Copenhagen deal ‘devoid of any sense of responsibility’

High drama in the Copenhagen negotiations last weekend failed to deliver an agreement strong enough to save the world from climate change.

The Copenhagen accord is not a legally binding agreement, nor is it by a long shot a politically strong agreement. But it could represent the first step towards reaching both in Mexico City a year from now.

The accord is voluntary: countries who do not agree with it need not join it.

South Africa President Jacob Zuma played a leading role in the drawing-up of the accord, along with the leaders of China, Brazil, India and the United States, but the Mail & Guardian understands that it was not signed by the South African delegation.

It is also unclear whether the other four parties put pen to paper, and whether other countries adopting the accord, such as the European Union, have signed.

But there is an incentive in the accord that might encourage many developing nations to join: it promises $100-billion by 2020 to help poor nations deal with climate change.

The close cooperation of South Africa, Brazil, India and China during the summit was one of the bigger political shifts the conference registered. The four countries came under pressure from rich nations such as the US to commit to some sort of an emission cap and break from developing countries, South African negotiator Joanne Yawitch said. The countries met several times a day to plot their strategy to deal with the pressure. On Friday evening — the last day of the conference — US President Barack Obama burst into one such meeting. This was after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had avoided Obama for most of the day, and bilateral talks between Obama and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao had delivered little.

‘Oh, you are all here. I had some things to discuss with all of you so it’s good that you are together in the same room,” Obama was quoted as saying, ‘Mr Premier, are you ready to see me? Are you ready?”

The dramatic meeting, which was the birth of the accord, followed an attempt on Thursday night by 28 nations — including Indonesia, the European Union, the Maldives, the Basic nations (Brazil South Africa, India and China), Sudan and Ethiopia — to hammer out a political deal.

On Friday morning a draft of the text produced by the 28-nation negotiations started doing the rounds, and the draft eventually became the backbone of the Copenhagen accord.

Rich countries such as the United Kingdom tried this week to blame China for the conference’s inability to reach a legally binding agreement; but these countries were themselves attacked for the insubstantiality of what they were prepared to put on the table — with the US particularly thin in the commitments it offered.

Yawitch said the accord had the potential to move the negotiations forward, but ‘in our view we have still got a long way to go”.

She added: ‘These are multilateral negotiations and for it to be successful, people have got to have faith in the negotiating process.”

Some African delegates told the M&G that their voices had been swamped. ‘You sit across some of the most forceful people in the world, and you are basically not important. Off course your voice will not be heard,” one African delegate from the least-developed country group said.

The charismatic Lumumba Di-Aping, chairperson of the G77 group and the lead Sudanese negotiator, said the deal was ‘devoid of any sense of responsibility or morality”.

‘It is a solution based on the same values that funnelled six million people in Europe into furnaces,” he said. But it is understood that despite his grandstanding in front of the press, Di-Aping was silent during the closed negotiations.

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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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