Ten days after the close of the Copenhagen Conference a lively debate continues concerning what was accomplished and what the next steps should be. Last week Yvo de Boer, the UN official who had been in charge of the talks, called for an end to “fingerpointing” and “recriminations” after British climate minister Ed Miliband blamed China for blocking greater progress at Copenhagen, sparking an angry response from Chinese officials.
Some law professors are debating the legal status the “Copenhagen Accord” negotiated by President Obama with the leaders of China, Brazil, India and South Africa in the closing moments of what was scheduled to be the last day of the conference. Should it be considered “soft law” or does the fact that the Conference of the Parties (COP) simply “noted” its existence, rather than formally adopting it, deprive it of any legal force, and does any of this even really matter at all? Does the Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have sufficient authority from the COP to establish the financial mechanisms called for by the Accord including the Green Climate Fund and High Level Panel and to develop the transparency guidelines it promises? How many countries will submit emission reduction commitments to “fill in the blanks” in the Accord’s Appendices by January 31 and how strong will these commitments be?
The European press made much of the fact that market price of emissions allowances trading in the European Union (EUAs) dropped significantly following the close of the conference. While much of the global press portrayed Copenhagen as a failure, David Doniger, Policy Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Climate Center, hails the Copenhagen Accord as “a big step forward” (http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/ddoniger/the_copenhagen_accord_a_big_st.html). Doniger responds in detail to the most prominent criticisms of the Accord (e.g., it won’t keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Centigrade, it doesn’t specify the emissions cuts, the commitments aren’t legally binding, it threatens the future of the UNFCCC, it won’t move the U.S. Senate). Some who were disappointed that more was not accomplished at Copenhagen disagree sharply with his assessment, but Doniger argues that the Accord achieved far more than had been expected while making a necessary end run around obstructionist countries that rendered the COP process ineffective. Crucially, he challenges the notion floated by industry opponents of U.S. climate legislation that there is no hope for Senate action, arguing that Copenhagen actually has made such action more likely.
The huge turnout of civil society groups at Copenhagen may have made it seem like a zoo at times, but it also fostered greater contact between NGOs from all over the world. Guest blogger Huang Jing from the China Youth Climate Action Network described the interactions between Chinese and U.S. youth as one of the most exciting aspects of her experience in Copenhagen. For more information see her guest blog post from December 24.