Copenhagen: Desperately seeking a strong deal

Will Friday be the day that politicians in Copenhagen save humanity, an Africa delegate asked on Thursday night.

At the beginning of the last day of climate-change talks in Copenhagen, analysts at the conference believed a strong deal at this stage was merely pie in the sky and a new Climategate questioned the political will of leaders.

On Thursday there were signs of progress, although this was smaller than baby steps.

Many delegates were still holding out for a strong political agreement in the absence of a legally binding one, but there were fears that the world could end up with a ”greenwashed” deal.

United States Secretary of State Hilary Clinton promised money when she committed her country to a $100-billion-a-year global climate fund from 2020 for adaptation. But the US still shied away from putting strong emission cuts on the table and the promise of money was very much linked to a deal in Copenhagen with ”American conditions”.

Expectations were high that the US might commit to even more. The European Union also seemed to back down from its attempts to ”kill Kyoto” when French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in his speech that Kyoto could be kept.

A huge sticking point the for negotiators was an attempt by rich countries to replace Kyoto with a new overall agreement, something the developed world objected to, saying that Kyoto was all they had at the moment and that replacing it would be disastrous.

Observers described Sarkozy’s speech as ”reconciliatory”, but Clinton’s promises received less enthusiasm, with some NGOs describing it as weak, and with too many strings attached.

And on Thursday evening a new controversy, or ”the real Climategate”, broke at the conference when a confidential UN document was leaked to the Guardian about what the current negotiations mean for the world.

Though science dictates that to keep global warming under two degrees Celsius is necessary to save the world from a weather catastrophe, the emissions cut that nations at the talks have put on the table would lead to global temperatures rising by an average of three degrees Celsius.

This could potentially result in 50% of species facing extinction, as well as leaving hundreds of million people at the mercy of the weather, scientists have warned. The UN document doesn’t specify when the temperature rise would reach three degrees Celsius, but analysts believe that could be by about 2050.

The document reads: ”Unless the remaining gap of around 1,9-4,2Gt is closed and Annexe 1 parties [rich countries] commit themselves to strong action before and after 2020, global emissions will remain on an unsustainable pathway that could lead to concentrations equal or above 550 parts per million (ppm) with the related temperature rise around 3C.”

The leaked documents make it clear that any claim that negotiators at the Copenhagen climate conference are aiming to hold temperature increases to 1,5 or two degrees Celsius is a sham, said NGO The organisation is an international climate campaign working for a ”real deal” that meets the latest science.

According to, Climate Interactive (a climate analysis group), using a software model written at top US scientific institute MIT, currently estimates that the globe will see temperature increases of 3,9 degrees Celsius and a CO2 concentration of 770ppm by the year 2100 if the current emissions reduction plans are implemented.

”Twelve million people have called for a real deal that holds temperature increases to two degrees,” said Ben Margolis, director of the TckTckTck campaign.

”The stark message for world leaders at Copenhagen is that the proposals on the table — especially from industrialised countries — fall far short of what the world needs,” said Keith Allott, head of climate change at WWF-UK.

The very last sentence of the document says, without a trace of irony, that the estimated temperature rise of three degrees Celsius ”will reduce significantly the probability to stay within a temperature increase of two degrees Celsius”.

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Yolandi Groenewald
Yolandi Groenewald
Yolandi Groenewald is a South African environmental reporter, particularly experienced in the investigative field. After 10 years at the Mail & Guardian, she signed on with City Press in 2011. Her investigative environmental features have been recognised with numerous national journalism awards. Her coverage revolves around climate change politics, land reform, polluting mines, and environmental health. The world’s journey to find a deal to address climate change has shaped her career to a great degree. Yolandi attended her first climate change conference in Montreal in 2005. In the last decade, she has been present at seven of the COP’s, including the all-important COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. South Africa’s own addiction to coal in the midst of these talks has featured prominently in her reports.

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