22 December 2009

Making a big deal out of a bad deal

By: Kaavya Nag

Nations of the world had a small window of opportunity to zero-in on a deal that would begin taking serious steps towards preventing dangerous climate change. Admittedly, the decisions would not have been easy to take, nor to follow through. But certainly, taking those hard decisions would have been the right thing to do.

Never before has there been such large-scale political willingness to act on climate change. And thanks to the Danish Presidency, never before had 112 heads of state come to a climate conference to lock-in some serious ambition. But that opportunity was lost because leaders managed to cook the climate soup and evaporate all ambition.

If only you peruse the Copenhagen Accord, you will see the glaring absence of two things crucial to a strong deal – numbers and strong legal terms.

Copenhagen Accord: What it says and [doesn't say]
Deep cuts in global emissions to limit temperature rise to 2°C [Targets for emission cuts, mid-term and long-term global goals]
Peaking of global and national emissions as soon as possible [Peaking year (even if only an ideal number)]
Enhanced action on adaptation (focus on small island states, Africa & least developed countries) [Mechanisms for action on adaptation]
Industrialised countries to implement (individually or jointly) economy-wide emission targets for 2020 [Details on who does how much, proportion of offsets, level of compulsion (legal or not) for targets and finances]
Developing countries - implement mitigation actions – communicated through National Communications every two years [For major economies no required deviation from BAU, details on national MRV procedures]
Scaled-up, new and additional financing and improved access to finance. Focus on mitigation, adaptation, technology transfer, capacity building and reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD). 30 billion USD fast-start financing for 2010-12, and 100 billion USD per year by 2020, particularly through a Green Climate Fund through a variety of sources.
Assess implementation of this Accord by 2015 [Proportion from public financing, who gives how much, how to convert pledges into action, mode of disbursing finance]

Leaders will defend the Accord saying it was the one saving grace of Copenhagen. It was the reason the talks did not collapse. The UN will try too. They are undoubtedly in serious denial. And if they think they will achieve much in Mexico City in 2010, they are sadly mistaken. That is, unless they give their negotiators some strong mandates for the planet and not their individual countries.

Yes, the Copenhagen Accord is a start. And yes, it can become something solid – once numbers and strong legal language come in, and once it becomes legally binding. But that is possible if and only if environmental integrity is preserved even in its most starved form. The Copenhagen Accord was simply not enough. It pales in comparison to what the science requires (it can in fact, almost assure us of a 3 degree Celsius world). It does not even ensure low-lying island states of their survival beyond 2050 or thereabouts, and at its core, it is by no means ethically sound - it cares two paisa for the planet.

The blame-game has begun, and while that is not a fruitful exercise, I am most tempted to ask all leaders who drafted that agreement – what were you thinking? 

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