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A World Divided?



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The Copenhagen climate summit exposed serious rifts within the international community. Newswatch editors Mick Kelly and Sarah Granich report on the summit's outcome and its aftermath.

The Copenhagen climate summit (the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 5th Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol) marked the original deadline set by the Bali Road Map, agreed two years earlier, for a framework for climate change mitigation beyond 2012. While it had been clear for some time that the outcome of the summit would be a high-level political statement rather than a detailed treaty, hopes remained high as the summit got underway.

"Copenhagen can and must be a turning point in the world’s efforts to prevent runaway climate change," charged United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon. "Our target, our goal, is to have a legally binding treaty... as soon as possible in 2010," he said. "But before that, we must have a strong political agreement in Copenhagen... The more ambitious, the stronger agreement we have in Copenhagen, the easier, the quicker the process we will have to a legally binding treaty in 2010," he continued. "This is our commitment."

In the event, Copenhagen proved an acrimonious meeting with tension high both within the conference centre and on the streets outside. Deep rifts were evident between the industrialized nations and the developing nations, and also within the G-77 group of developing nations, with disputes over who should commit to emissions constraints and whether the Kyoto Protocol has a future or not leading, on occasion, to suspension of the negotiations. Outside the conference centre, demonstrators met with determined opposition from the Danish police.

Copenhagen Climate Summit
Demonstrators outside the Copenhagen climate summit

© UN

During the first week, Tuvalu and other smaller developing nations made waves by proposing discussions on a legally-binding amendment to the Kyoto Protocol that would, for the first time, set emissions targets for major developing nations such as China and India. "We know the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol is not complete and we want to create an impulse for a stronger commitment," said Taukiei Kitara from Tuvalu's delegation. The move was opposed by the larger developing nations and disagreement over whether to proceed through open contact group or informal private discussions proved impossible to resolve.

While that debate continued, a leaked negotiating text developed by the Danish government angered developing nations. The anger was, in part, directed at what is perceived as a secretive and exclusive process, but there was also serious concern that the draft made no mention of extension of the Kyoto Protocol, a goal that developing nations regard as an essential commitment on the part of the industrialized world. Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, speaking for the G-77, described the draft as a "serious violation that threatens the success of the Copenhagen negotiating process."

The Danish government was quick to respond that the text was not a "secret Danish draft" for a new climate change agreement. "In this kind of process, many different working papers are circulated amongst many different parties with their hands on the process," a statement from the Danish Ministry of Energy and Climate said. "These papers are the basis for informal consultations that contribute with input used for testing various positions."

A proposed accord drafted by China, India, South Africa and Brazil was also leaked. This agreement would commit industrialized nations to "multiply by eight" their commitment under the existing Kyoto Protocol for a second, seven-year period to 2020. The commitment, a reduction in emissions of around 40 per cent below 1990 levels, must be made "mainly through domestic measures."

On the positive side, good progress was made in developing the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) programme. The United States made a conditional pledge of one billion dollars towards initial financing over the period to 2012. "Protecting the world's forests is not a luxury. It's a necessity," observed United States agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack. "This substantial commitment is reflective of our recognition that international public finance must play a role in developing countries' efforts to slow, halt and reverse deforestation," he continued. "This is what's needed to break the log jam of the REDD negotiations here in Copenhagen and spark the additional funding needed to address the global challenge of deforestation," commented Andrew Deutz from The Nature Conservancy.

New Zealand launched the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases. The Alliance involves 20 or more countries in a multi-year programme aimed at reducing emissions from livestock, cropping and rice production. "Fourteen per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions are from agriculture, but for New Zealand and parts of the developing world, that figure is much higher," said Tim Groser, New Zealand's associate climate change issues minister. "There is an urgent need to develop technologies and practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration in agriculture while enhancing food security," he added.

The United States Department of Agriculture will expand research on climate change mitigation in this sector by US$90 million over the next four years. "No single nation has all of the resources needed to tackle agricultural greenhouse gas emissions while at the same time enhancing food production and food security," observed agriculture secretary Vilsack. "We will not only pool our talents and existing resources but draw new resources, and even new scientists, to better understand climate change in an agricultural context and in so doing tackle one of the most important international issues of our time."

The African group of nations, with backing from the European Union, advanced a financing plan for developing countries during the summit. The plans starts with a sum of US$30 billion over a three-year start-up period, rising to US$50 billion a year by 2015 and US$100 billion by the end of that decade. Announcing the plan, Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi suggested that 40 per cent of the start-up funds should go to Africa. Over the long-term, at least half the funding should be directed towards adaptation in vulnerable nations and poor countries and regions. "I know my proposal will disappoint those Africans who, from the point of view of justice, have asked for full compensation of the damage done to our development prospects. Because we have more to lose than others, we have to be prepared to be flexible," he said.

Copenhagen Climate Summit
Inside the conference hall

© UN

As the high-level meeting of government leaders that formed the final phase of the summit drew to a close, the Copenhagen Accord emerged (see box), drafted by a five-nation group consisting of the United States and the BASIC countries of Brazil, South Africa, India and China. The commitment to financial support for developing nations in the Accord is in line with the earlier proposal by the African nations and this secured the support of much of this continent. Nevertheless, a number of countries objected that the Accord had not been reached by "due process" and lacked specific targets. As a result, the summit adopted a decision that merely took note of the agreement without making it legally binding. Discussions regarding the two main tracks of the negotiations, a second period under the Kyoto Protocol covering emissions targets for the industrialized nations and a new agreement extending to all nations, moved forward, but many issues remained to be resolved at the end of the meeting and the Copenhagen Accord proved the only substantive outcome.

The Copenhagen Accord

The Copenhagen Accord commits signatories to "enhance long-term cooperative action," recognizing that "deep cuts in emissions are required according to science." It acknowledges the scientific view that the global temperature rise should be limited to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. There is provision for review in 2015, including "consideration of strengthening the long-term goal referencing various matters presented by the science, including in relation to temperature rises of 1.5 degrees Celsius." It stresses that "social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries."

The Accord commits industrialized signatories to submit emissions targets for the year 2020, which will be appended to the agreement. International verification of emissions reduction will take place in these countries. Mitigation actions will be undertaken by developing nations and reported on with some international checks, though national sovereignty will be respected. The Accord re-iterates the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. In the case of the least developed countries and small island developing states, mitigation actions will be voluntary.

The Accord commits the developed world to finding new and additional resources to support developing nations in the areas of mitigation, reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, adaptation, technology development and transfer and capacity building. This support should include a sum of approaching US$30 billion over the period 2010-2012, rising to a target of US$100 billion in 2020.

Four new bodies will be established: the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund, through which a significant portion of the financial support for developing countries will flow; a mechanism on REDD-plus; a high-level panel to study the implementation of financing procedures; and a technology mechanism.

The Accord itself contains no commitment to develop a legally-binding treaty by the end of 2010, though a proposal attached to the document does suggest this goal.

Barack Obama, United States president, described the Copenhagen Accord as an "unprecedented breakthrough" covering, as it does, action by both developed and developing nations. "We have come a long way, but we have much further to go," he said. Waiting to reach a full, binding agreement could have resulted in "such frustration and cynicism that rather than taking one step forward, we ended up taking two steps back," he continued.

Venezuelan delegate Claudia Salerno Caldera, however, saw the deal as a "coup d'etat against the authority of the United Nations. "What we have after two years of negotiation is a half-baked text of unclear substance," said Kim Carstensen from WWF’s Global Climate Initiative. Oxfam International described the deal as a triumph of spin over substance. "This agreement barely papers over the huge differences between countries which have plagued these talks for two years," said Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of Oxfam International.

Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, called the Copenhagen summit "a triumph of the people" as "the presidents came, proposed and went without hearing, but this time they could not impose their declaration." Bolivia was one of a group of nations that blocked a consensus on the Copenhagen Accord, objecting to the deal being done in secret by a small group of nations. Morales hosted an alternative climate conference in April 2010.

The European Union (EU), having been sidelined during the drafting of the Accord, accepted the outcome on the basis that some agreement was better than none. German chancellor Angela Merkel said that she had "mixed feelings" about the Accord, which she regarded as only a first step. United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon acknowledged that the Copenhagen Accord was "not everything we had hoped for" but said that it was an "essential beginning. He stressed that a legally-binding agreement must be in place during 2010.

Recrimination and regret dominated the aftermath of the Copenhagen climate summit. The EU blamed the United States and China for the "great failure" of the summit. "It was obvious that the United States and China didn’t want more than we achieved at Copenhagen," commented Andreas Carlgren, the environment minister of Sweden, which currently holds the European Council presidency. "We’ve been taught some lessons about the realities of the so-called multi-polar world," said Carl Bildt, Swedish foreign minister. "These lessons will have to be taken into account when we go for a more comprehensive global agreement." Carlgren did say, though, that the Copenhagen Accord means that United States negotiators "can now show the [United States] Senate that they have an agreement with [major developing nations such as] China, India, Brazil and South Africa", removing a long-standing obstacle. "Now the pressure is on the United States to really deliver," he concluded.

The EU plans to make greater use of informal bodies such as the Major Economies Forum and the G20 in future discussions on climate change due to concern that the United Nations framework can readily be blocked by a small number of obstructionist states. "EU officials are pretty upset with the United Nations process and feel pretty frustrated," commented Jason Anderson from WWF. "The trick is to find a way to avoid the blockages. If you could just get the major emitters to agree to things, that would take some major problems out of the process," he continued.

A meeting of EU environment ministers in Spain later re-affirmed the group's conditional goal of a 30 per cent reduction in carbon emissions below 1990 levels by 2020, despite disappointment over the outcome of the summit. The EU had hoped that the offer to deepen its commitment from 20 to 30 per cent would inspire other nations to adopt more ambitious targets but this ploy failed to shift the position of the United States or China. "We definitely think we should maintain the 30 per cent offer. We think it is very, very important. It has always been a conditional offer but it is a very important signal that it is maintained," British energy and climate change minister Ed Miliband said.

Miliband had accused China of vetoing reference to specific emissions targets such as the need for 50 per cent reductions in global emissions by 2050 in the Copenhagen Accord. "We cannot again allow negotiations on real points of substance to be hijacked in this way," he said, calling for "major reform of the United Nations body overseeing the negotiations and of the way the negotiations are conducted." In a swift response, Jiang Yu from the Chinese foreign affairs ministry referred to the statement as "plainly a political scheme," intended to "shirk the obligations of developed countries to their developing counterparts and create discord among developing countries." While intent on showing leadership in reducing its emissions growth, China is wary that it, along with other major developing nations such as India, may face demands to take on formal emissions targets at some future date.

Yvo de Boer, head of the climate treaty secretariat warned that "all this finger-pointing and recrimination" could cloud negotiations next year. "We need to work together constructively," he said.

India's environment minister Jairam Ramesh claimed that his country got a "good deal" out of the Copenhagen summit by avoiding emissions targets. Others disagreed. "India buckled under pressure in Copenhagen," said a statement from the Center for Science for Environment (CSE) in New Delhi. "The Copenhagen Accord that India plans to sign will erase both historical responsibility and the distinction between industrialized and non-industrialized countries from future climate change negotiations." Suparno Banerjee from CSE lamented the lack of legally-binding targets for developed countries. "We have failed to agree at a sort of solution which will lead us to a viable action plan towards controlling climate change. And we believed that it is a disastrous summit and it is specially disastrous for India's poor and the vulnerable section because they are going to be most severely hit," he said.

There was also criticism of the Accord's support for developing nations. "The money is very little," said Grace Akumu, Kenya's technical adviser on climate change. "All of us were shocked when the continent’s spokesperson, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, backed this proposal." Kenya is seeking US$3 billion annually to support its climate change response strategy, but the global start-up fund only amounts to US$10 billion a year. Bangladesh will seek 15 per cent of the global start-up fund but "this money is not enough to enhance our adaptation capability," said Hasan Mahmud, state minister for environment and forests. "We expect bilateral assistance too to finance our mitigation and adaptation plans," he said. The government plans to construct new embankments, repair 11,000 kilometers of coastal embankment and build more cyclone shelters.

While the Copenhagen Accord calls for the immediate establishment of a mechanism to unleash funds for forest protection, just what this means for the REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Forest Degradation in developing countries) programme remains to be resolved. Funding has long been the critical issue, with developing countries reluctant to take on targets for reducing deforestation without a clear financial commitment. Without targets, "REDD becomes toothless," according to Peg Putt of the Australian Wilderness Society. It has been estimated that at least US$25 billion a year would be needed to launch the programme. To date, US$3.5 billion has been committed to preparatory work over the coming three years. Nevertheless, the endorsement of REDD in the Copenhagen Accord has sent a clear signal to the foresty industry. "Once we implement REDD projects, we cannot anymore allow uncontrolled illegal logging. That kind of leakage will not be acceptable to the global community," commented Indonesian environment minister Sarwono Kusumaatmadja.

The carbon market responded to the Copenhagen Accord with an immediate fall of ten per cent in the price of EU emissions permits. Opinions on the agreement amongst analysts were, however, mixed. Trevor Sikorski of Barclays Capital saw the Accord as a "very disappointing outcome that is even below our modest expectations... I see nothing here that should drive investment in the carbon commodity and low carbon technology." David Metcalfe at Verdantix advised that "executives responsible for energy and climate change plans should avoid new investments in the Kyoto-based global carbon markets." Citing badly defined rules, insufficient United Nations staff and a depressed carbon price that conspire to make a very high risk market, he believes that "the Accord further postpones crucial reform of this dysfunctional market mechanism." Richard Gledhill of PwC was more optimistic. "America is going to take action on climate now," he said. "If passed by Congress, United States climate legislation could create a market three times the size of the European Union scheme. That would be a massive boost to the global carbon market," he continued.

In the weeks after the meeting, the BASIC nations, Brazil, South Africa, India and China, confirmed that they would submit plans for voluntary mitigation actions by the end of January deadline stipulated by the Copenhagen Accord, but noted that the agreement has no legal basis and underlined their commitment to the ongoing negotiating process. "We support the Copenhagen Accord. But all of us were unanimously of the view that its value lies not as a stand-alone document but as an input into the two-track negotiation process [on the future of the Kyoto Protocol and on long-term cooperative action] under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change," said India’s minister for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh. The BASIC nations called for at least five negotiating sessions before the next annual UNFCCC summit in Mexico at the end of the year.

"BASIC will take the lead in large-scale emission reduction and also stick to the policy of common but differentiated principle," said Buyelwa Sonjica, South African minister for water and environmental affairs. She emphasized that BASIC would not make any decision outside the G-77 countries. "We see ourselves as adding value to the proposals of G-77," she added. The BASIC nations committed to developing a framework for permanent scientific cooperation and extending technological support to other developing nations, especially least developed countries (LDCs), in areas such as forestry and adaptation. Resolving to help the most vulnerable nations was a "slap in the face of rich countries that are in a better position to do so", commented Carlos Minc, Brazil's environment minister. Minc estimated total support to LDCs would top the US$10 billion pledged by the rich.

By the January 31st deadline, nations responsible for nearly 80 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions had submitted emissions-reduction plans as required by the Accord. "This represents an important invigoration of the United Nations climate change talks," said Yvo de Boer. "The commitment to confront climate change at the highest level is beyond doubt," he added. Welcoming endorsement of the Copenhagen Accord call to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius, Alden Meyer from the Union of Concerned Scientists, based in Washington DC, noted that "this is the first time that countries have ever committed to this goal." That's the good news, he continued, "the bad news, of course, is that the pledges that have been put on the table to date don't put us on track to meet that goal, and would make it very difficult - both economically and politically - after 2020 to catch up."

As the January deadline passed, there was also concern that little progress had been made in arranging the financial support for developing nations covered by the Accord. "It remains far from clear where the funding will come from, if it is genuinely new and additional, and how it will be allocated," commented Tiempo editor Saleemul Huq from the International Institute for Environment and Development in London. "Looking at past experience of overseas development aid and climate funding, it may take several years to disburse even the 'fast-start' finance promised for 2010 to 2012," he warned. "All the mechanisms have yet to be invented," commented French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo. "Simple bilateral aid is out of the question. We have to invent a new partnership and establish the fast-start modalities."

Copenhagen Climate Summit
Yvo de Boer

© UN

In his first public assessment of the Copenhagen climate summit, Yvo de Boer remained optimistic that the negotiating process would eventually result in a global treaty. While, he acknowledged, the Copenhagen summit may not have delivered enough, it did raise the climate issue to the highest level of government, the only level at which it can be resolved. A second positive outcome was the Copenhagen Accord, which reflects a political consensus on the long-term, global response to climate change. Finally, he said, negotiations away from the cameras brought an almost full set of decisions to implement rapid climate action near to completion. "If countries follow Copenhagen's outcomes clearly with their eyes firmly fixed on the advantages of global action, then we can finish the job," he concluded.

de Boer later announced that he was stepping down as executive secretary of the UNFCCC Secretariat on July 1st 2010 to work in the private sector and in academia. "Working with my colleagues at the UNFCCC Secretariat in support of the climate change negotiations has been a tremendous experience," de Boer said. "It was a difficult decision to make, but I believe the time is ripe for me to take on a new challenge, working on climate and sustainability with the private sector and academia," he continued. "It is quite bad news he is quitting at this point," commented climate change consultant Mark Lynas, "because the world is in desperate need for a reliable pair of hands to get through this dark period where climate change negotiations are under assault from anti-science deniers, by the Climategate furore and by the United States Senate." de Boer has led the UNFCCC Secretariat since September 2006.

The first negotiating session following the Copenhagen summit took place in Bonn, Germany, in early April. The main aim of the Bonn Climate Change Talks was to determine the organization and methods of work for the remainder of the year, including what documentation would be used as a basis for negotiations. In the event, the meeting overran as delegates argued over whether or not the Copenhagen Accord should be included in draft text that will act as a basis for the negotiations leading to the end-of-year climate summit in Cancún, Mexico. The United States and the EU favoured its inclusion, but other countries were opposed, objecting to the Accord’s voluntary emissions commitments and the manner in which it was brokered. It was eventually agreed that Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe, chair of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention, would draft a negotiating text with implicit recognition that she would be able to draw on the Accord.

"The negotiations were very tense. There is a lot of mistrust," said French negotiator Paul Watkinson. Discussions also came close to deadlock over the issue of the relationship between the twin negotiating tracks of long-term cooperative action and the future of the Kyoto Protocol, with lengthy debate over the nature of cooperation between the chairs of the two working groups. The matter was resolved with agreement that the chairs should identify "information" regarding the commitments of Annex I Parties rather than identifying "issues of common concern" regarding this topic. Rifts evident during the Copenhagen summit both within the G-77/ China group and between the developed and developing nations remained.

It was agreed that there will be two additional negotiating sessions between the next scheduled talks at the end of May and the Cancún summit. "The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancún must do what Copenhagen did not achieve: It must finalize a functioning architecture for implementation that launches global climate action, across the board, especially in developing nations," charged de Boer. Specific issues to be resolved concern mitigation targets and action, an adaptation package, a new technology mechanism, financial arrangements, ways to deal with deforestation and a capacity-building framework, he said. High-level political guidance will be sought when appropriate, de Boer noted.

Sources

The Newswatch archives for 2009 and 2010 cite news articles and press releases used in preparing this report.

Further information

The Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary provides weekly coverage of climate news. For detailed discussion of all climate negotiating meetings, visit Earth Negotiations Bulletin, which has published daily reports and a summary of the deliberations at the Copenhagen climate summit and of the Bonn Climate Change Talks.

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Updated: April 12th 2013