CEO Steve Howard on The Copenhagen Accord

15 January 2010

- Read The Climate Group's Copenhagen Assessment.

Copenhagen has divided opinion amongst climate change commentators more sharply than nuclear power. Whilst this was not a perfect outcome, after messy and intense negotiations, at The Climate Group we believe that the foundations exist for significant progress. It is after significant reflection that I write this, having heard two different commentators refer to the Copenhagen Accord as a "suicide pact".

Going into Copenhagen we were clear about the key elements of success:

China, India and the US on board, US $100 billion in finance from 2020, at least US $10 billion in finance per year over the next 3 years, a commitment to keeping global temperature increase below 2? Celsius, clarity on institutions and transparency, targets for global emissions reductions and a mandate to form a legally-binding treaty.  

The Accord delivers on all these areas bar the last two.

The lack of a peaking year or commitment to halving global emissions by 2020 does make the deal less explicit, and apparently weaker than it might be. However, it is far more important that emissions actually decline rather than our just saying they will: real action will be shaped much more by national policy than international aspiration.

If all the national targets and commitments currently on the table are fully implemented at the higher end of their ambition (some countries and regions gave a range - the EU for example proposed either a 20% reduction target or 30% if the rest of the world joins in comparable efforts), then emissions will peak before 2020. In fact emissions will be around 9 billion tonnes lower than the business-as-usual projections for 2020: comparable to eliminating the emissions of the European Union and the United States combined. 

This will lead to major innovation and investment and leave us well-equipped to decarbonize our economies with ever greater speed.    

The Copenhagen Accord's provision for registering national targets and commitments by the end of January provides an ideal opportunity for further advancing national policy: a potentially potent stimulus in just a few weeks.

Many have been struck by the need for any agreement to be legally binding. But if we consider the alternatives - a legally-binding agreement that like Kyoto has little or no enforcement, or a political agreement that gathers major support - then a politically binding agreement may have more potential to deliver.

Europeans do multilateralism, Europe does "treaties" and "legally binding". Perhaps some of the adverse reaction to Copenhagen in Europe is down to that - it simply does not fit with the European world view. The fact that the accord was crafted in a side room by President Obama, Premier Wen Jiabao, Prime Minister Singh, President Lula and President Zuma gives it a fundamentally different ownership - something that may prove powerful over time.

President Obama has now delivered something for Congress - the active participation of China and the major emerging economies, and a commitment to transparent reporting on progress. US Senators will know what China has committed to and what progress it is making.  This can only help in the discussions running up to next year's climate and energy bill. This is the right focus for attention and a debate over Senate ratification of a legal treaty could have proved a dangerous distraction.

The Accord was merely noted by the Conference of the Parties. If the UNFCCC is to retain its role then it is clear that it and the COP must embrace the Accord and get fully behind it. Our multi-lateral world cannot function at the level of 193 countries in a negotiating process. We need new groups to emerge rather than the sprawl of the G77- mega-lateralism rather than multi-lateralism. And the UNFCCC will have to move beyond the full consensus system which can allow 1% of the World's population to stop 99% moving forwards.

Climate change has now firmly entered the realm of mainstream international politics. The negotiations will be an on-going process alongside trade and other issues.

Will the Accord stop us going over 2 degrees? Not by itself. However, if countries now step up and register ambitious but achievable targets and commitments, it will be a clear step forwards. We will see unparalleled investment in the low carbon economy.  

It was interesting to end the year as the first quote on the White House website - please excuse me quoting myself. "If you think back a year or so, imagine the U.S., Brazil, China, India, Australia, and Russia all turning up and making definitive national commitments to significant emissions reductions, and the world committing to $100 billion a year for the developing world, it would have been inconceivable a year ago. This is the biggest peacetime mobilization of global effort on anything."

Three things will build confidence in 2010: ambitious national targets and commitments registered as part of the accord, swift and effective mobilization of the $10 billion quick start funding, and a win in Washington DC on the climate and energy bill. These are not inevitable. It will require all of our leadership to help make it happen. 

At The Climate Group we look forward to working with you all in 2010 to turn accord into action.

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