Essay: Copenhagen COP15 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference

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Copenhagen - COP15-15th United Nations Climate Change Conference

From December 7-18, more than 15,000 people including Government officials and advisers from 192 nations, civil society and the media from nearly every country in the world, came together in the Danish capital, Copenhagen in one of the most significant gatherings in history. It is being referred to as the most complex and vital agreement the world has ever seen. Copenhagen or COP 15 which is the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) -- negotiated future plan agreements for countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as their current commitments under the Kyoto Protocol expire in 2012. The main parties at Copenhagen included the African Group, the Alliance of Small Island States, the Coalition of Rainforest Nations, the Environmental Integrity Group, the European Union, the G-77, the Least Developed Countries and the Umbrella Group which includes Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Iceland, Japan, Norway, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and the United States (COP-15 Copenhagen Climate Conference, 2009).

Over a decade ago, most countries joined an international treaty known as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The purpose was to begin to consider what can be done to reduce global warming and to cope with whatever temperature increases are expected. After this a number of nations approved an addition to the treaty: the Kyoto Protocol, which has more powerful and legally binding measures. This agreement was entered into force in February 2005 (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2009).

The Convention on Climate Change which was entered into force in 1994 set an overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle the challenge posed by climate change. It recognized that the climate system is a shared resource whose stability can be affected by industrial and other emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The Convention had near universal membership, with 192 countries having ratified it. As part of the Convention, governments:

gather and share information on greenhouse gas emissions, national policies and best practices launch national strategies for addressing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to expected impacts, including the provision of financial and technological support to developing countries cooperate in preparing for adaptation to the impacts of climate change (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2009).

Three key things that came out of Copenhagen were: 1) it raised climate change to the highest level of government; 2) the Copenhagen Accord reflects a political consensus on the long-term, global response to climate change; 3) the negotiations brought an almost full set of decisions to implement rapid climate action near to completion. The accord that was reached has significant elements, but it not legally binding. It was thought to be politically important demonstrating a willingness to move forward (Decisions adopted by COP 15 and CMP 5, 2009).

The key points of the accord include the objective to keep the maximum temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius, a commitment to list developed country emission reduction targets and mitigation action by developing countries for 2020, 30 billion dollars short-term funding for immediate action till 2012 and 100 billion dollars annually by 2020 in long-term financing, as well as mechanisms to support technology transfer and forestry. The challenge now is to turn what has been agreed to into something that is legally binding in Mexico a year from now (Decisions adopted by COP 15 and CMP 5, 2009).

The Accord which was drawn up by U.S., China, India, Brazil and South Africa, lacks any legally binding commitments, or interim targets for developed or least developing countries, because they removed at the last minute to placate disgruntled negotiators. Several versions were presented to the delegations over the course of the 10-day conference in Copenhagen; including two surprise ones from the Danish, which were both angrily rejected by developing countries. On the last day over 120 Heads of State gathered in one location, to discuss the threat of climate change, for the first time since the Second World War. As the world's largest economy and second largest emitter, the U.S. had a very powerful position in the negotiations. But Obama failed to provide any further commitments in the chaotic final phase of negotiations, and knocked heads with the Chinese Premier Wen Jibao and Brazilian President Lula in intense meetings upon his arrival (Sarwar and Chesterman, 2009).

Despite ongoing tensions and disagreements that went on behind the scenes, Obama made the announcement of a deal before he left. He delivered a press conference to highlight the agreement that had been reached which China and many other developing countries strongly rejected in a later session. The Copenhagen Accord was reached from the depths of desperation stating that average global temperature increases should be limited to 2C, but no legally binding targets for emissions reduction were set to achieve this. This was a major blow for many LDCs and small island states, who had pushed for a global temperature increase to be limited to just 1.5C, which they believed to be crucial for their survival (Sarwar and Chesterman, 2009).

Developing nations, most notably Africa, presented themselves as a key power force in an era of supposed global climate governance. The big emerging economies such as India, China, Brazil and South Africa allied to prevent a developed country domination of the negotiations. Success came in terms of the fast start finance of $30 billion/year from next year to 2012, and the long-term pledge of $100 billion/year to 2020. Although President Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, representing the African country block was criticized for accepting this deal, his compromise on this issue ensured it was formalized in the Copenhagen Accord. Chavez along with the block of Bolivia, Nicaragua, Sudan and Saudi Arabia, attempted a last minute block to the talks just as it seemed the Copenhagen Accord would be agreed upon. Although with the help of UK Energy & Climate Change Minister, Ed Miliband this move was prevented, many question the viability of Chavez and others in their fidelity to finding a common ground to climate changes, instead using their speeches in the High Level plenary to lament on the silent 'ghost' of capitalism driven by Obama, Nobel man of war, that was the root cause of climate change (Sarwar and Chesterman, 2009).

Attempts to kill the Kyoto Protocol were also subject at the negotiations at Copenhagen, with LDCs furious at the suggestion of a new agreement, which opens up the possibility of them being required to measure and report their emissions which only Annex I countries are required to do under the principles of Kyoto. Several developed countries began to back the idea of creating a new treaty which would clean the slate and start again addressing emissions from both developed and developing countries. These different views led to a lot of wasted hours of precious negotiating time at the conference and significantly weakened the Copenhagen Accord, with many agenda items simply getting postponed for discussion at COP 16 in Mexico City next year. Some organizations felt that the deal was a positive start, and a successful outcome that we can strengthen in future negotiations (Sarwar and Chesterman, 2009).

The UN process was also disputed during negotiation. Many argued that it had become totally impossible to forge consensus among disparate countries fighting over environmental guilt, future costs, and who should referee the results. It has been suggested that going forward that discussions about tackling climate change are raised at other forums like the G8 and G20 where approximately 30 countries are likely to represent over 90% of global emissions. It is thought that this smaller group of nations could tackle a narrower agenda of issues, like technology sharing or the merging of carbon trading markets, without the chaos and posturing of the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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