Looking for Silver Linings

23Dec09

Copenfailure, Tokenhagen, Flopenhagen, Dopenhagen….
The Danish city has certainly proved a fertile ground for creative ways to express disappointment.

While much remains unclear about what the Copenhagen Accord will mean in practice, it is clear what it has failed to deliver:

  • No tighter limits on greenhouse-gas emissions.
  • Nothing legally binding
  • Not enough money made available for adaptation, and no clarity about how it will be administered.
  • No commitment to negotiating a binding agreement in future.

But are there any silver linings that can be unpicked from the Copenhagen process and the final outcome?

Here are my nine:

  1. The poorest and most vulnerable nations made their voices heard, with Tuvalu, the Maldives and other AOSIS states, as well as African nations demonstrating that climate change matters for every country on earth. As Dessima Williams of Grenada said, in the final plenary of the ‘Friends of Chair’ process that led to the Accord “We were there; we saw the process as legitimate”.
  2. Individuals showed that they are ahead of their governments. A global climate movement on climate change has emerged over the past few years. On the streets of Copenhagen, around the world, and increasingly through consumer as well as civil action its voice is being heard. The 1,500 youth advocates at the summit provided many of the highlights of the summit, including a memorable run-in with the demon deadmaster of climate denial , lightening the mood with cartwheels and songs during the dark nights when negotiation completely came off the rails and holding their leaders to account through adopt a negotiator man-to-man marking , and impassioned speeches and actions.As Christina Ora, a 17-year-old from the Solomon Islands told delegates “I was born in 1992. You have been negotiating all my life. You cannot tell us that you need more time.”
  3. Progressive business became a force to be reckoned with. From the US BICEP coalition and the international Climate Group, to significant contingent of businesses from Brazil and China talking up low-carbon opportunities, to the old man of business-at-the-summit engagement the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, business was out in force in Copenhagen, not only those ‘BINGOs’ defending old industrial interests, but those calling for the rules change needed to catalyse a new industrial revolution.
  4. At least it didn’t end in complete deadlock. The Accord salvaged something from two years of painfully slow talks and two weeks of fruitless final chaotic negotiations, when it looked like they might end with nothing at all. The Accord is an honest statement of what little agreement there is. It is weak on commitments and short on details, but at least it is abundantly clear where the gaps are now, no longer buried in 200 pages of text and ongoing ‘nearly there’ negotiations.
  5. The need for quantified action by both developed and developing countries was recognised. The negotiation of the Accord brought together the major emitters, crossing over developed and developing country lines and bringing together the countries where the major emissions and opportunities for abatement will be found. This will be crucial to turning around global emissions, and was the major weakness of the Kyoto Protocol.
  6. World leaders engaged. The Accord was negotiated in an extraordinary 11th hour process, by heads of state themselves. Climate change is being taken seriously and at the highest level. While global negotiation will go forward to Mexico, the real business of change depends on national, regional and state policy. This is now in the hands not just of climate and energy bureaucrats, but of national leaders who have got to grips with the issues and negotiated what they needed to go back go back and overcome their own political obstacles to action.
  7. We can get on with early action. The Accord enables, or at least does not stop, early action, and money flowing to protect forests and invest in adaptation which is urgently needed to grasp opportunities, build trust, create sound national institutions and learn what works. It is now time to get that money moving through bi-lateral and regional relationships.
  8. The limitations of UNFCCC process have been made abundantly clear. The disappointing lack of ambition of the Accord, has shown that we need new approaches to setting rules and monitoring progress on climate change, to get as far, and as fast as we need to. Multi-lateral institutional reform has for once been wrenched out of nerdy obscurity and is being acknowledged as a necessary part of the solution.
  9. ‘Low-carbon growth’ was the one that got away. The commitment to develop ‘Low-carbon growth plans’ ended up being edited out of the final accord. Perhaps this is a lucky escape. Green-growth is already on its way to becoming the prevailing economic approach of our time. It will require mould-breaking business innovation and strong national competitiveness strategies aligned to low-carbon prosperity, it will mean changing individual behaviours and shifting cultures, organisations and the way cities are built. It needs flexibility, new thinking, learning across boundaries and serious political will motivated by national self-interest. And urgency. As the Copenhagen process has demonstrated UN Summits and imposed conditionalities are not the best way to catalyse these qualities.

These ten points are cold comfort against the harsh reality that we have failed to strike anything like the hoped for strong deal on climate change and the impacts for the climate, for the global economy and for the most vulnerable nations can only be bad.
But they do give some pointers for where we should be concentrating in the new year:

  1. Real low carbon growth strategies – Nations, regions and industries must work out what a low-carbon future could look like for them, what it means for jobs, skills, investment and regulation and international collaboration, and how to get there
  2. Effective early action – Countries that have pledged money for adaptation, mitigation and forestry must get the money moving, and make it additional to ODA. Countries receiving funds should build national institutions capable of robust management and driving transformation. Brazil’s Amazon Fund offers some useful lessons.
  3. Institutional innovation – We should use this chance to re-imagine how the global commons can be stewarded. Calls for a tighter negotiation process limited to Major Economies will have to be reconciled with the need for processes that enable the broad reach of nations, states, regions, civil society and business to play a meaningful role in developing coherent solutions.
  4. Business action – Copenhagen may not have delivered the carbon caps, prices and long-term certainty that business was calling for, but the technical opportunities to do things smarter, cleaner, better and for more people are still out there. And so are the challenges of adapting to the harsher climate.
  5. From campaign to culture change – Despite all the noise around Copenhagen, climate change, deforestation, clean energy and energy efficiency are still not mainstream, everyday issues, the kind that win or lose elections. As the campaigners would say ‘we’re not done yet’.


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