The ‘Hopenhagen’ fiasco

As the dust settles after the storm of last month’s Copenhagen summit, we citizens are left with uncertainty regarding our well-being and that of future generations. World leaders, on the other hand, have the Copenhagen Accord to hold on to as part of what has now become a charade to put in place a strong governance system to avert Climate Change. Copenhagen, dubbed ‘Hopenhagen’ before the summit, turned out to be a huge disappointment after all.

World-renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs was quoted in the foreign media describing the Copenhagen Accord, at best, as "insincere, inconsistent, and unconvincing." Sachs said the Accord was "unlikely to accomplish anything real. It is non-binding and will probably strengthen the forces of opposition to emissions reductions."

Wael Hmaidan, Executive Director of IndyACT, and a lobbyist present at the summit agreed. Hmaidan described the most important shortcoming of the Accord as the fact that it "does not insure keeping global temperature increase below two degrees Celsius. Instead, with the current level of ambition, we are heading to a three or four degree temperature increase, which will lead to catastrophic climate change impacts of extreme proportions."

Essentially, this is what the Copenhagen Accord really stands for.

Worse yet, the way in which the negotiations were held at the summit serve to undermine the multilateral process of the United Nations. It signaled that we live in an era in which a select clique of countries do what they please without listening to the concerns of smaller, poorer nations–those who really stand in harms way from the effects of Climate Change.

The supposed "deal" came after a closed-door negotiation session between a select group of countries. The Group of 77, which includes the developing countries, were not present and only found out about the deal from US President Barack Obama’s press team. It was a big snub to multilateralism. And not just any snub. It was a snub that threatens the global governance system as we have come to know it.

It is also important to highlight that the division in Copenhagen was not a replica of divisions during previous climate change negotiations.

For starters, the United States, say observers, was actually going in for a strong deal–a much more progressive stance than that of former President George W. Bush’s administration. The US was willing to up its emissions targets alongside its offer to provide US$100 billion to developing countries for climate change adaptation. But instead of spearheading the negotiations, the US position was trumpeted by China. China went in with a strong negotiation position.

It was China’s representative who insisted that industrialized country targets, previously agreed at an 80 percent cut by 2050, be taken out of the deal. The Chinese delegation went on to successfully lobby for the removal of all the numbers that mattered. A 2020 peaking year in global emissions, essential to keep temperature rise to two degrees Celsius, was removed. This was replaced by weak language suggesting that emissions should peak "as soon as possible." The long-term target, 50 percent cuts globally by 2050, was also extracted.

This inevitably raises questions about China’s agenda. Many analysts have concluded that it seems that China’s aim is to weaken the climate regime from now in order to avoid the risk of it becoming more ambitious in a few years, at which time stricter commitments would be imposed.

A closer look at the real outcome of Copenhagen reveals that not only did we not get to where we need to be when it comes to putting in place the right –and much needed – global environmental governance system to deal with climate change. We have actually ceded a huge amount of ground. The prospects are quite grim.

Perhaps the only real good news from Copenhagen is that environmental activism took center stage. Groups such as 350.org and Climate Justice Now!, as well as others, were very much present in Copenhagen. Both inside the conference center and outside, the world witnessed parallel movements whereby hundreds of thousand of protesters took to the streets of Copenhagen and several other cities worldwide.

Now we are left with huge uncertainty as to whether the UN process can actually salvage the situation. There will be another meeting later this year in Mexico, where a stronger deal is supposed to be hammered out.

Hmaidan, for one, is not very confident in the upcoming meeting. "Two years of negotiations that led to Copenhagen did not result with anything concrete. The question now is: would another year of negotiations be any different? Would we be able to get the same political momentum for the coming meeting? We have no choice but to hope. We have to continue believing in the UN process, since the alternative is much less multilateral and less democratic."

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