The 15th edition of the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) 15 Climate Conference that ended few weeks ago in Copenhagen, Denmark ; presented a veritable opportunity for the global community to explore how to save planet earth & its occupants from imminent extinction. After almost two years of preparations for what has come to be known as Copenhagen Climate Summit, expectations were high for a successful outing that would deliver a clear roadmap that will lead to reversing the dangerous trends of global warming even as Conservative stakeholders were wondering if there exists any hope of getting a real deal that could deliver climate justice to the world's economically disadvantaged. The hype, politics, accusation & buck passing before and during the two-week event had become a dangerous distraction from the real challenge of an urgent transition away from fossil fuels to clean fuels as precursors to achieving a green, low carbon global economy. This article is intended to separate hype from reality as well as distill facts from fiction as regards the Fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP-15) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which commenced on December 7th, 2009, and adjourned some two weeks later. Ab initio, the conference was meant to complete negotiations on a new legally binding international agreement on climate change that would be activated when the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period ends in 2012. But for some of us who have been monitoring these issues with an open mind, it was clear that such a goal was out of reach even before the meeting started—remember the mid-November 2009 parley of the Heads of State of the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference in Singapore which unveiled the real state of mind of the so called major polluters just on the eve of the Copenhagen Climate Summit. It is indisputable that Climate change and global warming throw up complex & complicated issues of science, politics & economics as well as the knotty, difficult issues of justice because poor countries are especially vulnerable to the devastating effects of rising temperatures caused by the mindless, primitive emissions of green house gases by the wealthy nations who have less at risk of the effects of global warming. Will it be out of place to suggest that for either emissions reductions or adaptation funding, these so called wealthy nations owe very special obligations to poor ones? Will climate justice not be served by insisting on a “Pollute & Pay” policy architectural framework for the success of COP 15 or indeed other COPs that would be coming in the months and years ahead? Experience has proved that Climate change raises difficult issues of justice, particularly with respect to sharing of “assets & liabilities” among poor and rich countries but common sense demands that mitigating disaster for the nations that are poorest and most vulnerable to climate change could be achieved by targeting adaptation assistance to poor people in poor nations- a better way to combat climate change with distributive climate justice.
At this juncture, there is need to demarcate the boundaries of “sensible & reasonable expectations” so as to be able to illuminate the true success of the just concluded COP 15 in Copenhagen, Denmark. The civil society and almost all the environmentally minded NGOs had gone into the Copenhagen negotiations with one thing in mind: to part with an ambitious, legally binding agreement that responds to the scientific evidence of climate change! Did Copenhagen meet our fair expectations?
There was much grandstanding in the months leading up to COP-15 showing how crunchy the negotiations had become and not many saw it as a silver lining in the climate summit clouds because the difficulty was largely a consequence of key culprit countries who happen to be the world’s economic & political super powers taking very seriously the task of expanding the coalition of the willing-by accommodating the fast emerging countries whose emissions are also on a steep rise-even if it serves to avoid a major downside of the Kyoto protocol! A good lesson learnt, if you ask me. Going into Copenhagen, the challenge was very great, mainly due to deeply fundamental economic and political realities once the subject of distributional equity of what I have earlier identified as the assets & liabilities of the Climate Change debacle. It was then not surprising that the United States, leading the charge of industrialized countries, insisted that China and other key emerging economic super powers like India & South Africa participate in a future agreement in meaningful and transparent ways, nor that the developing countries insisted that the industrialized countries pay their Climate debt, albeit wholesale.
The key question was whether the negotiators in representing almost all the countries that registered their presence in Copenhagen could be able to achieve a policy direction that is sufficiently equitable as to generate widespread support from key countries of the world on both sides of the emissions divide. Nevertheless, during the final hours in Copenhagen, the leaders of a small number of key countries, lubricated by the charm & charisma of the personality of the United States President Barack Obama, worked creatively together to post an economically, politically and somehow scientifically feasible path forward. From all indications, the talks were almost irreversibly deadlocked when President Barak Obama arrived on the scene in the early hours of Friday, December 18th, the supposed final day of the crucial climate talks and initiated quite a series of bilateral and eventually multilateral engagements with Chinese, Indian, Brazilian and South African political leaders which culminated in a document which was to become the Copenhagen Accord. If the truth must be said, the extant economic and political realities on ground signposted the hard fact that the best goal for the Copenhagen climate talks was to lay a sound and solid foundation for meaningful, long-term global action-away from the usual notion of a symbolic triumph of the past. The fresh-from-the-oven Copenhagen Accord represents a major step forward, despite its flaws and below the scientific demands of legally binding immediate & urgent actions to keep temperature rises below 2 degrees centigrade. I make bold to say it is quite unprecedented in international negotiations for political authorities to be directly engaged in, let alone physically lead negotiations, but that is what we all witnessed in Copenhagen. I agree that the outcome is less than our expectations but it is surely a step forward from what most people anticipated just three days earlier, when the talks were hopelessly at a crossroad.
The basic configuration of the Copenhagen Accord, an adaptation of the “Schedule Approach” proposal of the Australian government, is tailored towards marrying a varied portfolio of domestic commitments aimed at implementing common but differentiated Responsibilities . Essentially, under such an approach each country commits and undertakes to abide by its internally designed climate commitments in the form of policies, laws, regulations or multi-year development models. President Obama has already described the new Copenhagen Accord as “an important first step” but I think Mr. Obama actually meant to say “an important third step”. Remember the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 that produced the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol , signed in Japan in 1997 . The absence from the Kyoto Protocol of meaningful involvement of the key, rapidly-growing and fast emerging economies of a small set of important nations – China, India, South Africa, Korea Brazil and Mexico was a fundamental deficiency.
The Copenhagen Accord seeks to address the deficiencies of Kyoto Protocol by consulting a broader stakeholder base as well as extending the actionable time-frame, making all of the major economies which together account for some 90% of global emissions agreeing to actively participate-remember Kyoto had United States of America & Australia “missing in action” on the signature list! Nevertheless, the fact that the outcome of the 2009 negotiations in Copenhagen is a general 3-page political statement compared to the detailed 20-page legal document in Kyoto gives serious cause for concern, considering that time is of great essence here as far as reversing the trends of climate change is concerned. Having said this, I think it is pertinent to dig deeper into the Copenhagen Accord with a view to critically analyzing its key ingredients. It is debatable if the product of the COP 15 represents the best agreement achievable, given the dizzying political forces unleashed on the process.
According to the official document of the Copenhagen Accord as released by the COP 15 Conference secretariat, Appendix I meant for the actual figures by year 2020 economy-wide emissions targets for Annex I countries and Appendix II meant for country specific mitigation actions of developing economies are to be arrived at by the last day of January 2010. This lacuna delivers a huge blow to the entire effort and makes the process inchoate. This is both unfortunate and regrettable because most countries had previously made official statements regarding their voluntary emissions commitments that the COP 15 would actually have leveraged on and push for both mandatory numerical pledges from the developed countries and “voluntary pledges” from developing countries. This would have given substance, bite, credibility and depth to the Copenhagen Accord. Again the Accord insists that Annex I Parties of the Kyoto Protocol- the industrialized countries and emerging economies of Central and Eastern Europe- commit to implement mitigation actions and Non-Annex I Parties-the developing world, as defined in the Kyoto Protocol- also commit to implement mitigation actions. All of these benchmarked actions will be submitted to the UNFCCC Secretariat by January 31, 2010 will complete Appendix I & II of the Copenhagen Accord. To a keen student of the Copenhagen Accord, domestic mitigation policies, targets and actions are the crux of the matter. It is morally justifiable and politically expedient that the Accord maintains the Annex I versus Annex II countries’ dichotomy of the Kyoto Protocol even though the developing countries position on the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol for a second post 2012 commitment period did not make into the Accord.
The Copenhagen Accord notes that the signatory countries commit to “urgently combat climate change in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” in order to meet climate change reversal objectives “consistent with science and on the basis of equity.” Permit me to make it clear here and now that the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities,” has always been of great importance to developing countries-a big plus for the Accord but it fails to clearly say how to achieve the “2 Degrees Centigrade threshold”. The COP 15 Accord also maintains that action and cooperation on adaptation are urgently required, particularly in the least developed countries, small island developing states, and Africa with developed countries committing to provide financial resources to support adaptation measures in developing countries. I am happy to observe that recognizing the importance of adaptation and providing financial resources to support it in developing countries are important departures from Kyoto. Targeting the funds to the “least developed countries” makes a lot of moral sense. The Copenhagen Accord goes ahead to emphasize that emissions reduction commitments for the Annex I parties will be measured, reported, and verified in sync with yet to be established guidelines which will be rigorous and transparent enough, whereas voluntary mitigation actions taken by non-Annex I parties will be subjected to domestic measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) reported with international consultation and analysis. By my own assessment, this component was arrived at after the United States and China had succeeded in washing their “dirty linens” in the public domain. China’s current status as a major polluter while enjoying the “rights & privileges” of non-Annex I countries proved too bitter a pill for the United states to swallow. The insistence by all of the U.S. delegation on the importance of “transparency” led to the compromise that developing countries employ domestic measurement, reporting, and verification that is subject to “international consultation and analysis”- a lever by which the West, especially the United States will press China, Korea and India on their climate obligations.
How about the provision in the COP 15 Accord for least developed countries and small island developing states undertaking voluntary actions on the basis of support and encouragement from other less vulnerable countries? This writer thinks this is welcome for the poorest developing countries who are “innocent” of climate change instigation charges but unfortunately will carry the heaviest “climate change cross”. Who would blame Tuvalu, a Southern Pacific Island nation of 15,000 people , for insisting on emission cuts of about 45% and stabilizing global temperature rises at 1.5 degrees centigrade? Already they have voluntarily committed to a carbon neutral economy by 2020! Tuvalu wears the shoes and surely they know where it pinches-they face imminent extinction if sea level rises above the present levels. I make bold to say that Climate justice would have been served if poor and vulnerable nations’ voluntary actions are funded by developed countries with in-built technology transfer mechanisms and are subjected to very strict monitoring, reporting and verification. The parties committing to creating positive incentives to stimulate financial resources from developed countries to help reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation is another key component of the COP 15 Accord. I totally agree with this because the absence of meaningful attention towards reversing deforestation was a costly oversight of the Kyoto Protocol and is a great asset for COP 15 product. The Accord also recognizes the need for parties to agree to pursue opportunities to use markets to achieve cost-effective mitigation actions. It is my humble suggestion that it is very important that future agreements of this nature encourage voluntary linkage of emissions trading systems but there is need for clear specifics to make such “voluntary markets” effective and operational. According to the COP 15 Accord, the need for a predictable and adequate funding to be dedicated to developing countries for emissions mitigation, reduction of deforestation, and adaptation cannot be over emphasized. There is a collective commitment from developed countries “approaching” $30 billion for the period 2010-2012, “balanced between adaptation and mitigation,” with adaptation funding being prioritized for the most vulnerable developing countries. I strongly believe that In order not to create room for failing to meet this “keenly contested” figure of $10 billion per year up till 2012 –remember the “$10 billion-is-insufficient-for-coffins” episode in Copenhagen-it is wise to deeply involve the private sector to be able to meet the financial needs of poor countries as envisioned by the Copenhagen Accord.
The Accord also commits developed countries to a goal of jointly mobilizing $100 billion annually by 2020 from both public and private sources for mitigation and adaptation concerns in developing countries. I have consistently maintained that the private sector has key roles to play if governments, through veritable domestic and international policy instruments, provide critical incentives. Such private sector backed funding stands a better chance of being much more effective than the outdated government to government aid. For example, if the cap-and-trade systems are favored as the domestic approach to reducing CO2 emissions in the developed economies via the “upgraded“ Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)-good catalyst for stimulating carbon-friendly private investments in the developing economies. There is an urgent need to amend Article 17 of the Kyoto Protocol to emphasize firm to firm, institution to institution trading through a well structured system. Imagine Harvard University emission-trading with University of Nigeria! The Accord also provides that revision and evaluation of the its implementation is to be completed by 2015, including strictly strengthening the long-term goals in tune with the demands of science. In my opinion, the 2015 “mid-term assessment” raises the hope that the long-term goal post be adjusted as “science leads”.
According to Mark Lynas, Author of the book “Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet”, “one of the greatest difficulties for climate change is that the effects of our emissions today are not actually realized in terms of temperature increases until after about 30-40 years. So there is a time lag in the system which makes it difficult for us humans to respond because we are evolutionarily equipped to deal with very immediate threats like advancing armies or dangerous animals but we are not so well equipped to deal rationally with very long term problems like Climate Change” Yes, climate negotiations are complex and most of the time intractable but those thoroughly muddled processes of COP 15 negotiations have succeeded in being presented as the “Copenhagen Accord”- a non-binding, list of measures countries will take to cut global warming pollution by specific amounts. How do you convince the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), faced with the submersion of some of their member nations such as the Maldives and Tuvalu, that the rest of the developed world meant well for them? Already, the Group of 77, a major negotiating bloc of the COP 15 has called the deal “extremely flawed” but as extremely flawed as it is, I think it is better than having two rival proposals: the original Copenhagen Accord supported by the EU and the Deal brokered by President Obama. All said and done, it must be noted that politics, rather than hard scientific & “everyday experience” evidence influenced the climate talks during the COP 15 deliberations. For instance, the western countries were not (still are not) happy with emerging economies like India who insist that its developmental agenda requires huge energy muscle to enable them catch up with the western countries. According to a Climate Change solutions proposal submitted to the United Nations and supported by the World Bank, United Kingdom, India, Africa, China and the European Union- did you notice the United States & Australia looking the other way?- Climate scientist can estimate how much of the remaining fossil fuel we can safely burn-the Global Cap. Under this proposal, the world’s government would make a binding international agreement detailing how to distribute this Global Cap because the earlier they start it, the greater the chances of not triggering irreversible climate change. The total global emissions for the first year, say 2012 will be set at their current levels, every year following a shrink until by about 2065 when they are almost zero. Initially each country will be allocated an emissions quota according to how much they currently consume but this will change over time. America will slash its emissions 90% from its current over consuming position. Europe too will decrease massively as with China. But India and Africa will increase until by about 2025 each human on the planet would have equal rights to the earth’s resources. Equity is the only option morally and also practically as developing countries will not sign up to anything less. The total emissions will then keep decreasing every year until about 2065 when we must have weaned ourselves of fossil fuel and prevented the worst impacts of climate change. As to how each country deals with its share among its citizens, there are various options on the table with the most promising being individual carbon rationing.
The way out of the present debacle is for the West to aggressively cut down their emissions while making sure they commit both financial & technological resources to make green energy a larger chunk of emerging countries’ energy mix. The onus lies on their shoulders to make sure that the final amendments we will be having in the next 11 months; transform the Copenhagen Accord into a legally binding international agreement that is as strong as the demands of science of Climate Change. Also, the face-off between the biggest emitter of all time-United States and China-current world “emission champion”, worked against an ambitious outcome in Copenhagen. I thought we learnt some lessons from the still-birthed Doha round of World Trade Organization. It is nine years now and the future of WTO is still hopeless but we cannot afford to repeat such silly mistakes with the Climate talks! The failure to reach a legally binding agreement in Copenhagen is not in the best interest of citizens on both sides of the economic and technological divide. Many details regarding these elements of the Accord as well as other unresolved issues remain on the table, and need to be re-examined and re-negotiated if we are to move forward with the Copenhagen Accord. Whether the next steps in international deliberations should be under the auspices of the UNFCCC or other deliberative bodies of global engagements is immaterial but let it be known that given the urgency and necessity of achieving consensus on this collective threat to human existence, the United Nations processes on climate change policy should be fast-tracked as a “sprint event” away from the conventional marathon disposition. The Copenhagen Accord – resting upon yet to be worked out details – could veritably demonstrate whether we live in an “age of stupid” or not. Even though world leaders already have acknowledged the Copenhagen outing failed to reach the original goal of completing a legally binding agreement and have shifted the deadline to 2010, blue chip companies and corporate executives are in support of quantifiable and verifiable goals that have been sought for years by environmentalists and scientists. The “Copenhagen Communique” signed by Coca-Cola, HSBC, Nike, BP, General Electric, Nestle etc, supports 350 PPM CO2 concentration levels, 2 degrees temperature and emission caps by the end of next decade-2020. These companies only need the certainty provided by a binding agreement to be able to forecast and make long-term investments in low carbon technologies and processes because of the good prospect of a win-win situation for them because insurance companies like Allianz and AIG know that by limiting the risks associated with climate change, they will also be reducing potential claims.
Mexico has taken over now as the COP 15 European hosts declined to continue until the details of the Copenhagen Accord are perfected and possibly giving it a legal teeth in 2010 and this forces me to ask this one question: is it not time for the UN to create a real climate agency modeled after the World Health Organization? It is my humble submission that rotating chairs for what has become the greatest threat to our civilization creates a lot of distraction and confusion. Don’t you think if the WHO were organized like the UNFCCC, that there would have been about 192 divergent opinions about the reality of HIV/AIDS, how to go about fighting it and the chair would have been a part time job for some green horn health ministers who would definitely had been at sea considering the scale of the task?
Finally, we may look back upon Copenhagen as a potentially important moment because global leaders laid a foundation that could be built upon by a broad-based coalition to effectively deal with the threat of global climate change. The pertinent question that needs to be addressed is: Is this truly the golden era of our civilization? Only the weeks, months, years and decades ahead will indeed judge, justify or vilify the much hyped COP 15 just gone by.
Stanley Ijeoma is an Abuja based Enviropreneur & CEO, Schrodinger Limited.