Monday, December 21, 2009

The Fallout from Copenhagen

What happened in the end with Copenhagen?

Depending on who you talk to it was either a compromise, or disappointing or progressive.

China hailed the outcome of the UN climate change summit after a nonbinding deal was reached on Sunday. The Copenhagen Accord sets a goal of jointly mobilizing $100 billion-a-year climate aid for developing countries by 2020, but no specific targets for industrialized nations.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said there were "positive results" from the conference, successfully maintaining the principle of "common but differentiated responsibility."

But there were no firm targets for mid- or long-term reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. "The blame for the failure mostly lies with the rich industrialized world, countries which have the largest historic responsibility for causing the problem. In particular, the US failed to take any real leadership and dragged the talks down," Greenpeace said in a statement.

At first US President Barack Obama didn't send an earnest signal in showing his willingness to deal with climate change. Earlier he decided to show up in Copenhagen at the beginning of the conference when other world leaders were not there. And then he changed his mind and came towards the end. China got criticism that Premier Wen Jiabao was attending and not President Hu Jintao, believing that Hu is the one who calls the shots. However Wen is the one who is more knowlegable and interested in environmental issues.

While China promised to cut 40 to 45 percent of greenhouse gas emissions per unit of GDP at 2005 levels, this is misleading. In fact this means the country will probably emit twice as much carbon dioxide by 2020 -- 14.2 billion tonnes versus 7.3 billion tonnes if growth remains at 8 percent. However, during the entire two weeks the Middle Kingdom stood its ground and even expected developed countries to fund technologies to China when it holds some $2 trillion in US reserves.

China was also strongly opposed to international monitoring of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, as it believes these are internal affairs and besides, as a developing nation it is not legally bound to these reduction targets. To protest the US demand of monitoring, Premier Wen walked out of the talks and sent another official to complete negotiations with Obama. The US President tried again to meet privately with Wen; when the appointed time came, Obama apparently walked into a four-nation meeting that included China, India, Brazil and South Africa, but there was no seat for him.

It was a strange gaffe but Obama was cool about it and tried to engage the four countries in a productive discussion that led to an agreement of the aid package and pledges to cut emissions.

Many were annoyed at China for not being willing to do more, or be subjected to international monitoring. And it seems Obama's strategy of quiet diplomacy with China last month didn't do enough for Copenhagen.

Despite the blame game, all the nations seemed protectionist, acting more concerned about short term economic growth than the future of the planet.

"This accord is not legally binding. It's a political statement," Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International was quoted in the Guardian as saying. "This is a disaster for the poor nations -- the urgency of climate change was not really considered."

Dame Barbara Stocking, Oxfam's chief executive agreed. "World leaders in Copenhagen seem to have forgotten that they were not negotiating numbers, they were negotiating lives," she said.

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