09 July, 2010

Christiana Figueres’ political challenge on her way to COP16

Sergio Abranches
The Major Economies Forum – MEF, held in Rome between June 30 and July 1, used the Copenhagen Accord as a central reference regarding global climate change policies. At UNFCCC’s Bonn discussions last April, however, the Copenhagen Accord continued to be a matter of controversy and disagreement among the parties.

The MEF gathers seventeen major economic powers, not by chance also major carbon emitters. The “chair’s summary” of the “Seventh Leaders’ Representative Meeting” meeting mentions the Copenhagen Accord several times as a guideline for further progress. It says that “participants emphasized the importance of quickly implementing the Copenhagen Accord’s Fast Start financing provisions.” The communiqué also stressed the need for transparency and maximum clarity to build international confidence as a requisite for a balanced outcome in Cancun. Many participants argued the need to focus adaptation efforts on less developed countries particularly vulnerable to climate change. The note also informs that member countries “provided updates on their actions to meet their fast start financing commitments under the Accord.”

The MEF has also discussed the divisive issue of “monitoring, reporting and verifying” (MRV) emission targets, i.e. the transparency of emission reductions commitments. According to the chair’s summary “it was suggested that, per the Copenhagen Accord, there are essentially three areas of MRV to be addressed”, namely mitigation efforts of countries that are in Annex I of the Kyoto Protocol; financial and technological support of mitigation efforts of “non-Annex I” countries; and mitigation efforts of “non-Annex I” countries.

“Participants noted the various mitigation targets and actions listed under the Copenhagen Accord. They further discussed how such targets and actions might be reflected in a future outcome, including with respect to whether or not they should have a legally binding character, whether there should be a single instrument or two instruments, the timing of reflecting mitigation targets/actions, the application of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, and other aspects.”

The paragraph above shows that the Copenhagen Accord although a political signpost has left several crucial questions open to doubt or contradiction. The two-instrument issue, was clearly not adequately solved by the Accord. The doubt remaining is whether there should be an additional legally binding agreement for “non-Annex I” countries that ratified the Kyoto Protocol, and for countries that have not ratified it, like the US, and have registered emission reduction targets under the Copenhagen Accord, or a single new treaty binding to all and superseding the Kyoto Protocol.

This contradiction between the political support to the Copenhagen Accord by the leaders of the world’s major nations, and the resistance of the parties to UNFCCC to admit it into the official proceedings of the Climate Talks is a central issue the new climate secretary Christiana Figueres will have to deal with. If the Accord does not become an integral part of the Convention, it will always serve as a an escape route for countries that are associated to it and have registered their commitments in its annexes to avoid further binding commitments under the UNFCCC. It will also be used by recalcitrant parties to veto any progress supported by the majority of the parties at COP-16.

The Copenhagen Accord is clearly not a finished job. But is has a critical advantage over the UNFCCC. The Accord has the formal commitment of the major carbon emitters, with quantified targets for emission reductions. It represents the first portfolio of national actions ever to commit large emitters as the United States, China, India, and Brazil, among others. It covers over 80% of total emissions, far more than the Kyoto Protocol. It is clearly not sufficient to reduce carbon emissions to the safety level. But it is a major political resource that should not be neglected.

Although not legally binding, it has been adopted by the major developed and emerging powers as a politically biding reference. The UNFCCC’s Executive Secretary’s challenge is to find a way to positively use this political commitment to remove vetoes and to ensure that deals closed in Copenhagen are not reopened in Cancun. The Copenhagen Accord is a political tool that should be used to help nations move towards a new future climate treaty.

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