Climate summit yields minimal result

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At the eleventh hour, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen has unexpectedly yielded a number of agreements. But these will require further negotiations next year. US President Barack Obama stressed that the agreements are not legally binding, but only are a first step. Future talks, however, are not likely to be any easier. A number of developing countries have sharply criticised the accord. They speak of a coup against the UN.

On Friday afternoon, the world’s largest economy and four emerging industrial nations independently drew up a short list of measures aimed at halting climate change. Among them are limiting the rise of global temperature to two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, a climate fund for developing countries worth an annual 100 billion dollars as of 2020 and a system for monitoring the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Thorny issues such as reduction targets have been left aside.

Easy job
Suddenly the climate talks seemed to go smoothly. On Friday evening, President Obama proudly announced that the US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa had reached agreement. But the announcement came before any of the other countries at the summit had studied the accord or UN climate chief Yvo de Boer had made a statement. The European Union and a number of developing countries endorsed the accord with serious reservations.

Lack of confidence
As an overwhelming majority recognises, the minimal accord, however disappointing and insufficient, is all that could be achieved. When President Obama’s plane landed in Copenhagen, there even wasn’t a draft text for leaders to discuss. It was the result of a painful lack of collective responsibility and mutual trust. Two weeks ago all efforts following the successful Bali summit seemed to have been in vain. 

The climate summit got off to a bad start after details were leaked of a Danish plan that gave industrialised countries more power. The climate fund would, for example, be controlled by the World Bank, and would only give poor countries financial aid if they helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Developing countries reacted furiously. The tone had been set.

To their credit, African countries, which are most in need of a climate treaty, adopted a constructive stance and were the first to seek a compromise. They dropped their demand of 400 billion dollars for the climate fund, agreeing to 100 billion dollars as of 2020.

The ongoing conflict between the US and China about monitoring greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets was only resolved after President Obama and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao met separately. Days of plenary UN meetings had failed to produce any results.

New world
Dutch Development Cooperation Minister Bert Koenders regards the way the talks proceeded as proof that the world has changed. “The US has lost part of its power but has kept its arrogance”, he says. Developing countries have split into two groups: the poorest countries, who badly need a climate deal, and emerging economies such as China, who want to implement greenhouse gas reductions at their own pace. They are demanding a chance to develop their countries unhindered, just as the West did in the 20th century.

In order to be adopted as an official UN treaty, the accord first has to be ratified by all 193 member states. This remains to be seen. It also remains to be seen whether countries who do endorse the accord will then remain committed to it.

Photo: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (L) shakes hands with US President Barack Obama (R) during their meeting at the World Climate Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, 18 December 2009. EPA/MIKHAIL KLIMENTIEV/RIA NOVOSTI / KREMLIN POOL