by Martin Khor
16 December 2009
Deadlock at Copenhagen climate summit
With only days to go before political leaders arrive, the Copenhagen climate summit is in the grip of
a deadlock over the future of the global climate regime
More than half way
through the UN Copenhagen Climate Conference, the fate of the meeting
lies in the balance between partial success and outright failure.
The conference has just completed its first week. The more difficult
and tense part will come this second week, when a hundred Presidents
and Prime Ministers are expected to attend on 17 and 18 December.
The hope is that they will be presented with a draft of an “agreed outcome”
or Declaration that the officials and Ministers have prepared. But
the way the talks have gone so far, it is more likely the political
leaders may have to make some of the key decisions themselves.
There are just too many key issues still unresolved. As predicted last
week by Global Trends, the biggest contentious issue that has emerged
in the last few days is the shape and structure of the future global
The developed countries, especially Japan
and Europe, are insisting that a new
agreement be established that replaces the present Kyoto Protocol.
Almost all members of the UN Climate Convention are members of this
protocol, with the United States as a notable exception.
Since the US does
not want to join, the other developed countries don’t want to continue
being in it, and instead want to set up another treaty that includes
the US but that also places new obligations
on the developing countries to act on their emissions.
This is unacceptable to the developing countries, since the new treaty
will most likely not place strict and legally binding commitments on
the developed countries to cut their emissions, unlike the Kyoto Protocol.
Moreover the developing countries under the present rules are not obliged
to take on legally binding emission-cutting commitments, and they don’t
want to be pushed at this late stage into taking on new obligations
that is not mandated in the Bali Action Plan and that they fear will
adversely affect their economic development, particularly since the
promise of finance and technology transfer has not been fulfilled.
When new drafts
of the decisions were issued last Thursday at the conference by the
Chairs of the two main working groups, Europe and Japan
led an attack on them as they were based on the premise that the Kyoto
Protocol would remain. For more than a day they even refused to engage
in the talks on the Kyoto Protocol, and instead wanted consultations
with the Chairs to see if their texts could be modified.
At a plenary meeting last Friday, Europe and Japan again voiced their opposition
to the texts. The extension of the Kyoto Protocol won’t solve the need
to reduce emissions, they said. A “single agreement” that also includes
the US and
the developing countries is needed instead.
At the same meeting, the developing countries insisted that the Kyoto
Protocol continues and that the developed countries agree to cut their
emissions of Greenhouse Gases by at least 40% by 2020, compared to 1990
levels. And that separately, through Decisions in the Convention, the
should commit to a similar effort in a Decision in the Convention, while
the developing countries would take voluntary mitigation actions, supported
by finance and technology transfers.
In the past weeks, some developing countries have been announcing national
targets. For example, China stated it would decrease the
emissions intensity of its GNP by 40 to 45 per cent by 2020 compared
to the 2005 level. For each unit of output, it would emit 40-45% less
Greenhouse Gases. This is quite an ambitious target, which is more
than the developed countries themselves have achieved in recent years,
according to a Chinese scientist at a forum held at the conference centre
But the Europeans were not impressed, saying that the Chinese target
is not enough. And at the conference, they and other developed countries
kept stressing that the developing countries have to commit to do more,
such as to deviate from their “business as usual” emissions level by
15-30% by 2020.
Such an obligation is not what was agreed to at the Bali
conference two years ago, and has been rejected by most developing countries,
which are ready to make national targets voluntarily but do not want
to bind these targets in a treaty.
They argued strongly for a “two track” outcome in Copenhagen. Track 1 is an agreement for a second
period of the Kyoto Protocol (starting 2013) in which developed countries
(except the US) commit to deep emission cuts.
Track 2 is a set of Decisions in the Convention in which the US
will make a emission-reduction commitment similar to the other developed
countries, while developing countries agree to take mitigation actions
backed by finance and technology (and these are subject to being measured,
reported on and verified).
“The lack of progress in the negotiations and lack of will by developed
countries to engage is unacceptable, and we are opposed to their intent
to kill the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding instrument we now
have,” said the Group of 77 and China chairman, which is Sudan.
Malaysia said it was disappointed
with the developed countries’ attitude. “Any efforts by them to deny
their historical responsibility will slow down the negotiations,” it
“The sanctity of the two tracks must be maintained and we must avoid
any side-stepping from our main work to conclude the second period of
the Kyoto Protocol,” said India.
China also stressed the twin track system was what was agreed by the
world in Bali, and now the world was watching again as the conference
has only a few days left, while developed countries have not shown the
political will to act.
chided the developed countries, which is responsible for 75% of the
historical emissions in the atmosphere, for wanting to kill the Kyoto
Protocol in order to deny repaying the climate debt they owe to developing
countries and to Mother Earth. “Now they say they want to wait for
others to pledge before they make their response. That’s not a responsible
As the wrangling went on in the conference halls, over 100,000 people
marched through Copenhagen
streets, demanding action as well as “climate justice” from the world’s
The deadlock in the talks, especially on whether the Kyoto Protocol
will survive and whether there will be an outcome in two tracks, or
a new single agreement, is threatening a successful conclusion to the
conference. Only days remain before the Presidents and Prime Ministers
turn up on 17-18 December, hoping to sign a historic climate deal.
Whether there is a partial deal, which must at least include the architecture
of the climate regime, or only an agreement to keep on talking, remains
to be seen.
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