Copenhagen: where do we go from here?

December 22, 2009

     By Duncan Green     

Wow, where to begin. I wasn’t in Copenhagen, but followed it from afar. A couple of reflections and then some highlights from two of the more comprehensive post mortems.

Firstly, geopolitics. 2009 began with The G7 still apparently in the driving seat, saw the formal earth on firerecognition of the shift from G7 to G20 in Pittsburgh, and then ended with the US negotiating the ‘Copenhagen Accord’ with the BASIC group of countries (Brazil, India, China and South Africa), with Europe ‘airbrushed out of the picture’ in the words of a scathing FT leader and an equally critical Economist blog. Is this the new world order or a one-off? 2010 should reveal all.

Second politics (or rather lack of it). All the effort has gone into understanding the science and economics of climate change, but in the end, it is politics that will have to deliver. Politicians negotiate with each other, not with the climate. Yet there is no decent political equivalent of the Stern Report (whose actual title was ‘The Economics of Climate Change’). A ‘Politics of Climate Change’ would look at all the different steps and options to keep below two degrees and map out the drivers and  blockers for each, showing which are more/less achievable in a kind of political version of the McKinsey cost abatement curve.

The best way to save the planet?

The best way to save the planet?

In terms of the negotiations, the chaotic management of Copenhagen begs the question, ‘where have other international negotiations delivered anything comparable, and what can we learn from them?’ Is there nothing useful we can inject from past successes at Bretton Woods, the Montreal Protocol, the land mines treaty, the cluster munitions convention or the creation of the UN system

To the post mortems. Firstly, ‘Climate Shame: get back to the table’ (13 pages), by my colleague Kate Raworth. The paper usefully dissects the Copenhagen Accord para by para. Hereare some of the overall highlights:

‘The talks in Copenhagen, and the two years leading up to them, were undermined by a style of deal-making unfit for driving collective action in a multi-polar world. The failed tactics of world trade talks – high stakes brinkmanship – have, once again, led to a result that is in no-one’s interests.’

‘Rich-country pledges going into the negotiations added up to merely 11-19 per cent cuts by 2020. Worse, the current rules for counting and trading rich-country emissions are riddled with loopholes. Take account of these loopholes and rich-country pledged cuts could actually result in their total emissions being higher in 2020 than in 1990, heading the world towards a catastrophic temperature rise of 4 degrees C by 2100.’

‘Copenhagen wasn’t just about leaders doing their best – it was about them doing what was necessary. The Copenhagen Accord may end up as a postcard to the future – from a generation of leaders who stumbled separately in the dark, instead of uniting behind an ambitious and decisive vision.’

‘In the final, chaotic hours of negotiations the US, China, India, Brazil, and South Africa – without the EU – drew up a text which was then discussed by 25 heads of state, and turned into the Copenhagen Accord. It was tabled before all countries late in the night, giving them one hour to read and sign on. The EU reluctantly agreed, but many developing countries refused, and so the conference ‘noted’ rather than ‘adopted’ the Accord – turning it into a petition open for national signups. They also agreed to keep negotiating for another year based on the two official texts produced through the formal UN process. Ironically – and fortunately – these texts hold far more promise than the Accord for producing the deal needed.’

‘Both official tracks of talks were given extended mandates to keep meeting for another year. The good news is that the draft text on long-term cooperative action (LCA) still contains most of the options needed to secure a fair, and ambitious and binding deal – though some key additions will be needed in 2010. And the bad news? The most promising options could all be lost, instead of strengthened, with the sweep of a pen. That is why visionary leadership and full public attention must accompany the process through the year.’

Hitting Reboot: Where next for climate after Copenhagen’ (20 pages) by Alex Evans and David Steven concentrates on where we go from here:

‘The next deadline is the end of January 2010, when countries will list their proposed commitments. Two key tracks will then run through 2010. The first runs through the US Senate. Assuming that health care finally passes, will the Senate swiftly agree a climate bill? [New York Times view here] If so, how weakened will it have been in passage? Will its provisions leave Obama able to promise a 17% reduction by 2020 with any credibility? Second, there is the post-Copenhagen process – where prospects now look shaky.’

‘Dealmakers should react to Copenhagen by steering into the skid. Rather than signaling retreat, they should resist the urge to hit the brakes, and keep the wheels of the process pointed towards the desired endpoint 2°C.’

Alex and David make 12 recommendations for ‘rebooting’ the climate change talks, including:

Rebuild trust in the science, using independent reviews to repair the damage from the UEA emails and reestablish the authority of the IPCC 

Create a common language to aid deal making. The 2ºC target has been successful in helping set a widely accepted goal for climate policy. Now leaders need to push for a long term global budget for emissions, A date for peak global emissions and using national per capita emissions as a yardstick

Pursue quick wins alongside the post-Copenhagen process. Examples: REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) and reducing soot emissions.

Build low carbon into fiscal tightening. The chance of funding a ‘green new deal’ via fiscal stimuli was largely squandered, but in the next few years, governments will have to cut spending as they wrestle with deficits swollen by the global economic crisis. This fiscal tightening offers a second chance for policymakers to promote low carbon technology (eg carbon taxes, or cutting subsidies to fossil fuels and polluting technologies).

Invest in Technology: developed countries should double public R&D expenditure on low carbon technologies by 2015 and quadruple it by 2020

Set up a climate equivalent of the Congressional Budget Office: an International Climate Performance Committee (ICPC), as an independent body, would assess the impact of different negotiating proposals and ensure everyone is negotiating on the basis of the same data.

Create incentives for developing countries to take on binding targets 

This is just the start of the post mortems. The challenge is that 2010 will need to see urgent efforts at sorting out the climate change negotiating system without introducing further delays in getting to a FAB (fair, ambitious and binding) agreement. Today’s Financial Times has some pointers on what the UN is already planning.

December 22, 2009
Duncan Green