Post-Copenhagen: The Road Forward?

A new report by Australian-based Climate Institute puts a hopeful spin on the result of Copenhagen Accord, Erwin Jackson & Will McGoldrick, Global Climate Policy post-Copenhagen: Problems and Prospects, The Climate Institute, Discussion Paper (April 2010). The report’s advocacy of a “new multilateralism” could generate some excellent discussion in classes. While the report contains a lot of discussion of Australian policy, this might be an interesting perspective for students in other countries given Australia’s interesting position in climate negotiations (recent ratifier of Kyoto, very high per capita emissions, major dependence on coal, complicated internal politics in seeking to reduce its emissions).

Among the report’s take-aways:

  1. While not establishing a legally binding agreement, the Copenhagen helped to establish the key components of a potential political consensus;
  2. One of the most significant developments of Copenhagen was the commitment for the first time of emerging economies (e.g. China, India, South Africa) to economy wide¬† reductions in emissions or a commitment to slow down the rate of the growth of emissions. Over 80% of the world’s emissions are covered by the Accord vs. only 25% under the Kyoto Protocol. Most importantly, it breaks through a critical political barrier, as many developed countries had conditioned future commitments on participation by major developing country emitters;
  3. Since October 2009, at least 154 new policy announcements to meet targets and mandates have been enacted, the largest number ever recorded. This includes investments in renewable energy that have substantially exceeded fossil fuel investments, including substantial investments in developing countries. Global investments in clean energy is projected to reach $200 billion in 2010. These investments are helping to build political constituencies that could drive long-term business decision-making;
  4. On the other hand, the primary purpose of international negotiations are to facilitate national decision making, and based on this criteria, the Copenhagen Accord was not a success because the pledges made by UNFCCC parties to date are inadequate to prevent an overshoot of the 2C target, a target which the parties have also acknowledged may prove to be too high, especially regionally;
  5. The two potential future responses to climate change at the international level are an extension of the Kyoto Protocol or a new treaty, or a pledge and review system, whereby countries make voluntary pledges that are reviewed by the international community. While a treaty would provide for more international accountability, the voluntary approach has been critical to engendering voluntary commitments by developing countries
  6. The issue of long-term targets remains a difficult challenge in terms of the relations of developed and developing countries; for example, even if developed countries were to reduce their emissions by 80% by 2050, many developing countries would still view this as inequitable since developed countries per capita emissions levels would still be 2-6x above that of developing countries;
  7. Unless developed countries meet their financial commitments under Copenhagen, international climate negotiations would unravel. While the U.S. has begun to seek to meet its pledge through the appropriations process, many other industrialized countries have yet to make announcements about short-term financing. It is hoped that the new High Level Advisory Group will help to galvanize the process;
  8. It’s important that negotiations continue to occur through the UNFCCC, the only forum that provides a voice for the world’s most climate vulnerable States. However, one of the reasons that the Copenhagen process faltered was that it attempted to do much. Thus, agreements on specific issues, e.g. REDD and techn0logical transfer, may take place in alternative, and smaller, fora. Issues associated with emissions commitments should also take place in other fora, e.g. the G20 or the Major Emitters Forum;
  9. The threat of border tax adjustments means that the WTO will probably have an important role to play in future climate policy making. The challenge of the Air Transport Association of America to the UK’s extension of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme also demonstrates the potential role of other regimes;
  10. A technical review of the compatibility of commitments made to date and the goal of limiting temperature increases to 2C above pre-industrial levels would be advisable, at a minimum, to ensure that we don’t pass critical thresholds, which could happen soon.

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