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Where do we go from here? That is the question we are all asking ourselves after Copenhagen. We have to begin by understanding the lessons of what went wrong but also recognise the achievements that it secured.
This was a chaotic process dogged by procedural games.
Thirty leaders left their negotiators at 3am on Friday, the last night to haggle over the short Danish text that became the accord.
The procedural wrangling was, in fact, a cover for points of serious, substantive disagreement. The vast majority of countries, developed and developing, believe that we will only construct a lasting accord that protects the planet if all countries’ commitments or actions are legally binding. But some leading developing countries currently refuse to countenance this. That is why we did not secure an agreement that the political accord struck in Copenhagen should lead to a legally binding outcome.
We did not get an agreement on 50% reductions in global emissions by 2050 or on 80% reductions by developed countries. Both were vetoed by China, despite the support of a coalition of developed and the vast majority of developing countries. Indeed, this is one of the straws in the wind for the future: the old order of developed versus developing has been replaced by more interesting alliances.
Would it have been better to refuse to sign and walk away? No. Of course it was right to consider whether we should sign. But to have vetoed the agreement would have meant walking away from the progress made in the last year and the real outcomes that are part of this accord, including finance for poor countries. Some of the strongest voices urging that we agree the accord were countries like the Maldives and Ethiopia.
Countries signing the accord have endorsed the science that says we must prevent warming of more than 2°C. For the first time developing countries, including China, as well as developed countries have agreed emissions commitments for the next decade. If countries deliver on the most ambitious targets, we will be within striking distance of what is needed to prevent warming of more than 2°C. These commitments will also for the first time be listed and independently scrutinised, with reports to the UN required every two years.
We have also established an unprecedented commitment among rich countries to finance the response to climate change: $10-billion a year over the next three years—starting to flow now—rising to $100-billion a year by 2020, the goal first set out by the British prime minister in June.
In the months ahead, these concrete achievements must be secured and extended. We must work to ensure that developed nations in particular, such as Australia, Japan and the EU nations, deliver on the highest possible emissions cuts. And as the US Senate considers its legislation, it is important it delivers not just the 17% reductions offered so far but the deepest possible.
Finance for poor countries must flow straight away, which the decision agreed last Saturday enables us to do. We must also agree new ways to raise revenue to meet these commitments, which the working group established by the accord will propose.
We should also mobilise all the countries that want a legal treaty to campaign for it. The voice of small island states and African countries were the most resonant at these talks. For their people, most vulnerable to climate change, they know we must have a legal framework. Together we will make clear to those countries holding out against a binding legal treaty that we will not allow them to block global progress.
There is a wider question, too, about the structures and nature of the negotiations. The last two weeks at times have presented a farcical picture to the public. We cannot again allow negotiations on real points of substance to be hijacked in this way. We will need to have major reform of the UN body overseeing the negotiations and of the way the negotiations are conducted.
The challenge for all of us is not to lose heart and momentum. The truth is that the global campaign, co-ordinated by green NGOs, backed by business and supported by a wider cross section of the public, has achieved a lot. We would never have had targets from so many countries, the engagement of leaders, and the agreement on finance without this sort of mobilisation.
My fear that Copenhagen would pass people by without comment turned out to be unfounded. But the lesson of Make Poverty History is that we must keep this campaign going and build on it. It needs to be more of a genuinely global mobilisation, taking in all countries.
Today many people will be feeling gloomy about the results of their efforts. But no campaign ever wholly succeeds at the first time of asking. We should take heart from the achievements and step up our efforts. The road from Copenhagen will have as many obstacles as the road to it. But this year has proved what can be done, as well as the scale of the challenge we face. - guardian.co.uk
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