tiredness, stress and bilateral influence (which opens up the potential for bullying and favours, reinforcing the positions of the larger and more powerful countries).

The breakdown of this process may signal that the days of stitching up deals in small selective groups and then expecting all countries to sign up are over. There must be questions over the style used for consensus building and decision making.

Climate change negotiations are starting to look eerily like trade negotiations, including the dominance of commercial self-interest in the position. We need processes which move us away from competitive negotiations, where countries try to minimise their concessions, to collaborative actions informed by the science, for example, conducting problem-solving sessions in mixed groups rather than blocks. It is clear that the UNFCCC negotiating process would need substantial reform to handle the complexity of this issue.

While the security challenges of such a meeting are huge, it is inexcusable that the forward planning did not take account of needing civil society and other observers to be present for transparency and legitimacy.

2. The Substance

The Annex 1 countries didn’t come to Copenhagen with sufficient offers and then didn’t improve them. Even the offer on long term finance was full of caveats and loopholes. The rich countries did not make offers that were based, even loosely, on sound science. We were told there would be final offers made during the last hours. These were never tabled.

Some developing countries came with proposals and concessions (eg. China on MRV, Brazil on financial contribution for developing countries and MRV, South Africa offer on emissions reductions). An analysis of Annex 1 offers compared to major developing countries offers on a consistent basis of below BAU (Business as Usual) is likely to show that at least some major developing countries are more ambitious than average Annex 1 levels (particularly when omissions and loopholes offered to Annex 1 countries such as on surplus AAUs, LULUCF accounting rules and bunker fuels are taken into account).

The loss of full agreement, that would have included international MRV for China, means that we potentially lose an important step that could help unlock the negotiations. Also at risk from the lack of full agreement is the agreement to the starter funding for adaptation and the goal on long term finance (even if not a commitment).

On the other side, the lack of full agreement means some of the unhelpful parts of the Accord are not locked in, such as a systematic lowering of ambition and a lack of clear commitment even to 2°C. The process for agreeing mid-term targets, without a criteria for burden sharing and a top down process to test the adequacy of targets, is of serious concern. Continuing the current pledge and review approach undermines equitable burden sharing and a level of ambition based on science. Current emissions reductions pledges by Annex 1 countries are outweighed by the loopholes. On current pledges, we are headed for a 3.9°C temperature rise.

On the positive side, there is at least a consolidation into a Chair’s text for AWG-KP and AWG-LCA which has helped unblock the large accumulation of previous texts that Parties refused to take off the table.

The Politics:

The agreement with China is a step forward in terms of gaining political capital for the Obama Administration’s position in the US; however, a full agreement to the Copenhagen Accord would have been more helpful. Unfortunately, the adversarial atmosphere in Copenhagen might be used to provide opponents of climate change and multilateralism with ammunition. More broadly, the lack of clear success might mean that some Heads of State would be wary of coming to the next Summit on climate change.

We face major challenges in calling for Parties to get back to negotiations given the likelihood that there will be a widespread perception that this would fail again. The lack of trust is even deeper than it was before Copenhagen (it should be observed this is not unique to the UNFCCC process – the Doha trade negotiations process isn’t much better). Moving forward, we will be challenged to say what has changed in the underlying political conditions where 116 Heads of State have failed.

1 thought on “Copenhagen: no FAB deal”

  1. Good blog Barry.
    I could feel his frustration as I read through it, the highs and lows, hopes dashed and ultimately left with a feeling of the inadequacy of it all. As he says, off for a drink…
    Quite seperate though from the, almost offhand, wash up question about what it all meant. I beleive it’s all quite clear what it all meant and was fairly predictable from the outset:
    1. We’ve got a major global issue that needs sorting. It’s not the first time, it happens.
    2. Existing political models do not cope with the changes the world has experienced in communications and the transparency now required.
    3. Interest groups are way ahead in the use of this communication revolution (hence I’m here and so are you) but as of yet unskilled in turning the communication into action, either by leverage or directly. (and look out when they do…)
    4. Behaving as normal the political system heads off to protect the interests of the masses (just their’s though). After all it’s their job to wait for midnight on the last day and dramatically impose the “Big View” on the rest of us.
    5. But wait… Eyes wide in the glare of the communication spotlight there is no deal to cut without the complete ridicule of the waiting world, so they don’t cut one. No deal is no failure for a negotiator, just proves you’re good at your job.

    More interesting is what happens next:
    1. Interest groups get even better at communicating. Ultimately this leads to new ways to express the public’s viewpoints. Where’s Bono after all? (And that’s at the “soft” end of what’s likely to happen)
    2. Political systems evolve new methods of conflict resolution. This is a given but who knows how long will it take. My thoughts are though that it’ll be fairly quick given point 1.
    3. “No more than 2 degrees Celcius” goes flying past equally quickly.
    4. “Cap and Trade” goes shortly thereafter in light of 1-3.
    5. We seriously tax carbon as it leaves the ground and the market establishes a new paradigm for valuing alternate energy sources.
    6. We accept that our kids will think we were idiots. But don’t worry, there won’t be as many of them.

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