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Most Climate Delegates Accepting Obama’s ‘Accord’

But small countries reject deal, fashioned with China, India, Brazil

December 21, 2009 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

J. Carl Ganter
  Lumumba Di-Aping said that the climate deal announced by Barack Obama and other world leaders is unacceptable to small developing nations.
COPENHAGEN — On Saturday morning seven countries, led by the tiny Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, declined to accept the Copenhagen Accord that was reached late Friday night. But in a procedural move designed to put the agreement into effect anyway, the conference decided to “take note” of the accord instead of formally approving it.

NGO experts explained that the decision by the other nations who are parties to the conference to “take note” enables the accord to become what the United States and other supporting nations call “operational,” even though it has not gained formal United Nations approval.

Negotiators said they would work across the weekend to clean up last details, but the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference was essentially concluded on Saturday.

The final stages of the Copenhagen climate conference produced a range of responses, though none were expressions of celebration. Ban ki-Moon, the secretary general of the United Nations, called the accord reached Friday night “hopeful” and urged the 193 nations that gathered here to transform its basic provisions into a legally binding treaty.

“It’s just a beginning. It will take more than this to tackle climate change. It is a step in the right direction,” he said.

The UN secretary general said he would press world leaders to complete a legally binding treaty next year.

Summed up, perhaps, the Copenhagen Accord is tantamount to a global pre-nup. The marriage agreement is still to come.

U.S., Big Developing Countries Step Up

President Barack Obama, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, and the leaders of Brazil, India, and South Africa negotiated the Copenhagen Accord. It attracted support from the European Union and most other world leaders. The accord encompassed all of the significant measures that most nations said were needed to respond to climate change, but many climate scientists and diplomats said that the steps were, by themselves, insufficient to keep global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius, a level thought by many world leaders to make sure climate change remains manageable.

The Copenhagen Accord contains seven provisions that President Obama said would, taken together, make a significant start toward global action to deal with climate change:

  • A commitment by developed nations to invest $30 billion over the next three years to help developing nations adapt to climate change and pursue clean energy development.

  • A provisional commitment by developed nation to develop a long-term $100 billion global fund by 2020 to assist developing nations respond to climate change and become part of the clean energy economic transition.

  • Establishing a goal to pursue emissions reductions that are sufficient to keep the rise in global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius.

  • Pledges by nations to commit to concrete emissions reductions, though the specific levels were not set.

  • A general goal to subject participating countries to international review of their progress under the accord.

  • Providing diplomatic space for the United States and China to work together to solve climate change.

  • A commitment to assess the effectiveness of the accord in reducing emissions by the end of 2015.

Night of Controversy

The events leading up to making the accord “operational” followed a long night of controversy in which Tuvalu, Sudan, Venezuela, Cuba, and three other nations opposed its provisions, arguing that it did not go nearly far enough to solve the climate crisis.

The smaller nations also objected to the process that produced the accord, in which the United States, China, India, Brazil and South Africa negotiated with 20 other nations. President Obama, who arrived early on Friday morning, put the full measure of his influence and prestige behind the work to reach the accord.

Critics of the accord called it completely inadequate for responding to the dire threat posed by climate change. Cuban delegates accused the United States and its new president of “behaving like an emperor” and claimed that the draft was a “gross violation principle of sovereign equality.”

At 10:30 p.m. Friday, Mr. Obama held a news conference and appeared visibly spent.

“Today we’ve made a meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough here in Copenhagen,” he said. “For the first time in history all major economies have come together to accept their responsibility to take action to confront the threat of climate change.

Referring to his administration’s recent actions regarding climate change, the president added: “Because of the actions we’re taking, we came here to Copenhagen with an ambitious target to reduce our emissions. We agreed to join an international effort to provide financing to help developing countries, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable, adapt to climate change. And we reaffirmed the necessity of listing our national actions and commitments in a transparent way.

“These three components—transparency, mitigation, and finance—form the basis of the common approach that the United States and our partners embraced here in Copenhagen,” the president added. “Throughout the day we worked with many countries to establish a new consensus around these three points, a consensus that will serve as a foundation for global action to confront the threat of climate change for years to come.”

Dramatic Turns
The 30 hours here in Copenhagen were marked by high drama.

For much of the afternoon Friday and well into the evening the cold and dark seemed to settle more deeply on this city of 1.2 million. Here in the Bella Center, as the day turned to night without an agreement to cool the planet, the meditation and prayer rooms were noticeably busier.

After months of work this year, and 12 days of negotiation at the UN Climate Change Conference, it looked for much of the day as if 120 heads of state might actually leave Denmark without any agreement at all.

Certainly there were fossil fuel industry boardrooms in Houston where such an outcome would have been celebrated.

But less than two hours before midnight word circulated through Bella that agreement had been struck.

Climate experts from the many citizen organizations and other non-government organizations (NGOs) that thronged the city for two weeks cautioned that the agreement has not been made final, and that many other countries have not signed off on its provisions.

The European Union, which scheduled a news conference before midnight, abruptly cancelled the event, and then held it later in the night. And just after midnight Lumumba Di-Aping, the Sudanese chair of the G77, the international alliance of developing nations, held a news conference and lashed out at the deal.

Fierce Criticism

Mr. Di-Aping said the agreement would hurt developing nations and “lock people of the developing world in poverty.” He said the financial terms, $10 billion annually provided by developed nations to developing nations each year through 2012, “was nothing compared to the risks.” And he accused the United States, with the assistance of Denmark, of essentially strong arming poor nations into accepting the measure.

Mr. Di-Aping indicated that “if one country doesn’t agree to this agreement, then there is no deal.”

According to American NGO experts and President Obama, the deal reached by the United States and the four other nations aims at limiting carbon emissions so that global temperatures do not exceed 2 degrees Celsius; committing nations to concrete emissions targets; and subjecting participating countries to international analysis of their commitments.

In its essence, then, the agreement’s structure is consistent with what President Obama outlined to heads of state and delegates early this afternoon.

Perhaps most significantly, it is the first agreement to provide diplomatic space for the United States and China to work together to tackle global climate change.

The deal is not legally binding, though the president said it was a “first step” toward developing a much stronger binding agreement. He did not say when that might occur, and it is not clear whether negotiating a legally binding treaty is possible within a year.

“I am supportive of such efforts,” President Obama said. “This is a classic example of how if we just waited for that, then we would not make any progress.”

Representatives of international climate advocacy organizations were critical of the deal, asserting that it was not nearly strong enough. Ricken Patel, executive director of Avaaz.org, greeted the deal this way:

“The so-called Copenhagen Accord is an historic failure, representing the collapse of international efforts to sign a binding global treaty that can stop catastrophic climate change. Perhaps most telling, while leaders themselves recognize that this agreement is insufficient, they have set no deadline or even date to complete it.”

American NGOs Supportive

But American environmental leaders were more supportive, asserting the agreement was a step that strengthened American and global action to limit carbon emissions and accelerate the vast economic transition built on a new foundation of clean energy development.

“The world’s nations have come together and concluded a historic—if incomplete—agreement to begin tackling global warming,” said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. “Tonight’s announcement is but a first step and much work remains to be done in the days and months ahead in order to seal a final international climate deal that is fair, binding, and ambitious. It is imperative that negotiations resume as soon as possible.”

“Today’s agreement takes the first important steps toward true transparency and accountability in an international climate agreement,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund. “The sooner the U.S. speaks through Senate legislation, the sooner we can set the terms of engagement for talks to come.”

President Obama avoided being specific about a timetable for making the agreement more robust and binding.

“We strive for more binding agreements over time,” Mr. Obama said.

“This is going to be hard,” added the president, who indicated he would leave Copenhagen immediately. “It’s going to be hard within countries and it’s going to be hard between countries.”

This article was first published by the U.S. Climate Action Network and is used by permission. Keith Schneider, who founded the Michigan Land Use Institute, is an environmental journalist, and the media and communications director at U.S. CAN. Reach him at kschneider@climatenetwork.org.

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