21 December 2009: Was Copenhagen worth it?

Yes, just. The Copenhagen Accord is vague and, having been negotiated by a small number of countries led by the US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa, was only “noted” by the Conference, not formally adopted. Some progress was made on finance and some on forest protection – though not nearly enough on either. None was made on targets. Targets and timetables are important in focussing the minds of politicians, business and the media. However, they are much less important than delivery (The practical effect of Kyoto targets), and delivery requires a business plan.

On finance, countries agreed that over the next three years an amount “approaching $30 billion” should be provided by developed countries to developing countries. This will be used both for dealing with the effects of a changing climate (“adaptation”) and reducing greenhouse gas emissions (“mitigation”). There will be a “balanced allocation” between the two. Japan has promised $11 billion for this, the EU $10.6 billion and the US just $3.6 billion. Obama’s failure to provide significant money – which is not controlled by the US Congress – is his greatest failure yet and the greatest disappointment of Copenhagen.

Developed countries also committed to a “goal” – which, in diplomatic parlance, is even less significant than a target – to mobilise $100 billion by 2020. These funds would come from public and private, bilateral and multilateral sources. Inevitably, politicians felt it necessary to establish yet another organisation to manage these funds, the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund. This will go alongside the Global Environment Facility, the Least Developed Countries Facility (part of the Global Environment Facility), the World Bank’s Climate Investment Funds and Carbon Finance Unit, the Adaptation Fund, the Clean Development Mechanism and the Clean Energy for Development Investment Framework (for more on each of these, see Climate Fund Info). Having numerous bodies is a waste of money and effort, so they should be brought together. And the fact that politicians promise money at a conference does not mean that it will actually be delivered. The G8 Summit at Gleneagles in 2005 promised more climate money, but very little has actually been produced (see Oxfam Briefing Note: The view from the summit – Gleneagles G8 one year on).

The Copenhagen Accord does say that the money must be “new and additional” – so not raided from existing aid budgets. This is a step forward, but makes it more important to work now to ensure that money is delivered.

On forests, the US, UK, France, Japan, Australia and Norway committed $3.5 billion for forest preservation over the next three years. The US will provide $1 billion of the total. This will be used to build capacity in developing nations to:

… monitor forest loss and set up the institutions needed to establish a robust and transparent system for avoiding deforestation”.

(See carbonpositive: REDD funding pledge aims to spur wider deal.)

The aim is to make the scheme fully operational, and much better funded, from 2013. This should be the top priority for the international negotiations in 2010.

However, the effort of those concerned to control climate change should now focus more on national (and, for Europeans, EU) politics and policy than on international negotiations.

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