20 December, 2009

COP15: failure more positive than muddling through

The political deal was incomplete and failed to deliver to the expectations the world leaders have raised. COP15 ended the best way it could, after the key players left Bella Center suddenly. The moment it was known they would not collectively report the result of a day of intense top level negotiations, failure was the only conclusion possible.

Sergio Abranches

And failure it was. A clear failure of collective leadership. In spite of individual efforts, the most powerful and influential incumbent world leaders failed to reached a common understanding of their domestic and planetary responsibilities. They left, as we say in Brazil, à française, without a word to close the meeting and the deal. Presidents Obama and Sarkozy talked to their countries’ media in their hotels before leaving to the airport. They said almost the same thing: the better deal possible was done, and it was a meaningful one. But it was not.

Technically they’ve left the result of their talks in a political void. As a political outcome negotiated above and beyond UN rules, the only way to actualize it would have been to hold a press conference, explain the accord and make it public. To leave the final terms to be negotiated within the UN track was both a violence to established rules, and a major political mistake.

A mistake that led the majority to cry failure. Within the formal gridlocked tracks of the Climate Convention it would have the same fate as prior efforts have had: watering down to the point of becoming meaningless.

The plenary has done the only sensible thing to do about it: to take note and adjourn. It could not veto it: delegates did not have the authority to formally undo or reject what represented an accord by their chiefs of state and governments. They could not vote it either, because, from the standpoint of UN rules, the Copenhagen Accord was a “non-paper”. A document that did not go through the formal channels of the Climate Convention. It was not tabled by any of the Working Groups Chairs for discussion and deliberation. When the Chair of COP15, prime minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, tried to table it somewhat irregularly at the end of the day, literally, he faced strong open and veiled opposition.

Then, the professionals came to the rescue. The plenary could not deliberate about such a “non-paper”. Delegates could not use the rules either to support or to reject their leaders doings. They could only take note of the Copenhagen Accord, with its meaningful parts, the appendices with the countries’ commitments of emissions cuts, as blank tables. This draft belonged to the politicians that started to negotiate its terms and abandoned it before it was completed. They can now complete it, fill in the blank tables, and adhere to it.

If they do it, and the tables show a meaningful effort on the part of the world’s bigger emitters, even if they fall short of the scientific requirements, than it becomes a meaningful deal. And only then, it could provide a guideline to a legal accord to be drafted and adopted by the Climate Convention, in Mexico City.

If there is progress, the promise of a midyear summit in Bonn, could even become an extra session of COP15, to vote a second Protocol that would either replace or complement the Kyoto Protocol. Today, it seems unlikely that there will be progress enough for a legally binding agreement in June or July. Let’s hope an agreement becomes possible until COP16.

Copenhagen has not ended only with this half blank “non-paper”. There was meaningful progress, not enough, not enduring if nothing else is done, not to meet the expectations, or the dimension of COP15. Yet there was visible and tangible progress.

This meeting was unprecedented in almost everything. It was the largest gathering of global civil society ever in the history of the Conference of the Parties. It was the largest and widest media coverage ever of a COP. It briefly hosted the larger number of heads of state and governments for an environmental summit ever, since Rio ’92.

COP15 began on a very different political note. It was clear that diplomacy and formal UN procedures had been taken by politicization. The first day was marked by the leakage of the so-called “Danish document”. On the second day, Tuvalu provoked a political maelstrom that would never dissolve. It was only fair that Tuvalu should start the movement that led the final plenary session to reject the attempt by COP15 president to table the Copenhagen Accord.

A delegate from the IPCC told me during the moments of perplexity and dismay, after the leaders left Bella Center without addressing COP15, that “it was no longer about science, but about politics”. COP15 was never about the science, it was always about the politics of climate change.

From the point of view of the science of climate change, Copenhagen was a major failure. From the perspective of the politics of climate change, there was important progress.

First, for the first time since the climate talks have been gridlocked, I’d say since COP4 in Buenos Aires, the governments of the world largest emitters have committed to mitigation actions. Their targets may not be in line with the science of climate change, but they’ve crossed the crucial political line separating denial from commitment.

Second, the Copenhagen Accord, if honored by the leaders that have negotiated it, if the countries fill in the tables with their quantified national actions, can serve as an instruction to delegates to draft a formal proposal for a legal document to be adopted by the Conference of the Parties. This document could then be adopted by the plenary of the next COP.

Third, there were minimal, yet meaningful, advances on the positions of the two major emitters: the US and China. Brazil and India have also changed their attitudes and assumed commitments they have also consistently denied before.

Fourth, the target of 2oC has been accepted and institutionalized as a global mitigation goal.

Fifth, the finance deadlock has been solved. If the blanks on the Copenhagen Accord are filled by the first quarter of 2010, the fast-track US$ 30 billion for 2010-2012 will be available. If an agreement is formally reached in Mexico City or before, a long-term fund will be created, and by 2020 there will be a significant sum of at least US$ 100 billion a year to finance mitigation and adaptation actions by developing countries.

Sixth, there was progress on technology transfer, another point of stalemate.

Seventh, there was progress on monitoring, or rules on measurable, reportable and verifiable actions. An issue that almost led to a political incident between US and China. The two countries negotiated the issue, with the intermediation of Brazil and India. Barack Obama and Wen Jiabao talked during a meeting of the BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) at Bella Center. President Lula intermediated the talks. India prime-minister, Manmohan Singh, proposed an WTC like solution for reporting and verification, that was acceptable by both parties.

Eight, the practical disruption of G77, and the new roles assumed by the “African” group of countries, the AOSIS (small island states) and the BASIC countries allowed a new geopolitics of climate change to fully emerge. These new groupings are more coherent and their interests are clearer. This new division largely prevents emerging powers to manipulate small country’s veto powers on their favor.

Ninth, it has become clear, as president Sarkozy has stated, that the UN process is on the verge of exhaustion. The climate change issue is bigger than the institutional arrangements under which it has been negotiated. A new system for climate change governance is needed. However, a new institutional setting, particularly a new climate change multilateral organization cannot be created before we have a new legal agreement that encompasses all major nations of the world. It seems likely that this new framework for the global governance of climate change is finding its place in the global agenda.

These contradictory results; the extraordinary display of vigor by global civil society in Copenhagen and around the world; coverage by about 3500 accredited journalists and many thousands of citizen journalists; the unprecedented presence of more than 100 chiefs of state and governments and their dismal achievement; real progress towards solving the complex net of issues and interests gridlocking a global climate change deal, all are ingredients of a historic event. Two weeks not to forget.

Tags: , , ,