21 December 2009: The climate negotiations in the Fifteenth Conference of Parties (COP 15) in Copenhagen has come to a sour end. The world’s high expectation for a meaningful and binding agreement is doused with icy cold water by a non-binding deal dubbed as “Copenhagen Accord” – a deal primarily brokered by the most powerful and leading polluter country in the world – the United States.
Having witnessed the drama and ‘actions’ of the climate negotiations for 12 straight days in Copenhagen, one thing became evident: the climate negotiations in the Conference of Parties is not a negotiation among equals; it can never be an international negotiation for the common good, the welfare of the people of the world and the environment. It is a political arena where the superpowers impose their interest at the expense of majority.
No Legally Binding Commitment to Reduce Emissions
Instead of raising the legally binding commitment for emission reduction under the Kyoto Protocol to levels advised by science and dictated by social equity, it proposes “individually or jointly quantified economy wide emission targets for 2020” – a “business as usual” formula denying historical climate debts of developed countries as well as their primary responsibility to mitigate climate change.
The Copenhagen Accord acknowledges the need to limit global temperature rise to a minimum of two degrees Celsius. Yet, it has no specific target and legally-binding commitment from rich countries to reduce actual emissions by 2020 or earlier.
Also, African countries see the 2 degrees limit of the accord as very dangerous, explaining that the agreed limit spells death and devastation to many African nations and peoples. African nations call for 1.5 degrees Celsius limit.
Even European Union President and Prime Minister of Sweden Fredrik Reinfeldt warns that the deal was not sufficient to meet its own 2 degrees limit target. The European Commission President José Manuel Barroso lamented, “…the level of ambition is honestly not what we were hoping for. I will not hide my disappointment regarding the ambition in terms of the binding nature or non-binding nature of the future agreement.”
The Sudanese representative, Ambassador Lumumba referred to the “Copenhagen Accord” as an instrument for murder since the 2 degree C limit stated there will already mean the extermination of most of Africa. He even likened it to the holocaust and demanded for the withdrawal of the document from the pages of UN history.
The main reason for the failure to have a legally-binding agreement for carbon emission reduction is the continued refusal of rich countries headed by the United States to cut their carbon emissions according to what is globally necessary. In a fossil-based driven and profit oriented global production and consumption, the US and leading capitalist countries fear that cutting their carbon emissions will devastate their economy thus losing their domination over the world economy. More recent studies declare that to avert catastrophic effect of global warming, an eighty percent global carbon reduction is needed from 1990 levels by 2020, factoring in the latest unforeseen rise in global greenhouse gas emissions.
United States and Capitalist Countries, Climate Saboteurs
The US has constantly opposed a meaningful climate agreement. It is the only industrialized country that has not ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. In the COP 13 in 2007 in Bali, Indonesia, the US was the lone opposition to have a climate agreement to address global warming. When the US was exposed as the antagonist and was isolated, it was forced to back down to have the Bali Roadmap. The Bali Roadmap established the process to come up in COP 15 with a legally binding international climate agreement that will replace the Kyoto Protocol.
But again, with its strong global political influence and by dangling billions of dollars, the US successfully prevented a substantive agreement in Copenhagen. The US accounts for almost 30% of historical global carbon emissions. While it is now next to China in terms of volume of emissions, the US is still the leading polluter in the world by population. It is the number one producer and consumer of fossil fuels. Yet, President Barrack Obama said that the US can only commit to a 4% carbon emission reduction by 2020, the lowest among the rich capitalist countries.
The US is however not alone in railroading the faulty accord. Its allies, Japan, Australia and European Union have also pressed for individually set emission targets, with commitments falling around puny 5%, 8% and 20% carbon reduction by 2020, respectively.
Venezuela President Hugo Chavez criticized the process of passing the accord as undemocratic. The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) composed of eight (8) Latin American countries criticized the Copenhagen Accord saying it did not undergo the normal negotiating procedure.
They lamented that the media was first to be informed of a “meaningful agreement” in Copenhagen, through US President Obama who held a press conference on the eve of the last day of the conference. He surprised everyone when he announced that the US and BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) have already reached a consensus and that 25 other heads of state already concurred on a draft Copenhagen agreement. The draft deal was however still being developed by a small group of 26 countries, dubbed as “Friends of the Chair.”
At 3:00am Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen, the Chairman of the COP15, hurriedly convened the COP/CMP to present it and adjourned the meeting almost disregarding the protests of the ALBA countries.
Costa Rica, Venezuela, El Salvador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Cuba, Egypt, Sudan and Tuvalu were strongly opposed to the deal.
Divide and Rule by Dangling the ‘Bacon’
For years before Copenhagen, the G77 group has been solidly pushing for a legally binding agreement and a significant carbon reduction commitment from rich industrialized countries. Yet cracks were coming out as COP15 drew near and climate funds were being dangled by developed countries. A turnaround was further induced when US Secretary Hillary Clinton announced a few days before the final day of the conference that the US will help shore up $100 billion annually to developing countries by 2020.
Later reports came from different heads of state of developing countries that they have received calls from the leaders of G8 members before the conference assuring them of financial assistance if there will be a deal in Copenhagen. The White House said President Obama last December 15 talked on the phone with Prime Ministers Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh to support a climate deal in Copenhagen.
The Philippines has also received such “midnight calls,” from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, when she visited the Philippines in November and announced that the US government does not expect a binding deal in Copenhagen. Two days before her arrival to the Philippines, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had taken the cue and issued a statement that the country “need not insist on deep and early cuts in carbon emissions.” The Arroyo government later kicked out those it perceived were mavericks and progressive individuals in the Philippine delegation, notably Ms. Bernarditas Muller who had been the Chairperson of the G77 + China in the climate negotiations.
Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Philippines were the first among developing countries to sign the Copenhagen Accord. In the deal the US and capitalist countries committed to create a climate fund to “aid” developing countries worth US$30 billion over three years and to work towards a US$100 billion a year by 2020. The fund was said to come both from public and private institutions.
More Market Based Climate Solutions
In the Copenhagen Accord another market based-mechanism was included and approved. This is the REDD Plus or ‘reducing emissions from forest degradation and deforestation in developing countries’. The idea behind REDD Plus is to award governments, companies or forest owners for keeping their forests intact. The financial rewards will come from carbon credits or financial payment by carbon emitters.
Critics of this market-based solution to climate change fear that the pretext of forest protection will make way for greater access of private corporations to public domain. Seemingly good sounding concepts as “sustainable forest management,” “forest conservation” and reforestation have historically been used to cause large scale evictions and loss of rights for indigenous peoples and local communities; subsidies to commercial logging operations in old-growth forests, in indigenous peoples’ territory or in villagers’ community forests; and conversion of land (including forests) to industrial tree plantations, with serious implications for biodiversity, forests and local communities.
The importance of REDD Plus was highlighted several times in the deal. Under point #7 of Copenhagen Accord, it is stipulated that one of the primary mitigation initiatives that the rich countries would finance are mechanisms that will establish REDD Plus in developing countries. Again, carbon trading – the business of selling and buying carbon emission credits – and finance, instead of real emission reduction, will be the primary sources of funding of REDD Plus.
The Copenhagen Accord at a time when the world reels from poverty and climate crisis, is a testament to the bigotry and inhumanity of the world capitalist system, the governments of the developed countries and their puppet governments in the South.
First and foremost, Copenhagen has failed to define a legally binding commitment to reduce global carbon emissions that the world’s climate change vulnerable peoples have demanded. Second, it was done undemocratically, in the tradition of the colonial and imperialist powers’ “divide and rule tactics,” at the expense of the welfare and interest of the majority of the world’s peoples. Third, it carries market based climate solutions that see the climate crisis as an opportunity to earn more profit for rich countries and their private corporations.
Copenhagen Accord will follow the same fate of the Kyoto Protocol.
It sells the dream to curb carbon emissions and address global warming but in reality, it leads the world to runaway global warming that dooms the world to more environmental destruction and people’s sufferings.