The Final Day in Copenhagen
December 18, 2009
Q1: What is likely to be achieved at the climate change talks in Copenhagen?
A1: As the international climate change talks in Copenhagen draw to a close, it is clear that any progress made will be incremental with future success highly dependent on further negotiation. It appears that any declaration emerging from today’s meeting will reflect the broadest level of consensus and leave many key issues unresolved. Some progress was made in bringing major parties closer to agreement on issues of financing for developing country action, but major compromise is still being sought on the issue of how developing country action should be monitored, verified, and reviewed and on the overall level of emissions reduction by developed countries.
Q2: Will the outcome from the meeting meet expectations?
A2: The international community met over the last two weeks under the auspices of the UN 15th Conference of Parties with the goal to reach a new agreement on global action to combat climate change. Two years ago, the international community, working through the United Nations, established this meeting as the notional deadline for negotiating an international agreement on climate change to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires at the end of 2012. Toward the end of this year it became clear that the two years of negotiations did not yield enough progress for the process to conclude in Copenhagen. The Danish prime minister proposed instead the conclusion of an interim, political agreement with the goal of finishing negotiations on a final agreement by the end of 2010. The combination of these revised expectations and several notable political gestures and pledges in the weeks leading up to the negotiations (by the United States, China, India, Brazil, and others) led to a feeling of relative optimism about the potential outcome. Over the course of the negotiations, it became clear the developed and developing country blocks were still very far apart on many of the key elements of an agreement: emissions reduction pledges, monitoring and verification, finance, and the form of the agreement. The outcome of the meeting is not likely to meet any of the delegations’ expectations or aspirations for this conference. The question will be how this experience shapes what each country is willing to do in terms of future negotiations.
Q3: What comes next?
A3: The international community is keenly focused on the passage of energy and climate legislation in the United States. Many in the developing world and, indeed, several developed countries, would like to see more ambitious emissions reduction targets, as well as generous pledges for long-term financing for developing countries. If the United States fails to pass legislation that delivers significant emission reduction between now and 2050, future international climate change discussions will likely fall into disarray. The United States is the largest historical emitter of greenhouse gases and the second-largest emitter today. Without significant participation from the United States, the ability of the rest of the world to prevent dangerous levels of warming will be severely constrained. As Senator John Kerry said in his remarks at the Copenhagen conference, however, a failure to reach agreement in Copenhagen that includes commitments by the world’s largest developing countries and some transparency provisions will make it much more difficult to pass climate legislation. At the same time, international negotiators are slated to set plans to return to the negotiating table in the very near future to try and flesh out the details of the agreement. The question is whether or not the developed country block has been convinced by the experience over the past two weeks and, indeed, two years, that the UN process is too unwieldy to ever reach the scientifically robust, politically realistic deal that will actually lead to emissions reduction on a meaningful scale.
Note: Starting in January 2010 the CSIS Energy and National Security Program will host a year-long series of events focusing on the transition to a low-carbon future in a post-Copenhagen environment. For more information, contact Lisa Hyland (firstname.lastname@example.org). CSIS is also engaged in a center-wide project, supported by the MacArthur Foundation, focusing on energy, climate change, and regional cooperation in Asia. For more information on this project, contact Jeffrey Bean (email@example.com).
Sarah Ladislaw is a senior fellow in the Energy and National Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
Critical Questions is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
© 2009 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.