Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday 21 December 2009

Climate talks end by only “noting” an Accord

The Copenhagen Conference ended in some disarray because a secretive meeting of leaders of 26 countries was seen as undemocratic by many, and its Accord was thus only “noted” and not adopted.


The Copenhagen Climate Conference ended in disarray, though not in complete failure, and the urgent task now is to pick up the pieces and get the global talks going again next year, as there is much at stake.

The Conference foundered in its last hours on the issue of international democracy and global governance.  The question was:  Can a “deal” patched up by leaders of 26 countries in a secretive meeting that was not supposed to be happening be simply presented to 193 countries to adopt without changes in the dying hours of what is claimed to be the most important international conference ever held?

The answer came in the early hours of Saturday morning, after many hours of high drama in the Conference hall, and it was No. 

When Danish Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen, who presided over the Conference’s final days, convened the final plenary session late last Friday night, he for the first time officially announced that a meeting had been taking place of leaders of 26 countries (whose names he did not give) and that a Copenhagen Accord had been drawn up for the Conference to adopt.

As he tried to leave the podium after suspending the meeting for an hour, he was stopped by Venezuelan delegate Claudia Caldera on a point of order.

“After keeping us waiting for hours, after several leaders from developed countries have told the media an agreement has been reached when we haven’t even been given a text, you throw the paper on the table and try to leave the room,” she said.

This behavior is against United Nations practice and the UN Charter itself, she said.  “Until you tell us where the text has come from, and we hold consultations on it, we should not suspend this session. Even if we have to cut our hand and draw blood to make you allow us to speak, we will do so,” she added, referring to how she had banged on the table for almost a minute in her effort to get the attention of Rasmussen before he left the podium.

Ian Fry, representing Tuvalu, a small island state that will be among the first islands to disappear as a result of climate change, said the UN gives respect to all countries, big or small, and matters are decided collectively in the Conference of Parties.

“But I saw on TV that a leader of a developed country said he had a deal.  This is disrespectful of the UN.  I want to consider the process by which we can discuss the document.”

Fry said a cursory review showed many problems with the Accord, mentioning several points.  Noting that some money had also been mentioned in the document, he said:  “We are offered 30 pieces of silver to betray our people and our future.  Our future is not for sale. Tuvalu cannot accept this document.”

Bolivia said it was offended by the methodology which is disrespectful, that a document is imposed on a majority of countries that have not had the chance to study it.

“You put it that representative leaders of the world were consulted.  But countries not consulted are not represented.  Why have we not discussed this document before and why are we given 60 minutes to look at this document now which will decide the lives of our people. 

“This document does not respect two years of work (discussions that have produced draft texts in working groups) and our people’s rights are not respected, so we cannot endorse this document which is by a small group that think they can take the opportunity to impose on us.”

Nicaragua, represented by Presidential Advisor Paul Oquist, declared that the UN’s democratic system had seen a deterioration here, with a President convening a meeting of 26 countries while neglecting the G192 (referring to the 192 members of the UN). 

He said a number of countries had just now written to the UN Secretary General expressing deep sorrow that the Copenhagen Conference has not followed the UN’s principles of transparency, inclusiveness and equality among states, by the Presidency holding a meeting limited to a small number of chosen parties.

“We cannot respect an agreement made by a few countries.  The only agreements we respect are those made through an open process and adopted by consensus.”  He proposed that the Conference be suspended and that talks resume next year for a final conclusion in June.

Several developed countries then spoke up to defend the work that had been done by the political leaders in the small group, which should be respected instead of vilified, and urged that the Copenhagen Accord be adopted.  This was also the position of several developing countries, including the Maldives, Ethiopia, Grenada and Lesotho

Notably, China and India -- the developing countries that were the most active in the small meeting – did not speak to urge others to adopt the Accord.

When it became clear there was no consensus to adopt the document, some developed countries, led by the United Kingdom and Slovenia, proposed a vote be taken, or else that it be adopted with the names of dissenting countries placed in a footnote.  These “adoption by non-consensus” views were rejected by others who pointed out that it was against the rules of procedure.

After hours of wrangling and a break for consultations, a compromise was reached, in which a Decision was adopted in which the Conference of Parties “takes note of the Copenhagen Accord of 18 December 2009.”   The Accord, with the names of countries that took part in the small meeting, would be attached to the Decision.

In the language of the UN, “taking note” gives a low or neutral status to the document being referred to.  It means that the document is not approved by the meeting (in which case the word “adopts” would be used). 

“Taking note” also does not connote whether the document is seen in a positive light (in which case the word “welcomes” would be used) or negatively (in which case “rejects” or “disapproves of” would be used).

Following the adoption of the decision to simply “take note” of the document, more hours were spent on how to interpret the “takes note” decision, with the developed countries trying to stretch its meaning.

The United States, supported by a number of other developed countries tried to interpret the decision as allowing for a “opt in” type of arrangement, with countries notifying their intention to join.    

They tried to garner support for expanding the “takes note” decision into a system that seems styled after a plurilateral agreement, and linked it to the finance issue in an attempt to get support from developing countries.

Ed Miliband, the UK’s Climate Minister, was blunt about linking the funding of developing countries with accepting the Accord.  Those which support the Accord have to register this support.  The concerns he raised must be duly noted “otherwise we won’t operationalise the funds.”

The US wanted an arrangement through which Parties can associate with the Accord.  It said there are funds in the Accord, and “it is open to any Party that is interested.”  This implies that Parties that do not register their endorsement of the Accord would not be eligible for funding.    

This attempted linkage of finance to the acceptance of the Accord is of course not in line with the rules of the Climate Convention, in which the which the developed countries have committed themselves to provide developing countries with the funds needed for them to take climate related actions.  Funding the actions of developing countries does not require that a new agreement or an Accord be established.   

The actual Copenhagen Accord itself is only three pages in length.  What is left out is probably more important than what it contains.

The Accord does not mention any figures of the emission reduction that the developed countries are to undertake after 2012, either as an aggregate target or as individual country targets.  This failure at attaining reduction commitments is the biggest failure of the document and of the whole Conference.

It marks the failure of leadership of the developed countries, which are responsible for most of the Greenhouse Gases retained in the atmosphere, to commit to an ambitious emissions target.  While the developing countries have demanded that the aggregate target should be over 40% reduction by 2020 compared to 1990 levels, the national pledges to date by developed countries amount to only 13-19 per cent in aggregate. 

Perhaps this very low ambition level is the reason that the Accord remains silent on this issue, except to state to give a deadline of 31 January 2010 for countries to provide their targets.  It is hard to believe that this deadline will be met, since there has been so much foot-dragging on this in the three four years.

The Accord recognizes the broad scientific view that global temperature increase should be below 2 degrees Celsius, and agrees to enhance cooperative action, on the basis of equity.    

This echoes the view recently affirmed by India that accepting a target of temperature limit, whether it be 2 or 1.5 degrees, has to come with a burden-sharing framework, with equity as its basis.

The Accord states the collective commitment of developed countries to provide new and additional funds of  US$30 billion in 2010-2012 through international institutions.  It is unclear how new the funds will be, since the developed countries have already committed to contribute billions of dollars to the World Bank’s climate investment funds.

It also states the developed countries will jointly mobilize US$100 billion a year by 2020 for developing countries.  This is weak as the commitment is for “mobilising” funds and not a guarantee or pledge of actual funds.

The actual quantum is also doubtful since the Accord also says that the sources of the funds will include public and private sectors, bilateral and multilateral and alternative sources.  The US$100 billion is not said to be “new and additional”, so it may include existing funds or already planned funds.

The Accord also contains a lengthy paragraph on the mitigation actions by developing countries, and how these should be measured, reported on and verified (MRV).  This was reportedly a heated topic at the small heads-of-state meeting, with US President Obama pressing the developing countries, particularly China, to undertake more MRV obligations.

The Accord is a thin document, containing hardly any new commitments by developed countries, with a weak global goal, and attempts to get developing countries to do more.

It is a sad reflection of the Copenhagen Conference that this thin document is being held up as its main achievement.  Even then it was only “noted” and not adopted by the UNFCCC’s membership.

But in fact most of the work in the two-week stay in Copenhagen was carried out in the two working groups, on long-term action and on the Kyoto Protocol.  There was some progress made in the long-term action group while the Kyoto Protocol group has hardly made any progress.

The two working groups will resume work next year and the hope is that they will finish their work by June or December 2010.