Saturday, 19 December 2009

The Copenhagen Accord - a liberal emissions regime for the USA and China

The Copenhagen Accord will maintain the Kyoto divide

The prospects of achieving a consensus agreement in Copenhagen, with nearly two hundred nations having spanned two years arguing word by word over draft texts for a new climate change treaty, were never good. The diversity of perceptions of equity and self interested agendas make it remarkable that the UN process has got as far as it has.

The  proactive move by a group of countries led by the USA and China, whose  leaders agreed between themselves the text of a 'Copenhagen Accord' to be presented to other COP15 parties, led to cries of 'undemocratic' and 'outside the UN process'. These objections sound hollow in relation to the urgency of the need for nations to cooperate to address the threat of climate change, and the slowness of the UN process which has failed to place a draft negotiating text on the table at COP15 after two years of effort.

The worst features of the Copenhagen Accord* are that it contains few of the elements considered to be important for an effective climate deal. There are no quantified emissions reduction targets or timescales for peaking emissions, no reference to a legally binding agreement, and no detail on how targets or actions might be monitored or independently verified. Although finance from developed countries for climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries is set at 100 billion US dollars a year by 2020, there is vagueness about the sources of such finance.

The nations that devised the Accord (USA, China, India, Brazil and South Africa) are all outside Kyoto Annex 1. In other words they did not take on binding emissions reductions targets under the Kyoto protocol (in the case of the USA as a result of non ratification)

The Accord maintains the Kyoto divide prescribing that Annex1 countries should.... 'commit to implement individually or jointly the quantified economy-wide emissions targets for 2020 to be submitted ...... to the secretariat by 31 January 2010 for compilation', and that 'Non-Annex I Parties ......will implement mitigation actions...' The intention is that national commitments from both groups will be added as appendices to the Accord. 

Thus if the Accord is adopted as a legal agreement, since it incorporates the Kyoto structure  the USA  would need to clarify its status.

The EU and Japan have apparently endorsed the Accord but indicated that it falls far short of the type of agreement that they had hoped would be concluded. Some nations find the Accord unacceptable so the final COP15 session merely 'noted' the Accord.

Where the path from Copenhagen will lead now is uncertain and there must be doubts about whether the UNFCCC process can continue. 

The new grouping of USA, China, India plus Brazil and South Africa includes the worlds' two largest CO2 emitters. Under the Accord, when/if transformed into a legal treaty, the developing nations would undertake 'actions' not binding emissions targets and 'will undertake domestic measurement, reporting and verification' which will be reported under 'guidelines that will ensure that national sovereignty is respected'. The USA might need to ratify Kyoto but potentially could remain outside.

Figure 21.1   Percentage of world CO2 emissions - 'Copenhagen Accord' group of nations

Because the combined CO2 emissions of the 'Accord' group comprising USA, China, India, Brazil and South Africa were the source 49% of world emissions in 2008, (excluding land use and forestry emissions LULUCF) their performance in reducing their CO2 emissions under the liberal regime suggested by the wording of the Copenhagen Accord will be the major determinant of the worlds' CO2 emissions trajectory.

The potential effectiveness of the Copenhagen Accord as an instrument for mitigating climate change looks questionable because it does not contain strong constraints that would make the worlds largest CO2 emitters fully accountable. 

*All quotations in italics refer to Copenhagen Accord Draft decision -/CP.15 FCCC/CP/2009/L.7 18 December 2009   

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