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Updated: December 19, 2009 16:53 IST

Thin climate accord a small step in long process

AP
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Conflicts of many interests stalked the Copenhagen talks resulting in a slim document that fell short of expectations. The search for a solution now moves to Mexico City in 2010. In the picture cleaning personnel leave the centre, where the summit took place in Copenhagen, on Saturday.
AP Conflicts of many interests stalked the Copenhagen talks resulting in a slim document that fell short of expectations. The search for a solution now moves to Mexico City in 2010. In the picture cleaning personnel leave the centre, where the summit took place in Copenhagen, on Saturday.

The declaration touched on major elements of the climate story, sometimes with scant detail, always with no legal obligation attached

A furious final two days of climate diplomacy and presidential brinkmanship produced 2-1/2 thin pages called the Copenhagen Accord, a deal vague at times in meaning, rejected by some, lacking any teeth.

“This particular text falls far short of our expectations,” the European Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, said of the political declaration produced in talks Friday between President Barack Obama and big developing countries at the U.N. climate conference. Others were harsher in their criticism.

Ill-starred though it seemed at its birth, the 11th hour deal may ultimately be seen as another halting step in the slow, painful evolution of the global fight against climate change — the two-decade-old effort to negotiate coordinated cuts internationally in carbon dioxide and other industrial, transport and agricultural emissions blamed for global warming.

Conflicts of many interests

The conflicts of many interests have marked those talks from the beginning: the division between rich and poor nations, the rivalry between the U.S. and Europe, the developing world’s cleavage between poor and middle-class countries, the interests of the oil states, the concerns of island states endangered by global warming’s rising seas.

All those interests and more played out in the two-week U.N. meeting, which ended with an unprecedentedly large working summit on climate, involving more than 110 Presidents and Premiers. The spotlight fell mainly on two of them, leaders of the two biggest polluters, China’s Premier Wen Jiabao and America’s Obama.

In two meetings on Friday, the pair seem to have worked through chronic mistrust between their countries, reached agreement on a summit declaration and brought other big developing states (Brazil, India and South Africa) into the deal. Sponsors later claimed much broader support among the 193 conference nations.

A final session of climate conference delegates that lasted through the night cast doubt, however, as several countries, including Bolivia, Venezuela and Sudan said the document is unacceptable because it lacks targets for reducing carbon emissions.

Scant detail, no legal obligations

The declaration touched on major elements of the climate story, sometimes with scant detail, always with no legal obligation attached:

Nations agreed to cooperate in reducing emissions, “with a view” to scientists’ warnings to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F) above pre-industrial levels, that is, 1.3 degrees C (2.3 degrees F) above today’s average temperatures.

Developing nations will report every two years on their voluntary actions to reduce emissions. Those reports would be subject to “international consultations and analysis” — a concession by China to the U.S.

Richer nations will finance a $10 billion-a-year, three-year program to fund poorer nations’ projects to deal with drought and other climate-change impacts, and to develop clean energy.

They also set a “goal” of mobilising $100 billion-a-year by 2020 for the same adaptation and mitigation purposes.

In a U.S. concession to China and other developing nations, text was dropped from the declaration that would have set a goal of reducing global emissions by 50 per cent by 2050. Developing nations thought that would hamper efforts to raise their people from poverty.

‘Top-down’ imposition of declaration

In the full U.N. climate conference, where the Copenhagen Accord was discussed, some developing nations complained bitterly about the “top-down” imposition of the declaration, and the conference’s failure to set ambitious targets for cutting emissions.

But even if the core declaration itself lacked broad support, two simple side documents will set the stage for continuing climate talks.

Those documents extend the mandates of two key negotiating groups under the U.N. climate treaty. They guarantee continued pursuit, as early as next year, of a treaty or other major agreement reducing global emissions more sharply.

In the weeks leading up to the Copenhagen conference, few expected it to produce dramatic results — the climate negotiations process seldom has. They’re long-haul, step-by-step talks.

“I know this accord is far from what we expected and what the world needs,” said one summit participant, Mexican President Felipe Calderon. Now, he said, “we must launch the negotiations immediately.”

Keywords: Climate changeCopenhagen

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