Copenhagen Accord or Discord

February 14, 2010 12:00 am

, PARIS, Feb 14 – Less than two months after it was hastily drafted to stave off a fiasco, the Copenhagen Accord on climate change is in a bad way, and some are already saying it has no future.

The deal was crafted amid chaos by a small group of countries, led by the United States and China, to avert an implosion of the UN\’s December 7-18 climate summit.

Savaged at the time by green activists and poverty campaigners as disappointing, gutless or a betrayal, the Accord is now facing its first test in the political arena — and many views are caustic.

Veterans say the document has little traction and cannot pull the 194-nation UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) towards a new global pact by year\’s end.

Political momentum is so weak that so far only two negotiating rounds have been rostered in 2010, one among officials in Bonn in mid-year, the other in Mexico at ministerial level in December.

Worse, the Accord itself already seems to have been quietly disowned by China, India and other emerging economies just weeks after they helped write it, say these sources.

"Publicly, they are being bubbly and supportive about the Copenhagen Accord. In private, they are urinating all over it," one observer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP.

The Accord\’s supporters say it is the first wide-ranging deal to peg global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) and gather rich and poor countries in specific pledges for curbing carbon emissions.

And it promises money: 30 billion dollars for climate-vulnerable poor countries by 2012, with as much as 100 billion dollars annually by 2020.

Critics say there is no roadmap for reaching the warming target and point out the pledges are voluntary, whereas the Kyoto Protocol — which took effect five years ago next Tuesday — has tough compliance provisions for rich polluters.

Anger among small countries sidelined from the crazed huddle in Copenhagen was so fierce that the paper failed to get approval at a plenary session.

That meant the Accord\’s credibility rating is based on what happened on January 31, a self-described "soft" deadline set by the UNFCCC.

Under it, countries would register their intended actions for tackling carbon emissions and say if they wish to be "associated" with the agreement.

The roster on actions is nicely filled, but there are glaring gaps in the "association" side.

China (the world\’s No. 1 polluter), India, Brazil and South Africa, as well as Russia among the developed countries, have all failed to make this endorsement.

The US sees this as backsliding which could return negotiations to the finger-pointing and textual nitpicking that brought Copenhagen so close to disaster.

Its climate pointman, Todd Stern, said last Tuesday that he believed the big four developing countries "will sign on."

"The consequences of not doing so are so serious — in a word, leaving the accord stillborn, contrary to the clear assent their leaders gave to the accord in Copenhagen."

The Chinese and Indian governments, questioned by AFP, declined to comment on specifics of their positions.

Michael Zammit Cutajar, former chairman of a UNFCCC negotiating group, said the Copenhagen Accord was flawed by "incoherence" as to how it should dovetail with the overall UNFCCC forum and parallel talks on extending Kyoto.

"Beyond the lack of clarity in its drafting, its main weakness is the lack of ambition and identifying responsibilities," he said in an interview.

"Who should do what, and when, in order to limit warming to 2C (3.6 F)?"

Saleemul Huq with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in London, said the developing majors, by refusing to endorse the Accord, "are clearly signalling their view that the UNFCCC process is still the only game in town."

"This means that any impressions that anyone might have had that the Accord had succeeded in hiving off the \’main players\’ into a separate process to the UNFCCC are just a delusion."

So does the Copenhagen Accord have any real future? Or is it doomed to be consigned to a desk drawer?

"It\’s still too early to know," said Elliot Diringer of US thinktank, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

Seeking to breathe life into its provisions, the United States and others may launch a "friends of the Accord" process, running in parallel to the UN negotiations.

But in the likelihood that China and India will snub this move, the document may end up as "a political reference point" within the UN process, said Diringer, who summarised: "It\’s a messy situation."


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