LOOKBACK: Climate talks in Copenhagen in epic fail | Inquirer News

LOOKBACK: Climate talks in Copenhagen in epic fail

02:33 PM November 30, 2015

PARIS—Barack Obama has taken to calling it a “disorganized mess. ” In the failure of the climate change conference in Copenhagen, in 2009, can be found the roots of the French strategy behind COP21 — the 21st Conference of Parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Here is a look back at the turbulent end, and the dashed hopes, of that conference.

READ: ‘COP21: Un succès est-il possible?’


Stunning end to turbulent summit provokes praise, outrage, confusion

By John Nery

COPENHAGEN—US President Barack Obama slipped back into the conference venue at about 9:30 p.m. Friday (4:30 a.m. on Saturday, Manila time) to join a closed-door meeting with leaders of the largest developing countries. He left less than an hour later, with a surprise deal that strengthened his political prospects at home, smoothed a sore sticking point with China—and threw the UN climate talks into an uproar.


On Saturday morning, or over 18 hours after the two-week-long negotiations were supposed to conclude, the delegates were still in conference, debating the merits of a controversial compromise, the so-called Copenhagen Accord, based on the side agreement the United States struck with Brazil, South Africa, India and China, the emerging economies known by the acronym Basic.

It was not supposed to turn out this way. The Copenhagen negotiations were the culmination of a two-year process that began in Bali, Indonesia. Denmark as host of the conference was expected to present world leaders on Dec. 18, the last day of the conference, with drafts ready for signing. But the negotiations in Copenhagen proved to be unusually difficult, with a growing divide between the developed world and developing countries and a high-profile battle of wills between China and the United States. The world’s two biggest emitters account for over 40 percent of global emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas responsible for global warming.

Many delegates regarded Obama’s arrival in this snow-bound Danish capital on Friday morning  as a final opportunity to break the deadlock in negotiations. But Obama’s much-anticipated speech, delayed by a couple of hours because of the US president’s involvement in direct negotiations, proved a major disappointment. His restatement of the American position on climate change issues and his veiled attack on China’s reluctance to accept internationally binding verification procedures to monitor compliance with its voluntary emission reduction targets cast a pall on the entire conference and deepened the delegates’ frustration.

By Friday afternoon, leaks from the Danish, Chinese and other delegations all but signalled the humiliating end of the negotiations. But Obama, who met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao for almost an hour after his speech, decided to extend his stay in Copenhagen, setting up a second meeting with the Chinese leader and inviting himself to a meeting of the Basic countries. In the end, the five countries agreed on a core set of points, including the contentious issue of verification. On this issue, the United States essentially agreed with the Chinese position of non-intrusive procedures, but defined with an eye on greater transparency.

When Obama slipped out of the venue for the final time, again using the largely empty press conference room to avoid the gaggle of journalists waiting outside the Danish delegation offices on the second floor, he did not answer questions. Is there a deal?, reporters asked. Obama did not even acknowledge the question, but his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who revived the climate talks when she arrived on Thursday, smiled broadly.

When word spread of the Basic agreement, the conference was plunged into confusion. But the hosts took advantage of the deal China welcomed and Obama called a “meaningful” first step.

According to European Union leaders, the Copenhagen Accord based on the Basic deal, drafted by a group of several heads of government formed by the Danish host into the “Friends of the Chair,” was completed about 40 minutes past midnight—or about two hours after Obama’s departure.


Deal attacked

Many of the NGOs tracking the climate talks attacked the accord as a massive failure, with about 200 activists immediately staging a protest outside the snow-bound convention venue at around midnight. Friends of the Earth called the sudden turn of events “a disaster for the world’s poorest.”  Avaaz slammed the “historic failure,” saying it marked “the collapse of international efforts to sign a binding global treaty that can stop catastrophic climate change.” Oxfam International described the climate deal as a “historical cop-out” and “a triumph of spin over substance.”

The WWF said: “After years of negotiations we now have a declaration of will which does not bind anyone and therefore fails to guarantee a safer future for next generations.”

Like the country delegations (called “parties” in the UN system), the environmental activist groups found different countries to blame. Oxfam pointedly noted that the Obama deal, “which was announced by the US, India, China and South Africa … [had] not been endorsed by the EU and many other countries.” Friends of the Earth deliberately excluded China. “We are disgusted by the failure of rich countries to commit to the emissions reductions they know are needed, especially the US, which is the world’s largest historical emitter of greenhouse gases. In contrast, African nations, China and others in the developing world deserve praise for their progressive positions and constructive approach,” chair Nnimmo Bassey said in a statement. Avaaz (which means “voice” in many languages) condemned the two biggest emitters equally. “While the US and China had some differences, they shared a determination to produce a weak agreement in Copenhagen.”

In the final and marathon plenary session which began at around 4 a.m. on Saturday, five countries vigorously objected to the proposed Copenhagen Accord, drafted by representatives of several countries. Sudan, Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua took turns condemning the proposal and blocking its adoption as an official UN document by consensus. Sudan sounded the harshest note, comparing the work to the Holocaust. The leader of the so-called Group of 77 and China was in turn roundly condemned by many who took grave offense at the comparison, including Canada, Australia, Norway and an eloquent Grenada.

Inglorious success

The host of the next Conference of Parties, as the UN forum is officially known, read a statement at 1:20 am welcoming the deal. “I know that this accord is far from what we expected and what the world needs,” Mexican President Felipe Calderon told reporters in Spanish. “Nevertheless, I am fully convinced” that the deal would take the work on climate change to the next level.

He was followed by Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, the current president of the European Union, and former Portuguese prime minister Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, who gave a news conference at 2 am. The European leaders were markedly more restrained in their acceptance of both the Basic climate deal and the Copenhagen Accord.

“This accord is better than no accord,” Barroso said. “Let’s be honest. There are good things and not-so-good things” in it. “I will not hide my disappointment,” he added, referring in particular to the lack of an “agreement on the need for a legally binding agreement,” a goal that many leaders, including Obama, saw as the next phase after Copenhagen.

“Let’s be honest to say that this is not a perfect agreement,” Reinfeldt said. “It’s a start that needs to be developed during the first half of next year.”

But Andreas Carlgren, Reinfeldt’s environment minister, stopped by reporters in the corridors, could not hide his sarcasm. “Let’s not kid ourselves. This was not a glorious success.”


LOOKBACK: The last PH president at a climate conference

PINAS TO PARIS: An Inquirer Group special report

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