Take a cooler perspective on the Copenhagen Accord

10 February 2010

Multilateral negotiation is always slow and incremental, writes Professor Rosemary Lyster.

Action on climate change should not stall because of a perception that Copenhagen was a "fiasco", that nothing concrete has or ever will emerge from the Copenhagen Accord, and that the science is so discredited world leaders have lost their courage to act.

Admittedly, Copenhagen did fail to deliver a legally binding, ambitious, global and comprehensive agreement for all countries.

But having observed closely everymultilateral negotiation since world leaders adopted the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, I think we need a cooler perspective on Copenhagen.

Multilateral climate change negotiations are, and always have been, incremental. Let's rememberthat the 1997 Kyoto Protocol only came into effect in 2005, its details taking years to negotiate. So we should expect negotiations around the Copenhagen Accord to continuethrough 2010, and not be too hasty to judge its outcomes.

When the African delegation walked out of the talks, the negotiations certainly seemedprecarious. Yet the delegation, supported by other developing countries, wasn't just being petulant.

At Bali in 2007, two parallel working groups were established to prepare for Copenhagen. The first group was tasked with negotiating a shared vision for long-term cooperative actions; action on adaptation and its implementation; action on mitigation (for developed and developing countries); and action on financing, technology and capacity-building.

The second group's task was to negotiate future binding commitments for industrialised

countries tinder the Kyoto Protocol after 2012. This "two-track" approach was necessary because at Bali parties differed on the shape of a future agreement.

Over two years, multilateral negotiations occurred in these groups at frequent intervals. When it seemed at Copenhagen that the Conference President was poised to release an "alternative" text to those already under negotiation, and one which might resile from the Kyoto Protocol track, it's perhaps no surprise the African delegation claimed a breach of established procedures. What could have motivated the President? Well it was clear that there would be trouble at Copenhagen. The first group met seven times before Copenhagen resulting in the proposed NegotiatingText ballooning from 47 to 199 pages. Attempts by the President during the negotiations to get the Text under control, in working groups, proved difficult. Remember too that the US and developing countries have no obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. Ultimately, no "alternative" text materialised.

So as we know, the Accordrepresents the agreement struck at the 11th hour between the US and Brazil, South Africa, India and China (the BASIC Group) and finalised by a small group of countries. This is why the Conference of the Parties had no option but to simply "take note" of the Copenhagen Accord.

So yes, multilateral negotiationsfailed to deliver a legally binding agreement at Copenhagen and it was left to the UNFCCC Secretariat to advise Parties, on January 25, that if they want to be associated with the Accord they must communicate this to the Secretariat.

Does all this mean the end of multilateral negotiations on climatechange?

I doubt it. The COP has decided tocontinue multilateral negotiations in Bonn and Mexico City at the end of 2010, while the mandate of the group working on long-term cooperative action has been extended to assistwith this. Also, the BASIC Groupstressed in a Joint Statement dated January 24 that multilateralism is the "central" process for future negotiations. There's no doubt, though, that climate change negotiations might advance in alternative fora such as the G-20.

Beyond this, it's just not true that the Accord failed to deliver any concrete outcomes. They are not the outcomes scientists say we need to avert dangerous climate change but there were outcomes. On January 31, 2010, as the Accord requires, 55 developed and developing countries

representing 78 per cent of the world's total emissions, committed to curbing emissions by 2020, either by adopting targets or reducing the greenhouse intensity of their emissions. This is a first for developing countries albeit that their actions are voluntary.

The Accord endorses use of market mechanisms to meet commitments.As well, US$30 billion ($A35 billion) during 2010-2012, and US$100 billion ($A115 billion) a year by 2020, will assist developing countries with mitigation and adaptation. The funds will come from public and private sources and will flow through the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund.

Significantly, the Accordrecognises developing countries' efforts towards Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, and requires funding for this to be mobilised immediately. Consequently, Indonesia, the world's third highest greenhouse gas polluter due to deforestation, has committed to reductions of 26 per cent. A Technology Mechanism was also established to accelerate technology development for adaptation and mitigation.

Clearly, world leaders have not lost faith in climate science. Parties to the Accord acknowledge climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our times. They agreed the increase in global temperature should be below 2 degrees Celsius but wentfurther. In 2015 the Parties willconsider whether limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius is more appropriate.

Finally, context is everything.Copenhagen played out against a sobering global financial crisis which has also seen a shift in economic power to China. We should expect China to play an important role in shaping future climate change negotiations. China's positionhasbeen consistent since Kyoto.Developed countries bear primary responsibility for reducing greenhouse emissions and should assist developing countries to reduce theirs.

Rosemary Lyster is Professor of Climate and Environmental Law at Sydney Law School.

This article originally appeared in The Canberra Times.

Contact: Greg Sherington

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