Halftime in Copenhagen

14 Dec 2009

Alexander Stathakis, project manager of the Sustainable Business Unit at UQ Business School provides an update on the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Copenhagen.

Can an agreement be reached? This is the big question which has been hanging over the conference ever since delegates from the 192 members to the UNFCCC came together in Copenhagen last week.

Leaked draft agreements and emails have been at the centre of debate in the early days of the conference. However, it soon became clear that the leaked "Danish text" was never intended for official negotiations, but has been one of many drafts which have been circulated weeks prior to Copenhagen. Reviews and commentaries have shown that the leaked emails show no evidence of falsification or fabrication of data.

So far, the conference has been a "duel of the drafts", perceived by some as a "four-corner-fight": The United States demanding stronger action from China, China insisting on more serious commitments from the US, Europe encouraging both China and the US to do more, and developing countries demanding even tougher, more ambitious targets, and more financial support from developed countries than proposed so far.

But there is progress. 192 parties are negotiating, talking to each other and trying to find agreement on how to effectively tackle global climate change. There have been significant advances on issues around forestry, adaptation mechanisms and technology transfer to developing countries. The European Union has pledged US$3.6bn per year until 2012 to help the worst affected countries deal with the impacts of climate change. On Friday, a key working group put forward a first official draft for a new global agreement to deal with climate change post 2012, which will form the basis of negotiations for this week.

It is too early to make predictions about the outcome in Copenhagen. Many questions remain. Will there be one legally binding agreement replacing the Kyoto Protocol, or will there be two, a continuation of the Kyoto Protocol and a new agreement to be developed? Should global warming be kept below 2°C, or even below 1.5°C as, for example, proposed by the Alliance of Island States? How much money should developing countries receive? How will climate change adaptation and mitigation be financed and managed? Will the European fund contribution be matched by the US and other industrialised countries? Who will commit to what emission (intensity) reduction targets? And how will REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) and LULUCF (Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry) mechanisms be integrated, managed and verified under a new agreement?

One aspect is already clear. There still is plenty of work to be done in the coming week. Each country has different capabilities to address climate change. An ideal solution would include differentiated, verified commitments from each country (or group of countries) within one single legally binding international agreement, which addresses the challenges posed by climate change.