Hello UNfairplay readers,
Another year, another set of climate negotiations and much has changed over the last few months. Firstly Yvo de Boer as many of you will know has stepped down as Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. His commitment to constructing a deal was evident and his passion at times thinly veiled, especially during negotiations where little sleep is had by anyone (the famous crying incident in Bali). In a leaked letter to the Guardian today, Yvo is quoted as saying;
“[The Danish text] destroyed two years of effort in one fell swoop,” De Boer wrote. “All our attempts to prevent the paper happening failed. The meeting at which it was presented was unannounced and the paper unbalanced.”
It also added,
“Inviting heads of state seemed like a good idea. But it seriously backfired”, ” Their early arrival did not have the catalytic effect that was hoped for. The process became paralysed. Rumour and intrigue took over.”
It has become clear that the outcome at Copenhagen was nothing short of a disaster for the UNFCCC process and in terms of emissions (See the Oxford Environmental Change Institute Podcast for commentary, and if you have the metal watch the closing session of COP15 for the late night drama). Scientists Rogelj et al (2010) in the respected journal Nature write a piece entitled ‘ Copenhagen Accord pledges are paltry’ in which they summarise:
- Nations will probably meet only the lower ends of their emissions pledges in the absence of a binding international agreement
- Nations can bank an estimated 12 gigatonnes of Co2 equivalents surplus allowances for use after 2012
- Land-use rules are likely to result in further allowance increases of 0.5 GtCO2-eq per year
- Global emissions in 2020 could thus be up to 20% higher than today
- Current pledges mean a greater than 50% chance that warming will exceed 3°C by 2100
- If nations agree to halve emissions by 2050, there is still a 50% chance that warming will exceed 2°C and will almost certainly exceed 1.5°C
In short the consensus is that as things stand we are heading for a 3C plus world as currently world emissions are greater than those of the IPCC’s worst case (A1Fl) scenario (Raupach, 2007) and as yet, no sign of a fair, ambitious and legally binding agreement is in sight.
In fact the political fallout of the botched Copenhagen negotiations is only just beginning to be understood. A recent paper produced from the discussions of experts brought together by the London School of Economics entitled ‘The Hartwell Paper: A new direction for climate policy after the crash of 2009′ attempts to assess the political aftermath of COP15 and how climate politics may move forward from here. The papers position is that the UNFCCC/Kyoto process has crashed and is structurally unworkable, rather it argues for a radical reframing “accepting that decarbonisation will only be achieved successfully as a benefit contingent upon other goals which are politically attractive and relentlessly pragmatic”.
In other words countries such as the US on purely ideological grounds may never pass domestic legislation to cut carbon emissions directly. This leaves multinational negotiations forever stalled without the world’s second biggest emitter included, similar problems exist for other countries. Therefore direct emissions reductions are unlikely to work, rather they should be achieved as a corroraly of three overarching objectives: ensuring energy access for all; ensuring that we develop in a manner that does not undermine the essential functioning of the Earth system; ensuring that our societies are adequately equipped to withstand the risks and dangers that come from all the vagaries of climate, whatever their cause may be. In this way the secondary effects of a policy (i.e. carbon reductions from clean energy production in the developing world) may be considered one of its primary objectives in addition of development. Scientists have also suggested that focus purely on CO2 may be a mistake, easier gains for both worldwide health and warming may be initially gained by reducing black carbon emissions, (See: A Perspective Paper on Black Carbon Mitigation as a Response to Climate Change) or by considering the effect of differing green house gasses on ecosystem services (Sitch et al 2007).
Such an approach as advocated in the Hartwell paper will not be popular with many LDC’s, at COP15 the Kyoto track of negotiations was voraciously defended because legally it sets out the responsibilities of Annex I countries (even if many of them have reneged up it!). Ironically China, India, Brazil and South Africa blocked long term emission targets from being in the Copenhagen Accord on the pretext that they would soon be unable to argue that they shouldn’t be in Annex I also (See Mark Lynas’s article in the Guardian). Many believe that to enact emissions cuts necessary to achieve climate stabilisation (a moot point as to if such a thing exists) only a unilateral approach with interim and short term targets will come close. It seems that among the west and larger developing countries that political will is not there to do so. And so therefore the scene is set, where will negotiations proceed? How will climate politics be rebuilt before Mexico? Will it be rebuilt? What will it look like? Hopefully some insights might come from these intercessional negotiations.
Whatever happens now, the Costa Rican negotiator Christiana Figures (Yvo’s replacement as Executive Secretary) is really going to have her work cut out for her to try and wrestle multilateral climate politics back from the brink and find a way to cut emissions from countries where domestic political issues precludes direct legislation.
Sam and Isabel