December 19, 2009


Talk About a Climate Catastrophe: The deal Obama brought home from Copenhagen wasn't just weak—it wasn't even really a deal. David Roberts on what went wrong—and what Obama has to do next. (David Roberts, 12/19/09, Daily Beast)

Saturday morning witnessed one of the most extraordinary and dramatic debates in the 17-year history of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Copenhagen climate talks (Conference of the Parties 15, or COP15) were supposed to conclude with formalities. Instead a heated dispute threatened to derail them entirely.

At stake was the "Copenhagen Accord," an interim political agreement cobbled together by Barack Obama via some frenzied diplomacy during his one-day visit on Friday. Obama left before the final vote -- somewhat ironically to beat a snow storm descending on DC -- but he sounded confident that the accord would be adopted. Instead, in the wake of his departure, a small group of developing countries including Sudan and Venezuela rebelled, decried the process by which the accord was produced, and insisted that they would not allow it to be adopted. Since the UNFCCC process requires unanimity to move forward, Danish Prime Minister Lokke Rasmussen could only look on, bewildered, as country after country restated its position in increasingly emotional terms. At one point, Sudanese official Lumumba Stanislas Dia-ping, chair of the Group of 77 poor nations, compared the accord to the Holocaust. Then things went downhill. [...]

What's remarkable is that the accord already represented an enormous diminution of hopes and expectations, wan even compared to drafts that had circulated earlier in the week. It achieved only the barest of Obama's aims: one, to draw the major emitters among the developing nations — China, India, and Brazil -- into a process that would yield concrete commitments on their part, and two, to get funding flowing from developed countries to developing countries to aid their efforts to deal with climate change. The idea was to pull big emitters into a political agreement that would, at next year's COP16 in Mexico City, become a legally binding treaty. Obama adopted this two-step process after it became clear that a full treaty simply wasn't in the offing this year; he wanted something that could be operationalized immediately and serve to build trust in the intervening months.

Thanks to what Obama called, at a Friday-evening press conference, a "fundamental deadlock in perspectives" (read: China won't budge!), the accord ended up in an attenuated form that even its architect conceded is "not enough" to do what needs to be done.

Gunning Full Throttle into the Greenhouse (An Editorial by Markus Becker in Copenhagen, 12/19/09, Der Spiegel)
The global climate summit in Copenhagen has failed. There will be no concrete goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Industrialized countries extended no concrete offers of hope to developing countries. Newly industrializing countries, such as India and China, can continue to grow their economies without any checks and balances for the climate.

In the run-up to the conference, scientists, environmentalists and politicians alike called it one of the most important in history. But now it's just a missed opportunity. Likewise, it might just be one of the last of its kind in the battle against climate change.

It took governments from around the world 17 years to come together for this summit in Copenhagen -- 17 years of talking, seemingly endless negotiations, ideological debates, delays and maneuvering. It's been 17 years since the first climate-related meeting, held in Rio in 1992. It's been 17 years of searching for solutions to confront the threats resulting from climate change. And this is what we're left with. Many of the hopes that had been building up since 1992 have now been shattered.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 19, 2009 9:37 AM
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