The Copenhagen conference has now concluded, after extending past its anticipated closing on Friday night into mid-afternoon on Saturday. A total of 193 countries and 119 heads of state participated in the conference, including President Obama who made the most of his brief time in Copenhagen by inserting himself into a meeting with the leaders of China, Brazil, India and South Africa. The result was what has been dubbed “The Copenhagen Accord,” an agreement between the U.S. and leaders of these rapidly developing countries that was applauded by most, but not all of the other countries. In the face of objections from Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and other countries, the Conference of the Parties simply “noted” the Copenhagen Accord, rather than adopting it.
On Saturday I was interviewed by a Chinese reporter who asked for my reactions to what happened at the Copenhagen conference. This is how I responded:
“I think the Copenhagen conference reflected changing global political realities. China, Brazil and India are now vitally important because of their rapidly growing economies. Their interests no longer are entirely congruent with the rest of the G-77 developing countries. President Obama's direct negotiations with their leaders on the final evening of the conference reflected these realities and produced a result - the Copenhagen Accord.
The final deal is not surprising in light of the diminished expectations that prevailed before the conference due to the lack of progress toward a legally binding deal at the various meetings that took place over the past year. The conference did serve to smoke out more details on what important countries are willing to do, tempered by domestic political realities.
Perhaps the best that can be said is that the conference was not a failure. Virtually all 193 nations agreed that climate change represents a global crisis that demands fundamental changes in the world's energy infrastructure. The failure to produce a legally binding document mandating these changes reflects another global political reality - international law is moving away from multilateral consensus agreements due to the lack of a global enforcement infrastructure. What is developing instead is a kind of "global law" where countries borrow law from one another and a few principal approaches to common problems emerge.
Everyone understands the inadequacy of the commitments that were announced in Copenhagen. This understanding itself is a positive development even if the failure to achieve more dramatic emission reduction commitments was disappointing. As the damaging effects of climate change become more visible in coming years, domestic political support for more dramatic action is likely to grow in many countries. It will not be a legally-binding, international treaty that stimulates the shift to an alternative global energy infrastructure, but rather the growing realization that it is in every country's interest to mandate such action.”
A copy of the Copenhagen Accord is available online at: http://unfcc.int/2860.php.