Kennedy Graham

Copenhagen II: Gentlemen (Ladies?), Choose your Weapons

by Kennedy Graham

The first week of the Copenhagen Conference has not been without its drama.  This will of course be nothing compared to Week 2, but the preliminaries have been fast and furious.

The best-known drama has been the leaked ‘Danish draft’.  This has been reported as infuriating the developing world, especially the major emerging economies – China, India, Brazil, South Africa (BICS) – on the grounds that they had not been consulted.  This is unfortunate for the ‘atmospherics’.  UNFCCC chief official Yves de Boer pointed out that it was never an official document. But no unofficial agreement should take documentary form capable of being leaked if it reflects the thinking of only one group’s interest.  The days of the West’s natural right to international leadership are long gone.  The ‘grand global bargain’ that is the condition of success in 21st century climate change diplomacy is different.  They should know better by now.

There are in fact a number of drafts.  The Mother of them all, the UN text, whose slimmed-down version ran to a voluptuous 181 pages with thousands of square brackets, has been unceremoniously laid to rest.  No mourners were present.

Two official drafts emerged on Friday.  The first is the Chair’s draft on Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA).

It does not pretend to have the status of a legally-binding treaty or protocol for adoption this week. That goal is long since out the window.  The text speaks rather of a possible ‘core decision’ that would govern negotiations in 2010 for a post-2012 commitment period.

The major issues addressed are the temperature threshold, GHG quantitative cuts by both the ‘rich’ and the ‘poor’, the year for ‘peaking, and financing.

In the draft, States share the vision of a ‘long-term aspirational global goal for emission reductions’.  This is an aspirational goal, let’s get this right, to save the planet.  States will cooperate to avoid ‘dangerous climate change’, recognising that the increase in global average temperature above pre-industrial levels ought not exceed a certain threshold.  Two figures are entered in the draft.  The first is 2°C which is the IPCC’s recommendation (the UN expert panel).

The second is 1.5°C which is demanded by Tuvalu on the grounds that 2°C will spell its death as a nation.  On Saturday the Tuvalu delegate advanced an eloquent plea before breaking into tears.  Yet few were bothered by his poignant plea.  That includes the NZ Government which opposed Tuvalu’s request, a fine gesture of regional unity and bilateral compassion that earned it, not for the first time, the Fossil of the Day award.

Of course the NZ Government has signed off on the IPCC level of 2° and so any change would involve the irksome task of having to return to an indifferent cabinet.  There are so many other aspirational national goals to be pursuing …. coal mining, intensive dairying, oil exploration, free trade agreements, privatisation of prisons.

Sad truth is that even a 2°C threshold is going to be exceedingly difficult to attain, given the accumulation of carbon recently pumped into the atmosphere whose effect has yet to be felt.  And 2°C gives humanity only a 50/50 chance of avoiding ‘dangerous climate change’.  The situation, it has to be acknowledged, is pretty dire.  Not impossible.  Just dire.  Requiring unprecedented global cooperation from all nations – of the kind the NZ Government has shown how not to do.

The draft states that this requires a cut in global emissions by 2050 (off 1990 levels) of 50%, 85% or 95%.  That is quite a range for the negotiators, considering it will determine the fate of the Earth.  Global roulette, Copenhagen style.

The draft then requires the developed countries to cut GHG emissions below 1990 levels in 2050 by an agreed amount.  Three ‘aspirational goals’ are entered: 75-85%; 80-95%; or ‘more than 95%.   What has the NZ Government has committed to?  Answer = 50%.  We did not wish to avert our commercial gaze, you understand.

Crimped?  Yes.  Callous?  Yes. Criminally negligent?  Actually, yes.

The draft says that Parties should cooperate in achieving the peaking of global and national emissions ‘as soon as possible’.  No specific year is identified for global peaking.  But developed nations would be bound to cut considerably by 2020.  Either by 25-40%; or ‘in the order of 30%; or by 40% or by 45%.

What is New Zealand Government’s view on peaking?  It is a masterpiece of circumlocution.  Read the exchange between Green co-leader Russel Norman and Minister Nick Smith on 26 November.  See if you can translate Dr. Smith’s answer into a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.

Finally, the draft addresses the responsibilities of developing nations.  They would undertake autonomous (i.e. non-binding) curbing of emissions growth in the order of 20-30% off ‘business-as-usual’ by 2020.  All of them, from China to the smallest atoll, are opposing this.  What price the ‘grand global bargain’?

Clearly, it is going to be a long week.

The second draft concerns the proposed amendments to the Kyoto Protocol for the period post 2012.  This is the so-called ‘parallel track’ approach being pursued in the negotiations.  The political reason for the parallel track is because the US reneged on the Protocol and so is not involved in its negotiations for amendment – only in the LCA process. The idea is that, by week’s end, the parallel tracks will be winnowed down into one harmonious synthesis.  The result is that, before week’s end, the most critical and complicated negotiations of all time are rendered that much more difficult.

As Count Oxenstierna said 300 years ago: “Do you know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed”?

Published in Environment & Resource Management by Kennedy Graham on Mon, December 14th, 2009   

Tags: , , , ,

More posts by | more about Kennedy Graham