Failure of the copenhagen climate conference

Copenhagen's Waterloo

The inevitable failure of the Copenhagen Climate Conference

At December 7, 2009, the United Nations Climate Change Conference will open in Copenhagen. The purpose for all 192 participating countries is clear: to sign a new global climate treaty as successor for the Kyoto Protocol, which will expire in 2012.[1] Although the conference has yet to start, it can already be seen as a total fiasco. At November 15, 2009, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, chairman of the Copenhagen Conference, said: "There was an assessment by the leaders that it is unrealistic to expect a full internationally, legally binding agreement could be negotiated in Copenhagen."[2] With these words, Rasmussen proclaimed that the target of reaching a new global climate treaty at Copenhagen has officially been postponed. He made this statement after attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Singapore where he and other world leaders, including those of the United States (US), China, Japan and Russia, agreed to adjourn the complex assignment of accomplishing a new global agreement on climate change in Copenhagen. With this decision, the Copenhagen Conference will be nothing more than another empty shell, one more conference without tangible agreements and significant measures to preserve nature. Rasmussen's notification confirmed what everyone knew beforehand: the Copenhagen Climate Conference is doomed to fail. In the preliminary analysis of the Conference, a clear statement can be made: the Copenhagen Climate Conference will result in a failure due to unrealistic emission reduction targets, major disagreements in funding programs and a generally large discrepancy in interests between participating countries.

In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was signed. All participating nations agreed to cut their carbon emissions to 5 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012.[3] The successor treaty, to be agreed at Copenhagen, intends to secure a further cut in global emissions from the developed and developing world alike, leading to a more or less total decarbonisation by the end of the century. [4] The main target of the Copenhagen Convention is to sign a binding agreement on new emission reduction targets for its participants, in order to counter the expected global temperature increase of 2C by 2050. This conformity was reached during the 2007 UN Climate Change Conference in Bali. To keep global warming under this limit, universal greenhouse gas emissions have to be decreased by at least 50 to even 85 percent in 2050 (with 2000 as base year).

For Western countries (the so-called Annex-I countries), the reduction targets will be even higher: they must realize a reduction in emission of 80 to 95 percent by 2050, with an interim target of 25 to 40 percent by 2020.[5] The commitments of emission reduction made by the Annex-I countries in the Kyoto Protocol, with respect to the year 2020, are not consistent with the strict requirements of Copenhagen. Even the European Union (EU), the most active and targeted Annex-I member of Kyoto, is unable to achieve its Kyoto targets and will thereby also not be able to attain Copenhagen's necessities.[6] Next to that, the Annex-I countries realize that Copenhagen's draconian emission reductions are not easily reconcilable with the desire for continuous high economic growth rates. The USA, the world's second largest emitter of greenhouse gasses and thereby most important Annex-I country, claims that Copenhagen's reduction targets are unrealistic and thereby refuses to bring forward some significant reduction targets for 2050.[7]

The incapacity of Western countries to meet Copenhagen's expected emission reductions has led to the fact that developing countries are not immediately inclined to accept absolute reduction targets for themselves. Moreover, the developing countries claim that large sums of Western money have to be made available to finance Southern technology transfer and adaption measures. This motivation is ethically justified: the West has created an enormous carbon debt to the South over the years.[8] Moreover, future problems due to global warming will mainly occur in the South, while those countries are not historically responsible for these problems. Recent estimates suggest that more than 100 billion U.S. Dollars a year is needed for Southern adaptation.[9] The West however, is not willing to make the relevant amounts available for the South and claims that it needs the money for its own pursuance of the reduction targets.

The negotiations about the emission reductions are thus, even before the convention has started, already in a structural impasse. The Western countries are not willing to implement scientifically necessary emission reductions, nor do they want to provide financial resources for Southern transfer and adaption measures. The Southern countries, largely clustered in the G77, do not want to accept binding reduction targets and claim that their economies are hampered too much without proper Western funding.

Another strong argument for Copenhagen's failure is the lack of a unified vision among its participants. The opinions of the major players lay simply too far apart to make an agreement in Copenhagen possible. China and India, the most important developing countries, suspect the West from planning to protect its own economy by so-called ''emission colonialism''.[10] By buying emission rights from developing countries, Western countries might avoid responsibility for reducing emissions and at the same time control the energy policy of the South like a colonist. This strategy is highly disputed, as developing countries do not want their energy policy to be determined by Western countries whose populations emit between 10 to 20 times as much greenhouse gasses per capita as they do themselves. The South supports the view that the rich countries are the major contributors to global warming and should therefore take the most responsibility.

It is also very doubtfully if the US will ratify any new agreement on climate change. The US government has always had great difficulties with passing an international climate plan through the Senate and Copenhagen will be no different.[11] Although Obama recently announced to attend the Conference and put a very high priority on a new agreement, it is very unlikely that the US will sign a new treaty. If it even would come as far as an agreement, the US will never participate in an agreement based on an international architecture. This means that any agreement concerning the US will be strictly national and will not be under the jurisdiction of a supranational authority.[12]

Furthermore, there is a heated discussion between the EU and the US over the counting system of emission gasses. The EU wants to hold on onto the current structure and system that was established by the Kyoto Protocol. The Americans, on the other hand, wants to take away most of the Kyoto architecture and replace it with a new system. European negotiators claim that rebuilding the counting system is unnecessary and would take too long. US counterparts argue that a new structure will improve the effectiveness of monitoring emissions.[13]

In addition, more countries experience national resistance against new strict emission reduction targets. The Australian government encounters growing political resistance to sign a Copenhagen agreement.[14] Russia has announced that it will increase its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 (!) percent in 2020 to stimulate the economy.[15] Germany favors a successor to Kyoto, but it is very unlikely to achieve any new reduction targets if German nuclear power plants will be decommissioned and replaced by coal plants.[16] Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have protested against the proposition of the European Commission to reduce greenhouse emission from their industries.[17]

Despite all the negative barriers and obstacles, Copenhagen has many supporters which claim that the chances of success are still very conceivable. Although they admit that Copenhagen may not give us a new binding treaty, they indicate that Copenhagen succeeds at bringing the international community together to discuss the global warming. They thereby point out that Copenhagen's success does not lay only in a new treaty, but also in triggering the awareness of the international world about the changing climate. This argument however can easily be invalidated. Copenhagen is not the first international convention on global warming, but one in a series of many. The very first conference took place in 1995 and it cannot be denied that it awoke the world to the dangers of a changing climate. Copenhagen on the other hand, will not be able to raise this awareness any further since the dangers of global warming have been universally recognized. This leaves Copenhagen as another empty shell in a series of desperate and unsuccessful attempts of climate conventions. Supporters of Copenhagen should thus realize that their argument is just an excuse to not have to face Copenhagen's unavoidable failure.

In conclusion, relying on the given arguments it can be claimed that the Copenhagen Convention will fail. A positive outcome of the negotiations is barred by the unrealistic goals and the disunion between participating countries.

Despite its failure, it will not be surprising if world leaders and other diplomats will conceal Copenhagen's insubstantial outcome with beautiful diplomatic formulations and hopeful expectations for the future, thereby referring to the already planned Mexico Convention in 2010. Nevertheless, we know the real upshot: even before the Convention has started, Copenhagen has already found its Waterloo.

Bibliography

Cooper, Helene. 2009. "Leaders will delay deal on climate change." New York Times, no: 327. New York Times on the Web, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/world/asia/15prexy.html (accessed November 2 7, 2009)

Grubb, Michael. 2009. "Copenhagen: the darkest hour." World today 65, no. 10: 4-6. International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, EBSCOhost (accessed November 21, 2009).

Hecke, Karel, Van. 2008. "From Kyoto to Copenhagen - towards an international climate change regime beyond 2012." Studia diplomatica LXI, no. 1: 199-240. International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, EBSCOhost (accessed November 21, 2009).

Helm, Dieter. 2008. "Climate-change policy: why has so little been achieved?." Oxford review of economic policy 24, no. 2: 211-238. International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, EBSCOhost (accessed November 21, 2009).

Levi, Michael A. 2009. "Copenhagen's inconvenient truth." Foreign affairs 88, no. 5: 92-104. International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, EBSCOhost (accessed November 21, 2009).

Tompkins, Emma L., and H. Amundsen. 2008. "Perceptions of the effectiveness of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in advancing national action on climate change." Environmental science and policy 11, no. 1: 1-13. International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, EBSCOhost (accessed November 21, 2009).

Verbruggen, Aviel. 2009. "Beyond Kyoto, plan B: a climate policy master plan based on transparent metrics." Ecological economics 68, no. 12: 2930-2937. International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, EBSCOhost (accessed November 21, 2009).

Winkler, Harald. 2008. "Measurable, reportable and verifiable: the keys to mitigation in the Copenhagen deal." Climate policy 8, no. 6: 534-547. International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, EBSCOhost (accessed November 21, 2009).

[1] Levi, Michael A. "Copenhagen's inconvenient truth." Foreign affairs 88, no. 5 (2009): 92-104. International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, EBSCOhost (accessed November 21, 2009).

[2] Cooper, Helene. "Leaders will delay deal on climate change."New York Times, no: 327. November 14, 2009. New York Times on the Web. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/world/asia/15prexy.html (accessed November 2 7, 2009)

[3] Tompkins, Emma L., and H. Amundsen. "Perceptions of the effectiveness of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in advancing national action on climate change." Environmental science and policy 11, no. 1 (2008): 1-13. International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, EBSCOhost (accessed November 21, 2009).

[4] Grubb, Michael. "Copenhagen: the darkest hour." World today 65, no. 10 (2009): 4-6. International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, EBSCOhost (accessed November 21, 2009).

[5] Tompkins, Emma L., and H. Amundsen. "Perceptions of the effectiveness of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in advancing national action on climate change." Environmental science and policy 11, no. 1 (2008): 1-13. International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, EBSCOhost (accessed November 21, 2009).

[6] Hecke, Karel, Van. "From Kyoto to Copenhagen - towards an international climate change regime beyond 2012." Studia diplomatica LXI, no. 1 (2008): 199-240. International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, EBSCOhost (accessed November 21, 2009).

[7] Grubb, Michael. "Copenhagen: the darkest hour." World today 65, no. 10 (2009): 4-6. International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, EBSCOhost (accessed November 21, 2009).

[8] Winkler, Harald. "Measurable, reportable and verifiable: the keys to mitigation in the Copenhagen deal." Climate policy 8, no. 6 (2008): 534-547. International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, EBSCOhost (accessed November 21, 2009).

[9] Helm, Dieter. "Climate-change policy: why has so little been achieved?." Oxford review of economic policy 24, no. 2 (2008): 211-238. International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, EBSCOhost (accessed November 21, 2009).

[10] Tompkins, Emma L., and H. Amundsen. "Perceptions of the effectiveness of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in advancing national action on climate change." Environmental science and policy 11, no. 1 (2008): 1-13. International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, EBSCOhost (accessed November 21, 2009).

[11] Helm, Dieter. "Climate-change policy: why has so little been achieved?." Oxford review of economic policy 24, no. 2 (2008): 211-238. International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, EBSCOhost (accessed November 21, 2009).

[12] Verbruggen, Aviel. "Beyond Kyoto, plan B: a climate policy master plan based on transparent metrics." Ecological economics 68, no. 12 (2009): 2930-2937. International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, EBSCOhost (accessed November 21, 2009).

[13] Helm, Dieter. "Climate-change policy: why has so little been achieved?." Oxford review of economic policy 24, no. 2 (2008): 211-238. International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, EBSCOhost (accessed November 21, 2009).

[14] Winkler, Harald. "Measurable, reportable and verifiable: the keys to mitigation in the Copenhagen deal." Climate policy 8, no. 6 (2008): 534-547. International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, EBSCOhost (accessed November 21, 2009).

[15] Verbruggen, Aviel. "Beyond Kyoto, plan B: a climate policy master plan based on transparent metrics." Ecological economics 68, no. 12 (2009): 2930-2937. International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, EBSCOhost (accessed November 21, 2009).

[16] Helm, Dieter. "Climate-change policy: why has so little been achieved?." Oxford review of economic policy 24, no. 2 (2008): 211-238. International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, EBSCOhost (accessed November 21, 2009).

[17] Verbruggen, Aviel. "Beyond Kyoto, plan B: a climate policy master plan based on transparent metrics." Ecological economics 68, no. 12 (2009): 2930-2937. International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, EBSCOhost (accessed November 21, 2009).

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