Part II of II
In Part I of this post, we looked at what we (at least those of us who follow this stuff) could learn from the successes and failures of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (“COP 15”). To summarize, we learned that China and an Obama-led U.S. are now very much engaged as major players on the international climate scene; that the U.N.’s procedural framework for the negotiations didn’t work very well; and that an enforceable, global treaty is still a ways off. In this installment we’ll look at the nuts and bolts of what the Copenhagen Accord actually does (and doesn’t do), and what it might mean for future action on climate change, both internationally and here at home.
What does it do?
Diving right in, here’s a point-by-point summary of what the Copenhagen Accord does (and doesn’t do):
We mean it… sort of: First, the Accord isn’t legally binding and wasn’t actually formally adopted by most conference participants (it was “taken note of,” which falls somewhere between rejected and “adopted,” but allows governments to sign on later). This lack of enforceability has left critics and cynics much to talk about.
It’s getting hot in here: The Accord contains an aspirational goal of limiting human-induced global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius. It also calls for a review by 2015, including consideration of strengthening this long-term goal to a limit of 1.5 degrees.
Target practice: Developed countries that sign on to the accord (referred to as “Annex I” countries) will submit and “commit to implement” economy-wide emissions targets for 2020. These targets are to be submitted by January 31, 2010 (stay tuned for an update after the deadline!). Participating developing countries (referred to as “non-Annex I” countries) will commit to “implement mitigation actions.”
Cheaters never win: The Accord sets out broad terms for measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of actions taken by countries to meet their pledged targets and financial commitments. The MRV guidelines are to ensure “rigorous, robust and transparent” accounting, but also “ensure that national sovereignty is respected.” The MRV provision was reportedly a source of friction between the U.S. and China during the negotiations.
Technology will save us: The Accord establishes a new technology development and transfer mechanism to speed the development of technologies for both adaptation and mitigation.
Money doesn’t grow on trees…: The Accord contains a collective commitment by developed countries to contribute $30 billion in “new and additional resources” from 2010-2012 to help developing countries reduce emissions, preserve forests, and adapt to climate change. It also contains a goal of mobilizing $100 billion per year in public and private financing by 2020 to address developing countries’ climate change-related needs. To help accomplish this, the Accord calls for the creation of a high-level panel to examine ways of meeting the 2020 financial goal. It also calls for the establishment of a Copenhagen Green Climate Fund as one channel for delivering finance.
…But carbon does: Last but not least, the Accord calls for the “immediate establishment of a mechanism” to help developing countries implement efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation, and to enhance healthy forests that can serve as carbon sinks.
Where does it take us from here?
As we noted in Part I, the fact that the somewhat vague, largely aspirational, and legally unenforceable Copenhagen Accord was barely pulled off at the last minute makes it a safe bet that a legally-binding treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol will not be in place for some time. In terms of just how long that will take, the following sequence of events is telling: At the time President Obama was announcing a tentative deal at COP 15, a draft document was circulated that described the intended outcome of next year’s conference – COP 16 in Mexico City – as “a legally binding instrument.” However, that phrase did not appear in the final text of the document presented at the closing plenary session. A few countries including the U.S. argued for its reinsertion, but the proposal was opposed by a number of other countries, and the language did not make its way into the final decision. This seems to strongly suggest that the prospects for a binding international treaty by the Mexico City conference at the end of this year are bleak. In the meanwhile, we are left to wait and see how many countries will actually sign on to the Copenhagen Accord, and how seriously its commitments are taken.
Here at home, the most important aspect of the Copenhagen Accord may be what it means for President Obama’s chances of getting domestic climate change legislation through Congress (and especially the Senate). Without international commitments and buy-in from key players like China, it would have been even more challenging for the Obama Administration to get meaningful climate change legislation enacted here in the U.S. In the context of an ailing economy, the argument by cap-and-trade opponents that such a program would only put U.S. businesses at a competitive disadvantage probably would’ve been too much to overcome without any kind of international commitments. Now, however, supporters of the legistlation will have something to hang their hats (or ‘caps’) on. Thus, if nothing else, the Copenhagen Accord may have been a key step toward getting meaningful climate change legislation passed here at home. Only time will tell if this is indeed the case. But given the need for additional economic stimulus, the nastiness of the health care debate, persistent unemployment, and election-year politics, another major Federal program like cap-and-trade may simply be too tall an order this year… Accord or no Accord.