Danish text hijacked Copenhagen talks

Editorial, Normal

The new round of talks on climate change next year should learn from Copenhagen’s mistakes, writes MARTIN KHOR. There should be no undermining of the open, inclusive and multilateral way of making decisions.


IT has been two weeks since the Copenhagen climate conference ended but the aftershocks from its failure are still reverberating.
Leaders, mainly from Europe, are pointing fingers at other countries.
It makes for a bad ending to 2009. It does not bode well for the new year, during which there will be a second and maybe final chance to get a real agreement on an issue involving humanity’s survival.
We need to look forward, build on what was achieved this year, and prepare to sprint towards the new December 2010 finishing line. But first, the misinformation put out in the past few days has to be corrected.
Britain’s climate minister Ed Miliband, backed by other British individuals, has incredibly turned on China as the villain that “hijacked” the conference.
 The evidence he gave was that China vetoed an “agreement” on a 50% reduction in global emissions by 2050 and an 80% reduction by developed countries.
There was indeed a “hijack” in Copenhagen, but it was not by China. The hijack was organised by host government Denmark, whose prime minister convened a meeting of 26 leaders in the last two days of the conference in an attempt to override the painstaking negotiations taking place among 193 countries throughout the two weeks and in fact in the past two to four years.
That exclusive meeting was not mandated by the climate convention. Indeed, the 130-strong G77 and China, representing developing countries, had explicitly told Danish prime minister Lars Rasmussen not to come up with his own “Danish text” to be negotiated by a small group that he himself would select.
Despite assurances that there would not be such a Danish text, the Danish government produced just such a document, and it convened exactly the kind of exclusive group that would undermine the United Nations’ multilateral, participatory and transparent process.
Under that process, two working groups had been trying to decide on the issues of the climate agenda (mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology, a shared vision and further Kyoto Protocol commitments) in an inclusive manner.
It was clear that Copenhagen could not adopt a full agreement, or even a core agreement, simply because basic differences remained in key areas.
Copenhagen should thus have been used to close as many gaps as possible and bring forward the most up-to-date documents arising from the two working groups (with the differing positions as options) for continued work with a new deadline to finish next year.
It should have been designed as a stepping stone. Unfortunately, the host country and the UN leadership called on heads of states and governments to come to “seal the deal”, and selected 26 of the 110 top leaders who came in secret.
They were given a draft Danish document that mainly represented the developed countries’ positions, thereby, marginalising the developing countries’ views.
By hijacking the conference from the inclusive negotiations downstairs to the secret conclave upstairs, the host country was apparently hoping to get for the developed countries what it could not get from the legitimate process.
Meanwhile, most of the thousands of delegates were diligently working for two weeks on texts on the many issues, often way past midnight.
The chairs of the working groups produced up-to-date reports containing draft decisions that contained texts that in their view represented the latest state of play.
These reports, which went through hours of discussions by the thousands of delegates representing all the members, were finally adopted by the conference.
They should have been announced as the real outcome of Copenhagen, together with a decision to resume and complete work next year.
It would not have been a resounding success, but it would have not been a failure. And it would have helped to build the trust and confidence needed to complete the work.
Instead, the organisers chose to convene the small group of leaders, and opened themselves to the meeting being criticised as illegitimate and the document being rejected.
The failed attempt by the Danish presidency to impose an overriding process of a small leaders’ meeting with its own accord onto the only legitimate multilateral process is the reason why Copenhagen will be considered a disaster. The accord itself is weak, mainly because it does not contain any commitments by developed countries to cut their emissions in the medium term, as mandated by the Kyoto Protocol and the Bali Action Plan.
Perhaps the reason is that the national pledges so far announced amount to only a 11%-19% overall reduction by the developed countries by 2020 (compared to 1990), a far cry from the over 40% that recent science requires.
To deflect from this great failure on their part, the developed countries tried to inject long-term emission-reduction goals of 50% for the world and 80% for themselves (by 2050 compared to 1990).
When this failed to get through the 26-country meeting, some countries, especially Britain, are now blaming China for the failure of Copenhagen.
In fact, these targets, especially taken together, have been highly contentious during the two years of discussions. They would result in a highly inequitable outcome where developed countries get off from their responsibilities and push the burden onto developing countries.
Together, they imply that developing countries would have to commit to cut their emissions overall by about 20% in absolute terms and at least 60% in per capita terms.
They would have to severely curb not only their emissions but also their economic growth prospects, especially since there is no genuine plan for financial and technology transfer to help them shift to a low-emission path.
The developed countries have already completed their industrialisation on the basis of cheap carbon-based energy and can afford to take on an 80% goal, especially since they have the technological capacity.
For a minimally equitable deal, they should commit to cuts of at least 200% to 300%, or move into a negative emission territory, to enable developing countries the space to develop. Fortunately, these targets are absent from the accord.
The negotiations next year can thus consider what is a fair and equitable way to share the costs and burdens of adjustment to a climate-friendly world.
l Martin Khor writes a weekly column for The Star newspaper in Malaysia, focusing on environmental issues.