It ended at around nine o’clock tonight when the White House announced that President Barack Obama had closed a deal with China, India, Brazil and South Africa. The deal – known as the Copenhagen Accord
– "recognises" the scientific case for keeping temperature rises to no more than two degrees Celsius, but did not contain commitments to emissions reductions
by countries to hit that goal. The fact that the agreement was just between the US and four other countries means it’s also not a global deal as yet.
The White House described it as “a meaningful agreement – not sufficient to fight climate change
in itself but an important first step.” In the words of one BBC presenter, the agreement is ‘climate lite’.
The two degrees agreement was a bitter disappointment to Africa and other vulnerable countries who had been holding out for far deeper emission cuts
in order to hold the global temperature rise to 1.5C this century. There were no numbers on emissions cuts despite a figure of 80 per cent reductions by 2050 being in the draft texts, and the previous commitment to securing a binding deadline by 2010 has disappeared.
The week had seen dramatic scenes of mistrust and frustration between developing and developed country negotiators, with developing countries angry at pretty much every aspect of how the summit had been run – including bullying tactics and secret meetings of developing countries.
The sticking points of the negotiation were the financing of the adaptation and mitigation measures they will need to put in place and the percentage of emission cuts committed to by developed countries.
Developing countries had stated and restated the fact that they were already suffering the effects of climate change and said time and again that they were negotiating for their lives. Protesters had raised the issues throughout the week and suffered heavy-handed responses from the Danish police, including tear gas and arrests.
Saleemul Huq, a Bangladeshi scientist on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
and part of the UK research group IIED, said today: “This is a matter of life and death for us. We need a good agreement from the rest of the world to help us survive.”
The final deal did include definite commitment on a financing mechanism from developed to developing countries of an initial $30 billion and then $100 billion a year after 2020 as outlined by Hilary Clinton yestrerday – she had said it would be some state funding and some ‘innovative financing’ – although it is not clear what that might be.
Steve Howard, ceo of The Climate Group
said: "Hillary Clinton's $100billion commitment is not about giving away tax-payer money, but about securing an effective global deal. It will lock in both the developed and developing world and give certainty and confidence to the international market and to US businesses that climate policy is coming.
"The businesses we work with in the US and elsewhere want clear signals from government leaders so they can scale up investments and create the green jobs, products and services we all need to address climate change and grow the economy."
One of the main motivations described by Obama to commitment to a deal on climate change was the advancement of the ‘green economy’ and the economic benefit that can bring to the US.
“We believe in developing clean energy, putting out people out to work, and delivering a stronger world for our children,” Obama said.
It’s not clear however how much of the $100 billion would come from the US and although the commitment helped move negotiations forward, it is $200 billion down on the amount that developing countries think is necessary for them to be able to adapt to or mitigate climate change.
The day had been turbulent, with President Obama arriving and very quickly launching into what seemed a strong attack on China for not wanting to be sign up to a system of monitoring emissions cuts. Obama insisted that without transparency from rapidly developing countries about how their emissions were being reduced, there would no agreement from the US. “Without such accountability any agreement would be empty words on a page,” he said. “That wouldn’t make sense. It would be a hollow victory.”
President’s Evo Morales of Bolivia and Hugo Chavez of Venuzeula both reacted angrily in addresses to the conference. And China’s premier was so humiliated that he boycotted the next meeting of heads of state and the situation wasn’t salvaged until Obama initiated a second meeting later in the afternoon to try and smooth things over.
In the end developing countries agreed to list national actions and commitments with the possibly of international consultation – so the US got what it wanted.
Obama was sanguine about the fact that the deal was just the start of a much longer process. “This will help us meet our responsibility to leave our children and grandchildren a cleaner and safer planet. It didn’t come easily and it’s not enough. We will have to work to make sure is it is sustained and sufficient over time. We have come a long way but there is much further to go.”
For some the outcome is the first small step on a long road to a low carbon future
. But for many, it has been interpreted as overwhelmingly disappointing.
Fanny Armstrong, director of the Age of Stupid film and founder of 10:10 put it bluntly: “A three degree rise in temperature [which is what the current deal is likely to equate to despite the 'commitment' to two degrees] equates to all of Africa being uninhabitable, forests mainly gone, coral completely gone, Australia with no agriculture whatsoever and southern Europe a desert. So there’s not many ways of looking at that other than an utter disaster.”
Dr Myles Allen of Oxford University’s Climate Dynamics Group, was more resigned. “We could have said that if we had to hope for the best outcome this is it. Did we need to have two weeks of stress to get here? Perhaps we did, people need to be included in the process to be committed to it…. Nobody is delighted with this but it sets us in the right direction.”
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: "The city of Copenhagen is a crime scene tonight, with the guilty men and women fleeing to the airport. There are no targets for carbon cuts and no agreement on a legally binding treaty."
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