Some notes on the ‘Copenhagen Accord’, China and the US

The Copenhagen Accord was the most significant – and unhappy – outcome of COP15 in Copenhagen last year. It’s important to understand that it wasn’t really an outcome of the UNFCCC process – rather it, it was an ad hoc political solution pulled out of the hat by politicians, when the grand deal that was hoped for in the UNFCCC process could not be agreed.

So the Copenhagen Accord is non-binding on countries that signed it, and was merely “noted” by countries attending the Copenhagen COP.

What happened there?

In the opening remarks made at the COP16 plenary yesterday, Bolivia made some remarks on the subject, which were reported as follows in the Earth Negotiations Bulletin for Monday 29 November:

BOLIVIA stated that the problem in Copenhagen was not the consensus rule but that the multilateral process was not respected and stressed the need to preserve the consensus rule.

What did Bolivia actually say? What I actually heard was rather more blunt, and along these lines: “In Copenhagen, the rules of multilateralism were obstructed. Three countries at 3am attempted to impose over 190 countries a document that no-one had previously discussed.” A rather blunter account. And South Africa’s involvement in the Accord is not to our credit.

There are slightly differing versions of these events. Others write that, “The Copenhagen Accord was drafted by the US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa.”

Perhaps the most-read account of these event is this one by Mark Lynas, published in the Guardian soon after COP15 ended: “How do I know China wrecked the Copenhagen deal? I was in the room”:

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.

That’s not the end of the China-US story, though. The two countries have been talking directly to each other over the last year, and there seems to have been some rapprochement:

The US has insisted that so-called measurement, reporting and verification mechanisms (MRV), which would provide an independent assessment of whether countries are delivering on emissions reduction pledges, must form a central component of any international climate change deal. But China opposed the proposals at last year’s Copenhagen Summit, arguing that any inspection regime would impinge upon its sovereignty.
However, while stopping short of announcing a shift in China’s opposition to MRV, Xie reportedly told the influential China Dialogue website that the country was willing to be more transparent over its climate change policy.
“We now realise that in the past we took action, but didn’t tell anyone about it,” he said. “Now we think: if we’ve done something, why not say so? What China has done, what it has not done, what difficulties it faces – I’m willing to tell anyone about these.”

What of the Copenhagen Accord?

Over the last year, 140 countries have made voluntary, non-binding commitments under the Accord. The US wants the Accord to assume a more formal status in the current negotiations. But the commitments made under the Accord fall far short of what is needed (link to UNEP report, pdf) to keep global warming below 2 degrees, or 1.5 degrees.

The Accord also supported extremely controversial measures from the UNFCCC such as REDD – reduced emissions from deforestation and [land] degradation. But REDD, though it has the support of some of the large, US-based environmental NGOs, has many weaknesses. As Red Road Cancun notes:

REDD, while it will allow industrial polluters to continue their practices virtually unabated, also threatens indigenous and land-based peoples with eviction and marginalization. It contains no safeguards, no guarantee of rights, and a disturbing array of potential governance challenges. Our interventions in this week’s climate negotiations will focus on these challenges.

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