27 November, 2009

The Copenhagen climate summit gains political muscle, but still lacks scientific substance

The last round of pre-COP15 announcements by countries pivotal to closing a firm deal in Copenhagen have added political weight to a summit that was about to wither away. COP15 seemed to be about to flop, particularly after the unfortunate joint US-China statement in Singapore, during the APEC meeting.

Sergio Abranches

Everything seemed to add to the sentiment of an impeding failure. An off-agenda meeting in Singapore with Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen have apparently staged a fast-track exit solution to save face: a brief political memorandum of understanding loosely mentioning future commitments.

Strong negative reaction from global and domestic civil society, scientific circles, helped to turn the wheel of future history. Major developed and emerging countries, one by one, either reasserted their commitments – case of the EU and Japan – or shifted from a noncommittal attitude to one of active cooperation.

Among the developed countries the most important shift came from the US. The announcement by the White House that president Obama will go to the beginning of the Copenhagen summit, with numbers to lay down on the negotiation table, was a turning point.

China followed suit also announcing a quantitative commitment that several analysts argue represent a tough challenge to the country.

A few days before, the Brazilian government had also said it would commit to a voluntary quantitative target for future emissions reduction. Subsequently the Senate approved a law of climate change that included the government’s plan.

After a decade of denial, three pivotal players, for the first time, admit making international commitments for carbon emissions reductions that are measurable and verifiable. It may turn out that instead of just a turning point we’re on the verge of a political tipping point. If these commitments become an effective, binding and accountable political agreement, Copenhagen may be a historical landmark. A decade-long deadlock will be broken, and climate diplomacy will enter into a new era.

Not everything is that bright though. The sum total of national pledges does not add up to the minimum required by science. There still remains a decoupling between the politics and the science of global climate change. Once the political deadlock is broken, however, to negotiate an upward adjustment of targets could be easier, depending on the extent of the political consensus to be reached in Copenhagen. Perhaps breaking down the targets into smaller cycles – 2010-2015; 2015-2020; 2020-2030;2030-2050 – could do the trick (oops! any skeptical reading me?).

Provided these pre-COP15 announcements are honored in Copenhagen and a strong political deal is sealed tight, we may finally be heading to a post-2012 global climate policy.

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