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

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”?

12 Comments Posted

  1. I think New Zealand has done poorly in negotiations so far.

    There has been no nuance to cater for the different situation of nation states.

    1. Some had high levels of renewable energy back in 1990.
    2. Some have faced population growth since because of immigration.
    3. Some have a high level of their emissions resulting from exporting production overseas (methane).

    New Zealand has had to face all 3 and seems focused on only its forestry circumstance – because of the blunt target system that applies at present.

    Why not emissions cut targets OR attaining a target % of energy production from renewables.

    Why not an emissions target OR an intensity improvement target.

    Why not an emissions target OR a programme by a major farm production exporters to reduce emissions by investing in research (such as one for farm production for export) and developing and applying best farm practice.

    We could offer all 3 instead of simply failing to comply with some blunt artificial target others will also fail to meet.

    There does need to be more focus on tailoring programmes for individual nations – so each does what it can.

    PS Should Greens continue to fear debating our immigration policy in light of its relation to our international emissions obligations? We have recklessly placed pressure on Auckland transportation and housing and also made no effort to develop new renewable energy before the migration occurred and can barely supply it securely to where many of them now live.

  2. Why is there not more focus on a push for a Tobin tax on the world’s financial transaction? As a matter of course this affects the higher GDP nations more than others and so is fair.

    The money raised can be used to finance the commitment to finance renewable energy and cleaner tech for the undeveloped world and compensate them for maintaining forests.

    This money was in any case promised to the undeveloped world back in the 70’s (.7%GDP in foreign aid) and now the global climate change risk management problem requires the promise be kept – and the most painless and effective way, given the deficits of UK/USA etc, is by establishing such a new tax.

  3. jc2,

    the argument there I believe centers on the prosecutorial powers of an independent judiciary, whether it be federal or state, and insofar recently announced guidelines from the EPA as to large emitters – >25,000 tonnes pa – actually now polluting their immediate (and global) enivironment. To the health and community welfare of folks living/working thereabouts. The EPA action is backed by the US Supreme Court which ruled carbon dioxide an atmospheric pollutant back in President Bush’s last term of office.

    Point is: there is now also independent coarses of action available to alleging polluted parties.. and the message among coal-fired power people is smarten and sharpen up their act.. if necessary close down..

  4. And they’re back. Kinda.

    “Talks at the UN climate summit resumed on Monday after protests from developing nations forced a suspension. But talks have been limited to informal consultations on procedural issues, notably developing countries’ demands for more time on the Kyoto Protocol.

    The G77/China bloc, speaking for developing countries, said the Danish hosts had violated democratic process. “

  5. Copenhagen Update (non-flying variety)

    “Negotiations at the UN climate summit have been suspended after developing countries withdrew their co-operation.
    Delegations were angry at what they saw as moves by the Danish host government to sideline talks on more emission cuts under the Kyoto Protocol.As news spread around the conference centre, activists chanted “We stand with Africa – Kyoto targets now”.”

  6. Also could the greens please drop the lie that the US reneged on Kyoto.

    Clinton was not King of America when he signed Kyoto, his signing of Kyoto was a pointless action as the power still and has always lay in the hands of the 100 senators. Clinton knew this when he signed Kyoto, he knew he was not going to be able to get the 67 senators to vote in favour of it, of course the stupid world leaders, how many sitting green MP’s have read the US constitution I wonder.

    In order for the US to “Reneg” on something they would first need to agree to it, an un-ratified treaty is an un-ratified treaty. The US president doesn’t speak for the US with regard to international treaties.

    I think the green party believes that the US uses the same political system as NZ. In NZ the prime minister acting as a member of our executive branch can agree that we should sign an international treaty he still requires ratification by the legislative branch, however in NZ the executive branch and the legislative branch are held by the same party. Remember the NZ PM’s word at Kyoto or Copenhagen carries more weight than the US Presidents word because in the US the executive branch and the legislative branch can be held by different parties at the same time.

  7. Just an FYI since I know the Green party leadership will not be telling all you Green Grunts this.

    If the US president signs the Copenhagen treaty it has no legal effect in the USA.

    The US constitution is very clear with regard to treaties they must be ratified by a 2/3rds vote in the US Senate.

    So please don’t say this in a couple of years time “The US reneged on Copenhagen”. They didn’t instead you guys have been fooled into believing that the US president is a King or a God and that if he signs something then the US has agreed to it.

  8. Demand for Equitable Implementation by African and Other Developing Countries

    It might sound like an odd note or a kind of refusal to comply with the needs although it is identified by the western countries at Copenhagen. I, for one, want to look between the lines.

    The lesser developed countries from Africa and elsewhere are protesting the Copenhagen draft declaration because it calls for blanket implementation of new proposals which they aren’t in any position to do unlike the developed west.

    I am aware that the world can’t wait for them to catch up with the rest of the world to begin the implementation of the Copenhagen proposals but there can not be a situation where you deprive them of the benefits of industrialization which the developed world has achieved and now enjoying. Where is the middle way and how does it benefit them and how long the world has to wait for them to come up are the things to be seen.

    Realistically speaking, there is not even a minimal industrialization in the sub Saharan Africa and their carbon foot print is hardly something to laugh about but they are equally at the receiving end of the consequences of it which is obvious. Rightly, their demand is for equitable implementation of the proposals.

    Alev Absman
    Editor @

  9. He writes well, that fellow!
    Let’s hope that Count Oxenstierna’s words have been made redundant by a new breed of intelligent leaders.

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