TWN Info Service on Climate Change (May10/02)
5 May 2010
Third World Network

Leaked Danish post-mortem of Copenhagen fiasco
Published in SUNS #6918 dated 5 May 2010

Geneva, 4 May (Meena Raman) -- The Danish media have last week made public a confidential memorandum from the Danish Prime Minister's office dated 6 January 2010 entitled "COP15: analysis, perspective and strategy", which provided the Danish perspective on the Copenhagen Conference and the events leading up to the production of the controversial Copenhagen Accord.

The Accord was not adopted by the 15th meeting of the Conference of Parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) but was only taken note of, as it was criticised by several countries as stemming from a non-transparent and undemocratic process, involving only 26 countries in a secret meeting.

News of the memorandum was published in a Danish newspaper, Politiken, on 28 April and details of the memorandum were leaked to the media on 29 April. An English translation of the leaked memorandum was made available to the Third World Network.

A key point in the leaked memorandum was that in order to get a new legally binding climate agreement in Copenhagen, it was for the United States, "an absolute prerequisite for entering into an international agreement that China participated on similar terms, which specifically was expressed as a requirement for symmetry in the degree of obligation - though obviously not in what China actually undertakes."

The memorandum revealed that Denmark initiated an approach of a "single agreement" which would include commitments by both developed and developing countries and which would jettison the "Kyoto global outlook."

The memorandum also claimed that there was a "rift" within the United Nations, between the Secretary-General and his people (which went along with the Danish approach of a single global agreement) and the UNFCCC secretariat, which was more sympathetic to a "Kyoto Protocol universe" in which developing countries do not take specific commitments.

It also revealed that Europe had tried to form an alliance with some developing countries but this was overtaken by the United States and China, which formed their own agreement to their interests and which were pleased with the result. The memorandum lamented that finally in the last hours "Europe appeared to be the big losers."

A senior developing-country diplomat with many years of experience in the UNFCCC negotiations and who read the memorandum said privately that the memorandum reveals the arrogance of the Danish as organisers of the Copenhagen Conference, who are impervious to their own failings and duplicity. (See more details of the diplomat's comment at the end of the article.)

The memorandum stated that it was clear even before the Copenhagen conference that there were "lines of fracture" between the developing countries who wanted the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol where developed countries take on concrete commitments and developing countries contribute on a voluntary basis, and a "global political agreement" in which "a new global framework" which included commitments for developing countries would be established in Copenhagen.

"Even before the conference it became clear that the lines of fracture between the Kyoto Global Outlook', where only the industrialized countries take on concrete commitments and BASIC contribute on a voluntary basis, and "a global political agreement-world outlook" in which there would be established a new global framework in Copenhagen which included commitments also for developing economies, went across not only the groups of countries, but also institutionally within individual countries and organizations. The industrialized countries, which despite differences in ambition and emphases basically shared the perception that a new global agreement must rest on sets of obligations that also would include the developing economies," said the memorandum.

(The BASIC countries refer to Brazil, South Africa, India and China).

Reflecting the US view, according to the memorandum, for the Danish Presidency, the agreement in Copenhagen was to "include all countries in a political commitment that created a degree of symmetry of the commitment level, while respecting the differentiation of specific commitments. A complex of agreements of this nature would also (be) better than a Kyoto model (to) be able to absorb the very different climate initiatives of various countries and groups".

In early 2009, "it became clear that there was no basis to aim at concluding a new legally binding climate agreement," said the memorandum.

"Although the new US administration had declared its intention to sit at the forefront of negotiations on global climate, it was after the financial crisis also clear that the new US climate legislation had little chance to be finally adopted before COP15, and that such legislation under no circumstances would open the possibility of (the) US taking up a legal regime that was built around (the) Kyoto Protocol."

"Japan announced with strength not to participate in a second commitment period under Kyoto, unless (the) US did the same," said the memorandum.

"China and India, during MEF (Major Economies Forum) process in 2008, ruled out that they would undertake legal obligations in a new climate agreement. For these countries - as for most developing countries - the basic model was still (the) Kyoto (Protocol) with legal obligations for developed countries, supplemented by an agreement under the Convention', which first caught the US into comparable legal obligations', and formed the framework for major developing economies' voluntary contributions."

"It was thus clear that there could be reached one - or more - legally binding agreement (s) covering the world's largest emitters, and that the two-degree target, therefore, could only be maintained if the strategy began to be directed towards a global agreement," said the memo.

According to the memorandum, "the [Danish] Prime Minister launched the idea of one agreement - two purposes' at the International Parliamentary Conference at Copenhagen, on 24 October 2009 and he pursued through the following weeks this strategy through intensive contacts with colleagues."

"In the months leading up to COP15, all the major players thus signalled that they could support a global agreement based on the fundamental principles that the [Danish] Prime Minister presented on 24th October. Building support for a political agreement with immediate operational effect was further consolidated when representatives from 20 countries at the sherpa meeting in Copenhagen weeks before the conference discussed a first Danish draft for such an agreement. Although all commented constructively on the Danish draft, the meeting also sent a clear warning that there was no unity concerning the basis for the negotiations at COP15," said the memorandum.

"The danger signals applied basically to the Kyoto Protocol's future, acting as a proxy for the more fundamental questions about the extent to which the major developing economies' contribution to reducing emissions should be seen as an international obligation. It has with increasing strength been the view of the US and gradually also that of Japan and Europe that China in particular and other BASIC countries had to provide a degree of commitment at national (mitigation) efforts in return for obligations from the developed countries on extensive absolute reductions in both the short and longer term," added the memorandum.

Reflecting on the BASIC countries, the memorandum states that "in each of these countries you can foreshadow the contours of - at least - two schools': One that sticks hard to the industrialized countries' historical responsibility and believes any genuine commitment for developing economies constitute an effective limitation of their future growth opportunities, and thus the beginnings of a freeze of the existing global inequality. And another that sees a political climate agreement with balanced obligations as the beginning of a codification of a new economic world order within which the major developing economies take their rightful places' as a sort of collective superpower with China in front, even if it involves a degree of commitment. Both schools accept the need for extensive national efforts and enhanced international cooperation to tackle global warming. The difference lies in whether the international cooperation should include commitments for major developing economies."

The memorandum also alluded to differences of views between the UN Secretary-General who "backed" the Danish position and the UNFCCC Secretariat over the future of the Kyoto Protocol.

"It was a major complicating factor in the final stages of preparation process that conflicting signals emanated from the key players and also that (the) UN as an organization obviously was torn between the Secretary General and his people, who actively backed up behind the Danish debate line, and the UNFCCC Secretariat that probably accepted the idea of a political agreement', but explicitly saw it as a part of the Kyoto universe' within which developing countries do not undertake specific commitments. This rift opened a dangerous flank for Denmark as chairman country - which was further exposed by the fact that there wasn't built the necessary trust relationship between the UNFCCC Secretariat's leadership and the Danish COP-delegation," said the memorandum.

According to the memorandum, throughout the entire Copenhagen conference, it was "clear to the key players that the only possible positive outcome would be a political agreement that reflected the fundamental premises that had been put forward by the COP Presidency.

"What was not clear was whether an agreement could be made at all (regarding) the level of ambition and of the commitments of developing economies, including the issue of transparency.

"It may still be assumed that all four BASIC countries wanted an agreement, and that they agreed on the ambition level of 2 degrees (on limiting the temperature to 2 degrees Celsius). It must also be assumed that the lowest common denominator between them promised that this objective could not be translated into concrete targets and its implicit division of the future carbon budget. It was not a priori obvious how far the BASIC countries would move towards concrete formulations," said the memorandum.

According to the memorandum, "it became clear that especially the BASIC countries were extremely aware of the danger that a de facto alliance would be created between the developed countries and the most vulnerable developing countries with starting point in the high European and Japanese ambitions, and with US encouragement from the sideline."

"That built a pressure in particular on China to go further in the direction of concrete commitments and higher level of ambition. This threat was even more pronounced as such a development would drive a wedge between the four BASIC countries. India, South Africa and Brazil are well aware that the developed countries' historical responsibilities very well over the next decade can be surpassed by China and that they if anyone have a vital interest in a build-up of China's climate efforts," it added.

"Such a build-up is even less acceptable for China in a situation where (the) US could not announce final pledges (regarding its mitigation target). China's strategic response was already before the conference to actively forge the alliance between the big four (the BASIC), and throughout the conference to maintain this unity and connect it to a further developing agenda' which insists on the Kyoto model that could shield the BASIC countries from taking blows from industrialized countries," stated the memorandum.

"The first warning about how hard this line would be came with the leakage of the Danish negotiating text on the second day," said the memorandum. (The Danish negotiating text was leaked to the Guardian newspaper which published it in detail. At that time, according to the Danish media, Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen denied that the document was a draft text for a final document).

"The harm of the leakage was not the text itself, which was already known to all major players, but the accompanying spin, which produced the text as reflecting a deliberate attempt by the COP Presidency to load the responsibility for future climate responses on the developing countries.

"Thus also the myth of an impending coup' was launched and the tone was struck that continued throughout the conference until the last day, which effectively halted the Presidency's ability to produce an ambitious politically balanced text which (if any) could gather wide support among the players who wanted a broad agreement - and thus could expose those who did not," said the memorandum.

According to the memorandum, when US President Barrack Obama arrived on 18 December (the last day of the conference), he was briefed that an agreement could hardly be achieved. The US President was said to give "renewed impetus to the negotiations."

The Danish Presidency decided "to continue negotiations in the narrow group, even though it compromised the conduct of the summit itself," said the memorandum.

"For (President) Obama, it was imperative to bring an agreement back home that committed China and which contained a Chinese grant of transparency," it revealed.

This was needed to keep "the hope of a US climate legislation, and hence a meaningful global climate agreement. In this sense, the (European) desire for concrete targets was of secondary importance, which Obama made clear to the European leaders after he had traded the 50/50 goal (global emission reductions by 50% by 2050 based on 1990 levels) with Chinese formulation on transparency," said the memorandum further.

"For Europeans, this made it a bitterer pill to swallow when Obama was selling this as a great victory to the press, even before the final text negotiations were completed. In this very tense political atmosphere after the arrival of Heads of State and government leaders, all the underlying political conflicts and tensions were activated, while China and other BASIC countries on the one side worked to get Copenhagen Accord though in a pared down form that was compatible with their pre-established red lines, and on the other side, turned sharply to avoid an alliance to materialize at the last minute between the vulnerable developing countries and the ambitious developed countries," said the memorandum.

In describing the G77 in the negotiations, the memorandum said that "one should not underestimate the BASIC countries' difficulties in controlling the global UN instrument through the G77, which is hardly to be seen as a finely tuned organ that plays by the organist's score, but rather as a percussion lesson in a music school where the music teacher tries to set and keep pace, but where many [individuals] strike large and small beats, that only in the whole (and even then not always) follow a certain rhythm."

"While the political interest concentrated on negotiations on the Copenhagen Accord, the continuing negotiations in the two official negotiating tracks got stuck, so they officially ended with two brief procedural decisions which continue the mandate for negotiations under the Convention and Kyoto without specific reference to new legal instruments," said the memorandum.

Referring to the Copenhagen Accord, the memorandum said that "the outcome of political negotiations was, as is well known, an agreement, which as a result of the negotiation process and uncontrollable obstructive forces despite active and/or passive support from most countries, could not be formally adopted after the political leaders had left the city."

(Several developing countries including Tuvalu, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Sudan had objected to the adoption of the Copenhagen Accord due to its production through an undemocratic and non-transparent "super-green room" process.)

The memorandum said that "the US left COP15 with an agreement that despite the muddy course largely is optimal in the current situation. Obama was not isolated or forced to make promises that will harm his chances of getting the necessary legislation through Congress. The small but despite all, real progress concerning transparency and thus China's degree of commitment was the main goal for the US and the agreement is expected overall to enhance the possibility of getting the climate legislation adopted.

"For the US, it is a modest price - if not a direct benefit - that the 2 degree target is not translated into concrete reduction figures and that a potentially fierce debate about burden-sharing has been postponed until probably after the adoption of legislation in the spring. All in all a good result which greatly increases the chance that the US actually will join in a new agreement system. The US was for the same reason very positive with regards to Denmark's handling of the chairman's role and the course of the negotiations," said the memorandum.

"Also, China has reason to be pleased. The agreement reflects broadly the Chinese views and an acceptable degree of detail. Concessions to the US on transparency are after all marginal and the fundamental distinction between developed and developing countries is maintained with the two Appendixes. Throughout the process, the BASIC countries kept together and they avoided an alliance between ambitious developing and industrialized countries," it added.

According to the memorandum, "the BASIC countries are to some extent victims of their own strategy, which sought to make Kyoto synonymous with powerful, real commitments to both (emission) reductions and financing. They are aware that the Kyoto regime hardly can be saved but remain uncertain about what will replace it. It is characteristic that India officially considers it a victory that the agreement does not point to a legally binding form, while South Africa regrets the same.

"The Island States, the Africans and the least developed countries are generally satisfied with the agreement, not because it reflects the optimum for them, but because it contains large positive potentials, both financially and in terms of reductions," it added further.

"These countries are for the same reason, positive towards the Danish Presidency, but politically cautious because none of them can afford a conflict with any of the BASIC countries. They will therefore seek to promote the Copenhagen Accord as much as possible without getting on a collision course with BASIC countries. They have sympathy for the Danish efforts, not least what concerns obligations for developing countries, but they lack political strength to openly support them," said the memorandum.

"Japan and Australia are generally satisfied, because Copenhagen has been a first step towards that new global regime they both perceive as the only possible way forward.

"There is little doubt that the stated support for Denmark from both Japan and Australia also is linked to the fact that the two countries were themselves happy that it was Denmark and not any of them who had to go to battle to break with the Kyoto thinking'," it added.

"Finally, Europe in the last hours appeared to be the big losers. The EU had to watch both the level of detail and their chances to place responsibility evaporate as the US and the BASIC countries got together. For the major European countries, it was a brutal awakening to a new bipolar' world order where US interests are matched by China's, loosely backed by other large developing economies who in the crucial moment chose the Chinese rather than the European way. All European efforts to build alliances with both large and small developing countries were in the playoffs overtaken by the more straightforward safeguarding of interests by China and the US," said the memorandum.

In defining the Danish strategy for 2010, the memorandum states that "Denmark must in close interaction with Mexico seek to contribute to organize international cooperation on climate change through 2010 in the most appropriate way to obtain the strongest and fastest possible concretization and operationalization of the Copenhagen Accord."

The memorandum has drawn sharp reactions from some developing-country diplomats involved in the climate negotiations. A senior diplomat who was involved in the Copenhagen Conference and in the two-year process leading up to it said privately: "I see that the arrogance of the Danes remains intact. They seem impervious to their own failings, duplicity, attempts to cause divisions among UNFCCC members, and their unbelievable incompetence in handling the whole process in general."

"It also is dismal that, no matter how many grains of what may be perceived as accurate interpretation of intent are contained in the document, nowhere is there a trace of concern for climate change, for equity, or for humanity."

"There is just contempt for poor countries, which can be bought or manipulated as puppets. Is there some kind of self-analysis here? None, and the reference to the need for transparency is dismissed as some odd concept. I find the whole thing thoroughly disgusting," said the senior diplomat. +