The real Copenhagen outcome hangs on this month’s voluntary country emissions targets

Economy wide targets must be submitted to UN by Jan 31.

On the one hand, the Copenhagen Summit (COP15) was an enormous disappointment insofar as legally binding and empirically verifiable carbon reduction pledges by the world’s major polluters did not materialize. On the other, it signals the possibility of a leap
forward, but only if the leaders of the major carbon emitting countries are sincere in their expressions of deep concern and in their aspirations for significant emissions reduction. What has become clear to public opinion worldwide is that the issue is clearly not scientific uncertainty about climate change or the economic viability of actions to control climate change and its impacts but rather a matter of political will, leadership courage and the decision-making boundaries of the UN system. The UN Framework Commission on Climate Change mechanism (UNFCC) is severely compromised. There are no global, regional or country emissions limits defined for 2020 or 2050. And no legally binding internationally agreed commitments. Instead, continuing action is encouraged by national governments on a voluntary basis (like Chinese or Indian national plans) or regional action like the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, California’s car emission standards, or Norwegian financing for impact adaptation in Africa. There is no agreement on fixing ceilings based on per capita emissions, which would more equitably reflect historical and current emission realities and allow for continued industrialization of emerging economies. In addition, there is no global mechanism for emissionstrading or carbon taxation. There are aspirations and inadequate commitments by rich countries to pay or finance the adaptation costs by poor and most vulnerable countries for damages to urban areas, infrastructure, public health, agriculture and industry from climate change that is caused primarily by historical emissions from the rich countries. In this sense, nothing changes. The accord acknowledges that greater than 2 degrees celsius increase in global warming would be catastrophic, and to avoid that, countries shall by 31 January 2010 submit to the UN FCCC their individually or jointly quantified economy wide emissions targets for 2020. The target levels are, it follows, a matter of decision by each country and no overall worldwide or regional emissions targets are defined. This would appear to allow a weakening of the common commitments established under Kyoto for developed countries or altogether abandoning the Kyoto Protocol, and it opens the likelihood of bilateral or multilateral deals between the US, China, India, Brazil and the EU without consultation or real voice or vote by all other countries. In this sense, everything changes. But what is the reality behind the numbers? The US offer to reduce emissions 17% relative to 2005 means 4% reduction relative to 1990 levels. The inadequacy of this indication is revealed in the fact the US has increased emissions 16% since 1990. The US has offered $3.6bn for adaptation for the most vulnerable countries through 2012. The EU has offered $10.6bn and Japan $11bn
over the same three-year period. China has announced it will increase energy efficiency such that its carbon emissions per unit of production (known as “carbon intensity”) will decline by 40 to 45% by 2020 compared to 2005. This is following an improvement by a factor of 4 in the past 20 years. This dramatic efficiency improvement, important as it is, glosses over the fact that its emissions total will double by 2030 assuming it keeps up 7 to 8% annual GNP growth. In short, the US proposition is far from fair or adequate given its emissions history and actuality (20 tons of carbon per person per year). The Chinese goal is also far from adequate, albeit arguably fair (it emits now 5 tons carbon per person per year) given the need to achieve a worldwide average of 2 tons carbon emissions per person per year by 2050 in order to maintain global warming at an increase that does not exceed +2°C. Does Copenhagen mean the UN COP process is defunct? Yes, in as much as a small group of nations has negotiated the Accord behind closed doors, constituting a de facto acknowledgement either that leading nations areunwilling to undertake consensual decisions in plenary or that consensual decision is impossible given the diversity of positions and the uncompromising stance of different countries.
So what now? The reality of increasing frequency and severity of climate events, and their economic and social consequences, will continue to keep climate change in the media and visible and real in everyday life. Politicians and governments will have to demonstrate progress in measures to fight climate change locally as a result of public awareness. Greening the economy is one of the few stimulus roads to growth.
Between now and 31st January 2010, when Annex I and Annex II (Appendix I for developed, Appendix II for developing) countries are expected to report their targets to the UN FCCC, much behind the scenes negotiation will take place. The next tangible, material indication of what people the world over can realistically expect from their governments will be read off the two pages left blank in the Copenhagen Accord, pages that by their silence speak louder than the Copenhagen Accord itself.
Carlos Joly is president of the Scientific Climate Change Committee at Natixis Asset Management