MY VIEW: Copenhagen did not produce the measures regarding climate change that people and nations wanted and expected, so now the mudslinging has begun in earnest! It’s very easy to take sides and cast blame, which also so easily smacks of near-racism in my book. The good news is that the issues were raised as never before and humanity has, in my opinion, turned an importamt corner. Climate change – and the environment – is very muhc back on the political agenda and is theere to stay!
Blame Denmark, not China, for Copenhagen failure – by The Guardian’s Martin Khor
It’s been several days since the chaotic end to the Copenhagen climate conference but the aftershocks from its failure are still reverberating. As John Prescott points out in his letter to the Guardian, the pointing of fingers in the blame game does not help the regaining of trust needed for the positive resumption of talks early next year and to complete them by December 2010, the new deadline agreed to in Copenhagen.
Copenhagen: time to stop the finger-pointing by John Prescott
Mark Lynas’s article (How do I know China wrecked climate deal? I was in the room, 23 December) contrasted vividly with the views on the opposite page from experts. In my Council of Europe role, I held talks in Washington and Beijing, speaking to Premier Wen the day after his discussions with Obama, asking him to heed Gordon Brown’s call to attend Copenhagen. All parties were disappointed there wasn’t a legal agreement. But there wasn’t one at Kyoto either.
However, Lynas’s comments will sour future COP discussions to implement the necessary measures to limit the increase in global temperature to 2C. We require a more objective assessment of the Copenhagen accord, especially the relationship between the world’s two major polluters – China and the US.
At Copenhagen the US climate change special envoy Todd Stern said emissions weren’t about “morality or politics”, they were “just maths”, with China projected to emit 60% more CO2 than the US by 2030. But Stern ignored the more transparent measure of pollution per capita; the US emits 20 tonnes per person every year, compared to China’s six tonnes.
President Obama’s Copenhagen speech was also clearly critical of China. Moreover, he described a period of “two decades of talking and no action”. That might have been true in America, which refused to sign up to Kyoto, but not in the case of China or Europe, which followed a lot of that protocol’s policies. The challenge for all parties is now to stop pointing fingers and focus on turning the accord at Bonn and Mexico into the global climate change agreement we desperately need.
Council of Europe climate change rapporteur
• The dynamics of the select group of countries negotiating the Copenhagen accord is only part of the story. I was in the G77 plus China group meeting, advising a delegation, of which more than half the 120 countries complained that they had not seen any text from this group. We left to attend the plenary to obtain the text, only to see Obama on the TV screens outside the room telling us that the deal was done. People were astonished and furious. The Danish failure to explain the process of making decisions and Obama’s press conference did untold damage to future negotiations. It wasn’t all China’s fault. The test of success of the accord and any future treaty is simple. Solving climate change requires keeping fossil carbon out of the atmosphere. With current technology that means keeping fossil fuels in the ground. Will the Copenhagen accord dissuade anyone from investing in developing a new oilfield or coal mine? No. What should properly be called the Copenhagen discord was a failure.
How do I know China wrecked the Copenhagen deal? I was in the room – the full article by Mark Lynas
Copenhagen was a disaster. That much is agreed. But the truth about what actually happened is in danger of being lost amid the spin and inevitable mutual recriminations. The truth is this: China wrecked the talks, intentionally humiliated Barack Obama, and insisted on an awful “deal” so western leaders would walk away carrying the blame. How do I know this? Because I was in the room and saw it happen.
China’s strategy was simple: block the open negotiations for two weeks, and then ensure that the closed-door deal made it look as if the west had failed the world’s poor once again. And sure enough, the aid agencies, civil society movements and environmental groups all took the bait. The failure was “the inevitable result of rich countries refusing adequately and fairly to shoulder their overwhelming responsibility”, said Christian Aid. “Rich countries have bullied developing nations,” fumed Friends of the Earth International.
All very predictable, but the complete opposite of the truth. Even George Monbiot, writing in yesterday’s Guardian, made the mistake of singly blaming Obama. But I saw Obama fighting desperately to salvage a deal, and the Chinese delegate saying “no”, over and over again. Monbiot even approvingly quoted the Sudanese delegate Lumumba Di-Aping, who denounced the Copenhagen accord as “a suicide pact, an incineration pact, in order to maintain the economic dominance of a few countries”.
Sudan behaves at the talks as a puppet of China; one of a number of countries that relieves the Chinese delegation of having to fight its battles in open sessions. It was a perfect stitch-up. China gutted the deal behind the scenes, and then left its proxies to savage it in public.
Here’s what actually went on late last Friday night, as heads of state from two dozen countries met behind closed doors. Obama was at the table for several hours, sitting between Gordon Brown and the Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi. The Danish prime minister chaired, and on his right sat Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the UN. Probably only about 50 or 60 people, including the heads of state, were in the room. I was attached to one of the delegations, whose head of state was also present for most of the time.
What I saw was profoundly shocking. The Chinese premier, Wen Jinbao, did not deign to attend the meetings personally, instead sending a second-tier official in the country’s foreign ministry to sit opposite Obama himself. The diplomatic snub was obvious and brutal, as was the practical implication: several times during the session, the world’s most powerful heads of state were forced to wait around as the Chinese delegate went off to make telephone calls to his “superiors”.
Shifting the blame
To those who would blame Obama and rich countries in general, know this: it was China’s representative who insisted that industrialised country targets, previously agreed as an 80% cut by 2050, be taken out of the deal. “Why can’t we even mention our own targets?” demanded a furious Angela Merkel. Australia’s prime minister, Kevin Rudd, was annoyed enough to bang his microphone. Brazil’s representative too pointed out the illogicality of China’s position. Why should rich countries not announce even this unilateral cut? The Chinese delegate said no, and I watched, aghast, as Merkel threw up her hands in despair and conceded the point. Now we know why – because China bet, correctly, that Obama would get the blame for the Copenhagen accord’s lack of ambition.
China, backed at times by India, then proceeded to take out all the numbers that mattered. A 2020 peaking year in global emissions, essential to restrain temperatures to 2C, was removed and replaced by woolly language suggesting that emissions should peak “as soon as possible”. The long-term target, of global 50% cuts by 2050, was also excised. No one else, perhaps with the exceptions of India and Saudi Arabia, wanted this to happen. I am certain that had the Chinese not been in the room, we would have left Copenhagen with a deal that had environmentalists popping champagne corks popping in every corner of the world.
So how did China manage to pull off this coup? First, it was in an extremely strong negotiating position. China didn’t need a deal. As one developing country foreign minister said to me: “The Athenians had nothing to offer to the Spartans.” On the other hand, western leaders in particular – but also presidents Lula of Brazil, Zuma of South Africa, Calderón of Mexico and many others – were desperate for a positive outcome. Obama needed a strong deal perhaps more than anyone. The US had confirmed the offer of $100bn to developing countries for adaptation, put serious cuts on the table for the first time (17% below 2005 levels by 2020), and was obviously prepared to up its offer.
Above all, Obama needed to be able to demonstrate to the Senate that he could deliver China in any global climate regulation framework, so conservative senators could not argue that US carbon cuts would further advantage Chinese industry. With midterm elections looming, Obama and his staff also knew that Copenhagen would be probably their only opportunity to go to climate change talks with a strong mandate. This further strengthened China’s negotiating hand, as did the complete lack of civil society political pressure on either China or India. Campaign groups never blame developing countries for failure; this is an iron rule that is never broken. The Indians, in particular, have become past masters at co-opting the language of equity (“equal rights to the atmosphere”) in the service of planetary suicide – and leftish campaigners and commentators are hoist with their own petard.
With the deal gutted, the heads of state session concluded with a final battle as the Chinese delegate insisted on removing the 1.5C target so beloved of the small island states and low-lying nations who have most to lose from rising seas. President Nasheed of the Maldives, supported by Brown, fought valiantly to save this crucial number. “How can you ask my country to go extinct?” demanded Nasheed. The Chinese delegate feigned great offence – and the number stayed, but surrounded by language which makes it all but meaningless. The deed was done.
All this raises the question: what is China’s game? Why did China, in the words of a UK-based analyst who also spent hours in heads of state meetings, “not only reject targets for itself, but also refuse to allow any other country to take on binding targets?” The analyst, who has attended climate conferences for more than 15 years, concludes that China wants to weaken the climate regulation regime now “in order to avoid the risk that it might be called on to be more ambitious in a few years’ time”.
This does not mean China is not serious about global warming. It is strong in both the wind and solar industries. But China’s growth, and growing global political and economic dominance, is based largely on cheap coal. China knows it is becoming an uncontested superpower; indeed its newfound muscular confidence was on striking display in Copenhagen. Its coal-based economy doubles every decade, and its power increases commensurately. Its leadership will not alter this magic formula unless they absolutely have to.
Copenhagen was much worse than just another bad deal, because it illustrated a profound shift in global geopolitics. This is fast becoming China’s century, yet its leadership has displayed that multilateral environmental governance is not only not a priority, but is viewed as a hindrance to the new superpower’s freedom of action. I left Copenhagen more despondent than I have felt in a long time. After all the hope and all the hype, the mobilisation of thousands, a wave of optimism crashed against the rock of global power politics, fell back, and drained away.
Blame Denmark, not China, for Copenhagen failure (full article)
First, the misinformation put out in the past few days has to be corrected. The UK climate secretary, Ed Miliband, backed by individuals such as Mark Lynas (both writing in the Guardian) have turned on China as the villain that “hijacked” the conference. The main “evidence” they gave was that China vetoed an “agreement” on a 50% reduction in global emissions by 2050 and an 80% reduction by developed countries, in the small meeting of 26 leaders on Copenhagen’s final day.
There was indeed a “hijack” in Copenhagen, but it was not by China. The hijack was organised by the host government, Denmark, whose prime minister convened a meeting of 26 leaders in the last two days of the conference, in an attempt to override the painstaking negotiations taking place among 193 countries throughout the two weeks and in fact in the past two to four years.
That exclusive meeting was not mandated by the UN climate convention. Indeed, the developing countries had warned the Danish prime minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, not to come up with his own “Danish text” to be negotiated by a small group that he himself would select, as this would violate the multilateral treaty-based process, and would replace the documents carefully negotiated by all countries with one unilaterally issued by the host country.
Despite this, the Danish government produced just such a document, and it convened exactly the kind of exclusive group that would undermine the UN climate convention’s multilateral and democratic process. Under that process, the 193 countries had been collectively working on coming to a conclusion on the many aspects of the climate deal.
Weeks before, it had become clear that Copenhagen could not adopt a full agreement because many basic differences remained. Copenhagen should have been designed as a stepping stone to a future successful outcome accepted by all. Unfortunately, the host country Denmark selected a small number of the 110 top leaders who came, to meet in secret, without the mandate or even knowledge of the convention’s membership.
The selected leaders were given a draft Danish document that mainly represented the developed countries’ positions, thereby marginalising the developing countries’ views tabled at the two-year negotiations.
Meanwhile, most of the thousands of delegates were working for two weeks on producing two reports representing the latest state of play, indicating areas of agreement and those where final decisions still had to be taken.
These reports were finally adopted by the conference. They should have been announced as the real outcome of Copenhagen, together with a decision to resume and complete work next year. It would not have been a resounding success, but it would have been an honest ending that would not have been termed a failure.
Instead, the Copenhagen accord was criticised by the final plenary of members and not adopted. The unwise attempt by the Danish presidency to impose a non-legitimate meeting to override the legitimate multilateral process was the reason why Copenhagen will be considered a disaster.
The accord itself is weak mainly because it does not contain any commitments by the developed countries to cut their emissions in the medium term. Perhaps the reason for this most glaring omission is that the national pledges so far announced amount to only a 11-19% overall reduction by the developed countries by 2020 (compared to 1990), a far cry from the over 40% target demanded by the developing countries and recent science.
To deflect from this great failure on their part, the developed countries tried to inject long-term emission-reduction goals of 50% for the world and 80% for themselves, by 2050 compared to 1990. When this failed to get through the 26-country meeting, some countries, especially the UK, began to blame China for the failure of Copenhagen.
In fact, these targets, especially taken together, have been highly contentious during the two years of discussions, and for good reasons. They would result in a highly inequitable outcome where developed countries get off from their responsibilities and push the burden of adjustment onto the developing countries.
Together, they imply that developing countries would have to cut their emissions overall by about 20% in absolute terms and at least 60% in per capita terms. By 2050, developed countries with high per capita emissions – such as the US – would be allowed to have two to five times higher per capita emission levels than developing countries. The latter would have to severely curb not only their emissions but also their economic growth, especially since there is, up to now, no credible plans let alone commitments for financial and technology transfers to help them shift to a low-emissions development path.
The developed countries have already completed their industrialisation on the basis of cheap carbon-based energy and can afford to take on an 80% goal for 2050, especially since they now have the technological and organisational capacity and infrastructure. For a minimally equitable deal, they should commit to cuts of at least 200-400%, or move into negative emission territory, with net re-absorption of greenhouse gases, to enable developing countries the atmospheric space to develop.
The acceptance of the two targets would also have locked in a most unfair sharing of the remaining global carbon budget as it would have allowed the developed countries to get off free from their historical responsibility and their carbon debt. They would have been allocated the rights to a large amount of “carbon space”, historically and in the future, without being given the obligation and responsibility to undertake adequate emission cuts nor to make adequate financial and technology transfers to developing countries.
Fortunately these targets are absent from the accord. The imperative for the negotiations next year is to agree on what science says is necessary for the world to do (in terms of limits to temperature rise or in global emissions cut) but also on what is a just and equitable formula for sharing the costs and burdens of adjustment, and to decide on both simultaneously. By asking for agreement on only a global goal and a very low commitment figure for their own obligatory cut, the developed countries were attempting to fix a global carbon budget distribution that enables them to get away with the hijacking of atmospheric space, a resource worth many trillions of dollars.
Learning from Copenhagen’s mistakes, the countries should return to the multilateral track and resume negotiations in the climate convention’s two working groups as early as possible.
They can start with the two reports passed at Copenhagen as reference points. There should not be more attempts to hijack this multilateral process, which represents our best hope to achieve final results.
The bottom-up democratic process is slower but also steadier, compared to the top-down attempt to impose a solution by a few powers that will always lack legitimacy in decision-making and success or sustainability in implementation.