New Article on the EU and the Copenhagen Accord

Christian Egenhofer & Anton Georgiev have published an interesting commentary on the European Union’s take on the Copenhagen Accord in the Centre for European Policy Studies Commentaries series, The Copenhagen Accord – A first stab at deciphering the implications for the EU (Dec. 2009).

The paper argues initially that the Accord is viewed more favorably in the United States than the EU, which the authors maintains is a function of different expectations and perspectives. In terms of expectations, the authors argue that the EU exuded excessive optimism in believing that the presence of an unprecedented numbers of heads of state would break the logjam in the negotiations, despite the fact that these very same leaders had been encouraging negotiators to maintain inflexible positions, and had telegraphed for months in advance that a binding agreement was not likely at COP15. Second, the authors make the interesting observation that the negotiations were probably far too complex for heads of state to conclude, necessarily raising issues associated with trade, intellectual property rights, technology transfer and tranformation on the macroeconomic level.

In terms of perspectives, the authors set forth a stark contrast between the developing countries view of climate change mitigation as largely as damper on economic growth, and the EU and some other industrialized countries narrative that climate change policy can promote economic growth and green jobs (the same framing that the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress have employed in supporting climate change legislation in the United States). Second, while the UNFCCC emphasizes historical responsibilities in terms of framing mitigation options, many developing countries maintain there is a developed country “carbon debt,” which needs to be payed back before developing countries should be required to take action. As the report points out, this position is problematic, since goals reducing emissions by 50% by 2050 cannot be effectuated without active participation by developing countries. The authors also indicate that many developing countries and economies in transition frame the the issue primarily in the context of adapation.

While the Copenhagen meeting might ostensibly be judged a failure because the Parties failed to establish an international successor agreeement, the Coenry suggests that there were several positive developments, including the pledge by developed countries to seek to mobilize $100 billion 2020 to address climate change in developing  countries; progress in developing a mechanism to act on forest degradation and deforestation; and a commitment by developing countries to address adaptation more effectively. Also, the recognition of the need to limit temperature increases to 2C is cited as a positive development, but “falls short of providing a credible pathway for reaching this objective.”

In the most interesting section of the Commentary, 

of the report, the authors argue that the Copenhagen Accord may constitute a transformative architecture for international climate change policy, moving away from the “top-down” Kyoto-style “targets and timetable” approach to a “portfolio approach,” whereby States establish unilateral pledges. The authors of the Commentary argue that this could scrap the original objective of “vacating and redistributing the remaining carbon space,” (i.e. the remaining carbon emissions that can occur without exceeding critical temperature thresholds).

As a consequence, those countries currently occupying the carbon budget will continue to do so in the future. The authors estimate that under the pledges of the Parties made at Copenhagen Annex I countries will used at least 25-30% of the remaining carbon budget, up to 36-43% for less stringent commitments. Coupled with emissions growth of emerging economies such as China, Brazil, Mexico, Korea or South Africa, the authors conclude that countries e.g. India and Indonesia could potentially have their economic growth ambitions compromised.

The Commentary also emphasizes that the pledges of Annex I parties, and India and China could consign the globe to a 3.2C increase by 2100 at best, with such level of emissions increasing the likelihood exceeding 2 to roughly 70%.

Finally, the Commentary speculates that Copenhagen may represent a new world order in terms of climate change, with negotiations largely limited to the United States and China, with most other countries left on the sidelines. The Commentary presents some interesting options for the European Union to ensure its relevance in future negotiations, including developing its own distinct positions, with an emphasis on historical responsibility and finance issues, or by pursuing a global pricing of carbon, including through legally controversial approaches such as the imposition of import tariffs against States not pursuing meaningful reductions in emissions.

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