“The Failure in Copenhagen”

Posted on March 11, 2010


(Translation of the blog in Swedish)

On 15 November 2009 in the “Focus” column [of the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet] I advanced the opinion that the climate negotiations in Copenhagen would fail (Read my blog). The reason was that they would not consider all the elements in “the global welfare equation”. They had forgotten about food and the economy. In their program “Documents from abroad”, SVT, the public Swedish TV channel, now portrayed what happened behind the scenes before the climate negotiations and has tried to find a reason for their collapse. The documentary followed two of the leading figures in the hidden power-struggle. The person responsible for drafting a treaty proposal was Michael Zammit Cutajar, but the spider at the centre of the web was Laurence Tubinan from France, founder of the French Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations.

The journey begins in Bonn in June 2009 where delegates from 192 nations gather under the leadership of the UN to negotiate on drafting of a treaty. The preconditions are that, by 2050, industrial nations will have reduced their emissions by 80%, developing nations will have reduced emissions by at least 40% and the poorest nations will have experienced economic growth that is CO2-free. Global emissions must be reduced without hindering economic growth and any deleteriously affected nations must receive assistance. Therefore, the negotiators also need to answer the question “Who will pay, how much and in what way”. Now, six months before the Copenhagen conference, the game can begin.

Of the world’s nations, on the EU has committed itself to reducing its emissions by 20% by 2020. An agreement based on the ambitious target that gives a reduction by 80% by 2050 is still distant. It is clear that all the delegates believe the IPCC that asserts that a continuation of the current rate of emissions growth until 2100 is possible [if nothing is done to reduce emissions]. Peak Oil, Peak Gas and Peak Coal are not on the agenda. Neither are any doubts about the possibility of a temperature increase of 6 C. Any reduction of future CO2 emissions can only result from politically binding decisions. Japan volubly announces that they are prepared to reduce their emissions by 8% by 2020 but nations with greater emissions – the USA, China and India – are silent. Laurence Tubinan moves behind the scenes. She tries to determine whether China and the USA have their own agenda. The big question is who will be the winners and who will be losers. If China and the USA agree on their own treaty then the EU may be one of the losers. The power struggle between the USA and China becomes evident. They leave Bonn without coming any closer to a text that everyone can agree on.

During the summer there are numerous developments and it seems as though the biggest players are willing to agree that it is important to have a “+2 C by 2050” limit as a target. How they will get there is still an open question. Japan suddenly announces that they are willing to reduce their emissions by 25% by 2020. China says that they will reduce their emissions intensity [e.g. emissions per unit GDP] but a strong increase in GDP will still mean increased emissions.

Bangkok is the next stop before Copenhagen. The treaty text and the economic framework are to be discussed. It becomes apparent that the world’s poorer nations must be part of the agreement but the distance between the positions of the parties is huge. The future of the rainforests is a decisive factor. Out of the blue the EU advances the view that they want a completely new protocol to replace the Kyoto Protocol but that is something the USA does not want to hear – rather they put forward a new position of their own. They want voluntary measures with no sanctions and a voluntary climate fund is to give developing nations the capital they need. The EU wants a completely different solution but it seems as though the USA has seized the initiative. Negotiations continue until the last moment and it is obvious that the delgates will not agree on a joint text.

And so we arrive at Copenhagen. The IPCC says that the meeting in Copenhagen is a big step forward. They hope that it will demonstrate the world’s united willingness to tackle a shared problem. They believe that the meeting will be a watershed for humanity. 15,000 delegates gather in the Bella Center and during two weeks they will arrive at an historic solution to the climate crisis. In addition, there are 20,000 observers and 3,000 journalists present (Blog on my visit in Copenhagen). The UN can declare that 119 heads of state have reported that they will attend and Copenhagen becomes a city under siege. For Michael Zammit Cutajar and Laurence Tubinan their moment of truth is approaching. Will two year’s work result in success or was it all for nothing? Suddenly Denmark submits a text that the delegates begin to discuss but it is soon rejected by the developing nations. The day before the ministers are due to arrive there is no text to negotiate on but then Michael Zammit Cutajar takes up his pen and works on a new proposal. Negotiations on the text continue throughout the night and at 8.30 in the morning the new text is distributed. They close the doors behind the negotiators and the TV cameras are kept outside. After two hours China announces that it can accept the text. The developing nations say the same. The ministers can now attend. Outside the Bella Center the temperature rises and 100,000 demonstrate. In the end, the delegates of the environmental organizations are forced to leave the Bella Center.

Now the text can be presented to the ministers but before Michael Zammit Cutajar is able to do this the Danish chair announces that, once again, they are presenting their own text that subsequently is met by opposition from among the delegates. The delegates consider it undemocratic not to continue with the text they have worked on for two years. They want to approve the text that Michael Zammit Cutajar has developed as the foundation for the negotiations. Then the chair stops the meeting. Many regard these events as a cave-in to pressure from the USA and the Copenhagen meeting is close to ending in a fiasco. Under pressure, Denmark is forced to back down and the negotiated text is finally tabled. Michael is thanked for his work and they have finally arrived at the final negotiations. The world’s environment ministers enter the scene but there is no agreement by the time the heads of state arrive. They now have less than 24 hours to arrive at an agreement. Brazil’s president Lula da Silva says that he believes in God, he believes in a miracle and that he wants to participate in this miracle. Finally, President Obama takes the podium and states that “Unchecked, climate change will pose unacceptable risks to our security, our economies, and our planet…. The question is whether we will move forward together, or split apart…. But here is the bottom line: we can embrace this accord, take a substantial step forward, and continue to refine it and build upon its foundation. … Or we can again choose delay, falling back into the same divisions that have stood in the way of action for years. And we will be back having the same stale arguments month after month, year after year – all while the danger of climate change grows until it is irreversible. There is no time to waste. America has made our choice. We have charted our course, we have made our commitments, and we will do what we say. Now, I believe that it’s time for the nations and people of the world to come together behind a common purpose.” It was clear that the USA had made a decision and that the rest of the world was expected to follow its lead. In an unprecedented move 28 of the world’s leaders sit down and negotiate with a blank piece of paper before them. Two years of negotiations on a text are tossed out. Now they discuss only a few points. As time draws on all emissions targets as well as other requirements become watered down. All that remains is that each nation will report on its own measures for reducing emissions. The EU had hoped for a completely different treaty and can now regard itself as a loser. The USA has taken over.

The text has shrunk to three pages and can be summarized in these points:
• Temperatures are not to rise more than 2 C but no countermeasures are described.
• All numerical environmental targets disappear – all that remains are voluntary measures.
• Developing nations agree to oversight of their actions but without any form of sanctions.
• A finance package of US$30 billion over three years is included in the agreement.
• A preliminary goal of US$100 billion of finance by 2020 is agreed, but the distribution remains to be determined.
• The rainforests will be discussed next year.

After 12 hours of debate they produce the “Copenhagen Agreement” on a protocol but do not approve it. One can state that Michael Zammit Cutajar worked for two years to produce a text but that, ultimately, he failed.

Now there remains only one hope for the future climate and that hope is “Peak Oil”, “Peak Gas” and “Peak Coal”. The circus directed by the UN during the previous two years has presumably been an unnecessary performance. In the summer of 2007 the Transport Forum (a subordinate organization of the OECD) gave me the task of preparing a report on future CO2 emissions from the perspective of resource limitations. I can only regret that they did not take my report to the OECD more seriously (read the report).

Posted in: Dagsaktuellt