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Copenhagen: A New Beginnning?

By Marianne de Nazareth

21 December, 2009

As I ruminate in the ‘plane headed home, after two weeks covering the Climate Change summit in Copenhagen, it is disheartening to state that the UN climate talks in Copenhagen were inches away from total failure and ended with an outcome far too weak to tackle dangerous climate change. The pledges were half-hearted and to many in my country President Obama’s stand was disappointing to say the least. “What was signed in Copenhagen is simply not sufficient to address a crisis that calls for completely new ways of collaboration across rich and poor countries. Plus personally I refute the carbon market concept of throwing money at the poor to carry on business as usual in the rich countries,” says Alwyn Fernandez, Chief of MYRADA India. “ India was forced to sign a ‘green washed’ political agreement with no legally binding teeth in it.”

Politicians around the world seem to be in agreement that we must stay below the 2 degree C threshold of unacceptable risks of climate change – in theory. However, practically what leaders have put on the table adds up to 3 degrees C of warming or more. And that leaves the AOSIS countries literally floundering in rising sea levels as their cut off request has been 1.5 degrees C.

Attention will now shift to follow up negotiations which need to fill out many details in the often vague accord. However, on a more positive note, hopefully this is the birth of a host of initiatives by countries, cities, companies and communities in our part of the developing world that are starting to build low carbon economies from the base up. It’s a good feeling to know that CDM projects will electrify villages and reforest waste lands for which nothing was being done in the past.

The draft Copenhagen Accord is a long way from developing into a legally binding framework for decisive action on climate change. A hastily drawn up treaty needed to be signed with the world’s eyes on Copenhagen all through the two weeks. But over the next one year hopefully by Mexico the world can see a better accord being reached.

What we have after two years of negotiation is the positive sign of the US coming on board and the promise of a 100 billion dollar commitment annually by 2020 by several countries including the US. However, none of the political obstacles to effective climate action have been solved.

The lack of clarity is illustrated by a call for a global peak in emissions “as soon as possible”, in contrast to the 2007 call of the IPCC for emissions to peak in 2017. And emissions reductions pledges remain far lower than what is required, showing a shortfall that would lead to 3 degrees C of warming even without considering extensive loopholes.

Copenhagen in retrospect of the knee jerk response of being a great disappointment, has been a big step towards a more inclusive deal in Mexico down the road. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in Copenhagen, “We in India are very vulnerable but nevertheless as responsible citizens we have taken on a voluntary reduction, regardless of this conference. The outcome may fall short of our expectations and 20010 could be when we could negotiate a real deal.”

So, looking below the surface, the Copenhagen Accord of 18 December 2009 could be considered the start of waking the world up to the crisis of climate change, no matter how ‘weak’ the outcome has been dubbed. For the iconic Polar bear, that 350 ppm request might not be met, but the world has woken up to the crisis and national measures will definitely help to kick in a change. Check out the accord text on


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