Copenhagen underway

The Copenhagen climate change negotiations are now underway, and there already seems to be a fair bit of rancour:

The UN Copenhagen climate talks are in disarray today after developing countries reacted furiously to leaked documents that show world leaders will next week be asked to sign an agreement that hands more power to rich countries and sidelines the UN’s role in all future climate change negotiations.

The document is also being interpreted by developing countries as setting unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for developed and developing countries in 2050; meaning that people in rich countries would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much under the proposals.

Hopefully, both developed and developing nations will appreciate the vital importance of producing a workable international agreement soon. If this cannot be accomplished this December, hopefully the talks will at least establish the foundation for future success.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

20 thoughts on “Copenhagen underway”

  1. What is the excuse for allowing developed nations to have higher per-capita carbon restrictions than developing nations? It seems so completely backwards it’s absurd.

  2. I presume the ‘excuse’ is a combination of the need to recognise different starting positions (e.g. it might be easier to build infrastructure from scratch that would have low emissions than to retrofit existing infrastructure to achieve that level of emissions) and the realpolitik of getting the developed states to agree.

  3. What is the excuse for allowing developed nations to have higher per-capita carbon restrictions than developing nations?

    I think it goes back to the idea of contraction and convergence.

    Ultimately, the whole world needs to cut to zero net emissions. Right now, per-capita emissions vary enormously from country to country. Under the contraction and convergence approach, people in high per-capita emission countries need to cut fastest, soonest, and most. They begin cutting emissions immediately.

    Meanwhile, people in developing countries continue to increase emissions for a while, but theirs never reach the levels previously attained in developed countries. They peak at a lower level, at varying dates in the future, and then begin cutting their emissions towards zero, as well.

  4. This political event is a good example of why not to treat climate change as a topic divorced from political reform, equity, the failure of capitalism, etc…

  5. Australia has just voted down their cap/trade plan. In the U.S. climate legislation is a probably unpassable mess that doesn’t reduce emissions anyway. World leaders agreed weeks ago that nothing really substantive will come out of Copenhagen. Just like at Bali, a wonderful communique will be put out congratulating everyone for all the progress that hasn’t been made and promising to have another important conference “real soon”.

    Meanwhile, Business As Usual continues as usual. The top down solution, even if were desirable, is unattainable. The bottom up solution is there for the taking. We can’t wait for the 1,400 limousine, 140 private plane, hotel filling, lobster and foie gras eating do nothings. The people who understand the necessity of energy transformation do not need governments’ or the U.N.’s permission – and it will be a long while if ever when we get their help – to change the world. Because their numbers are legion, the people who “get it” can go ahead and do it.

  6. Unequal allowance of carbon emissions per capita for developed and developing countries is a recognition of the possible.

  7. More and more I doubt that climate change is being approached in the right way. Both carbon tax, and cap-and-trade approaches assume that market based solutions are appropriate. But the current market is predicated on a cheap energy infrastructure, which itself was developed through massive subsidy.

    A recent study does by Toronto Dominion (reported on CBC’s National this evening, sorry I can’t find the link) suggested that instead of taxes or cap and trade, we could simply expropriate the assets of the 25 Canadian companies which produce 80% of the C02 and shut them down.

    Of course, we’d need to build a carbon-neutral infrastructure to replace the services those companies provide. But hey – there are plenty of people to do the work.

    The way I see it, there is no reason we can’t use climate change as an excuse to nationalize the economy – making corporations beholden to the people of Canada rather than shareholders only.

  8. IN THEORY, Copenhagen is a Conference of Parties (COP)—those parties being countries that have signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). And so, again very much in theory, the plenary sessions of the COP should be its grand events. This is where the UNFCCC’s signatories, which include virtually every country in the world, join in a grand session in the Bella Centre’s biggest halls to hammer out a treaty.

    But as theatre, the plenaries are dull; for negotiation they are useless. I sit writing this from the hangar-sized Tycho Brahe plenary hall. (All the halls here have recently been renamed for famous Danes. The other is named for Karen Blixen, also known as Isak Dinesen, the writer of “Out of Africa”. They used to be known as Plenary 1 and Plenary 2, but the organisers have been told not to refer to them by their old numbers, lest Brahe, male, be privileged over Blixen, female.)

    A speaker has just begun talking in French, and only about half of the journalists sitting around me have put on their headphones for interpretation. I doubt I am in a room full of francophones. Everyone seems to be e-mailing or surfing the web; a few are instant-messaging. Even those dutifully wearing their headphones have their heads buried in their laptops, and I don’t think they’re taking notes on what’s going on here in the hall. Looking around it seems about one in five of the reporters is paying attention to the stage.

    Reporting on the plenaries, such as it is, requires picking a few important words out of a mess of jargon-heavy verbiage. This is generally true for political speeches, but especially true in the formulaic confines of UN meetings. What does the speaker mean when she says that, regarding the Kyoto protocol, “the G77 will neither undermine nor prejudge the outcome of the LCA”? I think she means that the G77 still wants the Kyoto protocol, which binds rich countries to emissions cuts, but also wants the “Long-Term Cooperative Action” plenary, technically a separate negotiating track, which is meant to expand Kyoto, to come up with payments from rich countries to poor countries for green technologies. In other words, we still want you to cut emissions, but we want new cash too.”

  9. I point out again – why should we expect slight incentives placed on the free market should be enough to completely re-orient our economy towards carbon neutrality. We don’t have cheap oil or highways or any of our infrastructure as a result of the free market (who do you think developed the internet? containers? The free market?), so why do we have any reason to believe the free market is sufficient for this one.

    It’s hardly a “grand political experiment” to suggest massive subsidy is a way of de-carbonizing the economy. Massive subsidy is the history of our economy. It’s same old, same old.

  10. The incentives start slight and grow. There are some prior examples of such approaches working. For instance, if you compare the efficiency of vehicles in countries with very different fuel pricing approaches, it suggests that moderate economic incentives can produce significantly differing outcomes over time.

    Eventually, I expect that the carbon price will have to be several hundred dollars a tonne, in order to keep driving us towards zero. By that point, however, per-capita emissions should be a lot lower than now.

  11. Climate policy experts respond to outcry over Danish text

    Despite anger from developing countries over the leaked document, the negotiations are still on track for success

    Behind the raw passions that only a sketchy leaked document can unleash, what impact does this have on the negotiations, and the prospects for a deal? The chair of a conference is supposed to help countries explore areas of compromise, to help them strike a deal. Indications are that the Danish government has taken several shots at this – that the leaked document is one of several Danish proposals, albeit from the prime minister’s office.

    That said, some aspects of the situation are certainly novel. The president of the COP is actually the outgoing Danish climate and energy minister Connie Hedegaard, not the PM’s office. Given the round-the-clock globe-trotting diplomacy that Hedegaard has pursued all year, the fact that texts are emerging from other parts of the host country government has raised eyebrows. Second, the chairs of the various UN negotiating groups now worry about being rendered irrelevant. Third, developing countries are understandably anxious when they see a text so in tune with US demands.

    But it is important to remember that this kind of drama — the “leaking” of furtive texts, the kneejerk outrage – are part of the routine of climate negotiations. What happened yesterday will not derail the high-level talks in which so many countries have invested so much.

  12. No ‘Pass’ for Developing Countries in Next Climate Treaty, Says U.S. Envoy

    COPENHAGEN — The top U.S. climate negotiator stressed today that the next international global warming agreement must include major commitments from a suite of fast-growing countries; otherwise, greenhouse gas emissions will go up too fast to solve the problem.

    “If you care about the science — and we do — there’s no way to solve this problem by giving the major developing countries a pass,” State Department envoy Todd Stern told reporters during the third day of U.N. climate talks here. “We’re not talking about the same kind of need for actions from the vast majority of developing countries. But the major ones, it’s going to be absolutely essential.”

    Citing International Energy Agency data, Stern said U.S. emissions are peaking and will trend down over the next two decades, while 97 percent of the growth in greenhouse gases between now and 2030 will come from the developing world, with China contributing about half of that.

    “China — I’m not being critical — has an extraordinarily successful economy, and it’s in a different stage of development than we are,” Stern added. “But emissions are emissions. You’ve just got to do the math. It’s not a matter of politics or morality or anything else. It’s just math. And you cannot get the kind of reductions you need globally if China is not a major player in this. That’s the reality.”

  13. The ‘leaked draft’ non-story and Copenhagen journo-hype

    The latest story out of Copenhagen has to do with a leaked draft agreement put together by Denmark, the U.S., and the U.K. According to the Guardian‘s breathless coverage, the leak has climate talks in “disarray,” with developing countries at war with rich countries and the whole edifice getting ready to collapse. Disarray I tell you!

    Except the story is a tempest in a teapot. And you could have predicted as much before ever reading it, for reasons I’ll explain in a second.

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    First, on the story: The Guardian seems to have been duped. It’s now become clear that the supposedly new draft is one of several old drafts that have been floating around for weeks. For the most part they are boring and practical, though the anti-World Bank crowd is pissed. Regardless, the draft is of no particular significance in and of itself; it reflects longstanding points of tension between rich and poor countries but did not cause them.

    Nothing much to see here. How could you have known?

    Consider: Copenhagen maxed out on journalist registrations, at 5,000. (Supposedly there were more than 10,000 waiting in line after that.) The place is choked with journalists, not to mention folks from think tanks and NGOs who are supposed to be blogging. There are thousands of people crammed in a small area, all under instructions to update frequently with fresh news, all exhausted and stressed out, all hungry for something to write about.

    On the flip side, virtually nothing of significance to an international agreement will be decided before the final days, perhaps the final hours, of the talks.

  14. COP-15 and LDC misinterpretation of leaked draft deal – GCI MEMO re C&C,

    The ‘draft-document’ is re/from the 15th Conference of the Parties UNFCCC Copenhagen [COP-15].

    The Guardian reported it as ‘leaked’ to them yesterday in a story: –

    . . . . that spoke of anger from Developing Countries because, “The document is also being interpreted by developing countries as setting unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for developed and developing countries in 2050; meaning that people in rich countries would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much under the proposals . . . ” – [“Not allow poor countries to emit more than 1.44 tonnes of carbon per person by 2050, while allowing rich countries to emit 2.67 tonnes”].

    If that were true, Developing Countries with justification would be outraged. But this ‘interpretation’ is wrong and probably the result of [1] poor presentation by these authors and [2] a tendency for Developing Countries to remain blinded by anger as a result of the last twenty years of ‘poor performance’ all round . . .

    In fact, the words in the draft document * – when converted to numbers – mean that Developed Countries are offering Developing Countries a global-deal based on parity of emissions-limits/entitlements per capita globally by 2050. That is what a global cut of 50% by 2050 inside which an 80% cut by Developed Countries adds up to be.
    [Relevant text from draft below – relevant GCI material about C&C here: – ].

    It has for years gone by the name of contraction and convergence [C&C] as mentioned above [contraction of emissions globally to stabilize the atmosphere concentration of ghg and convergence to the equal per capita sharing of that ‘contraction-event’ globally by a date to be agreed].

    The UK Government’s ‘Climate-Act’ is based on C&C and Chair of the Government’s Climate Change Committee [Lord Adair Turner] told Parliament in Februrary that C&C is the “only basis that is doable and fair.” He also agreed that, “if, for reasons of urgency the rate of global contraction has to be accelerated, then for reasons of equity the rate of international convergence has to be accelerated relative to that.” [Global C&C examples at faster rates – scan-and-zoom pdf with numbers – on request].

    This situation at COP-15 is potential for a repeat-failure that can and should be avoided. The Government have been advised to make their presentation strategy and advocacy of C&C more UNFCCC-friendly [democratic?] and to invite Parties in by being less prescriptive of a chosen set of C&C. They have not yet – as this latest affair demonstrates – learned how to do this.

    Two current links for our own networked news on this: –

    * Shared Vision for Long-Term Cooperative Action

    3 bullet point two: –

    “Support the goal of a reduction of global annual emissions in 2050 by at least 50 percent versus 1990 annual emissions, equivalent to at least 58 percent versus 2005 annual emissions. The Parties contributions towards the goal should take into account common but different responsibility and respective capabilities and a long term convergence of per capita emissions.”

    Shared Vision for Long-Term Cooperative Action

    7 bullet point one: –

    “The developed country Parties support a goal to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases in aggregate by 80% or more by

    2050 versus 1990.”

  15. Here is a C&C-scenario image with: –

    [1] numbers for fossil fuels only
    [2] for all-regions/all-years 2000-2050,
    [3] contracting globally to near-zero by 2050 and
    [4] converging to equal per capita globally by 2020
    [5] notionally consistent with the ‘agreed’ 2 degree maximum [it’ll be there for 28 days only]

    Use Acrobat ‘tools’ ’select and zoom’ then ‘pan and zoom’ to get big-picture and detailed numbers as-above simultaneously . . .

    C&C can be shown this way at any rates specified – it is my impression that something like this is now the next step.

  16. Something like contraction and convergence will eventually need to happen. The question is how to bring it about, following the failure at Copenhagen.

    Personally, I suspect it will involve blocs of countries with carbon prices that impose carbon tariffs on imports from countries without them.

  17. Beyond the COP-15 ‘Blame Game’

    The COP-15 Copenhagen blame game was sparked by failure to properly explain the ‘Danish Text’.

    COP-15 was not so much a “failure” as a postponement.

    We can still get beyond the Copenhagen deadlock, as we have all now
    agreed the “two degree” upper limit on global temperature rise. But
    first we have to get past the return to the politics of picking numbers
    out of a hat and the blame-game that has dominated the Copenhagen

    These post-mortems have been very noisy and Ed Miliband was strident in
    [wrongly] blaming China for the failure. Not that “blaming” per se
    really helps anyway. If there is blame it was (yet again) for generating
    a debate at cross-purposes and Miliband should share some of it. This is
    not to accuse him of being less than whole-hearted in his efforts – he
    obviously really was – but he was opaque and half-hearted in his
    understanding of what he was really trying to do. Maybe blame his

    The lack of clarity that dogged the talks emerged as early day two when
    the “leaked Danish draft proposal” appeared. Although it didn’t specify
    by name that the principle it was presenting was for the global
    “Contraction and Convergence ” (C&C) of greenhouse gas [ghg] emissions,
    the figures it advanced obviously were: – to avoid an overall
    temperature rise of more than two degrees, global GHG emissions must
    contract by 50 per cent by 2050 within which time-frame the share from
    developed countries must contract by 80 per cent. These targets are an
    example of C&C and would effectively result in equal per capita
    emissions globally by 2050.

    Though Ed Miliband has now claimed that he knew nothing about this draft
    proposal, these numbers are in fact precisely the global/UK emissions
    control figures in the UK Climate Act from a Department of which he is
    the Minister, so his claim of “ignorance” is baffling.

    Lord Adair Turner the Chairman of the Government’s Climate Change
    Committee [CCC] had confirmed in evidence to Parliament in February last
    year that the Climate Act was C&C, as “convergence to equal per capita
    emissions entitlements globally was the only proposition that was doable
    and fair”.

    With a calculating model to do the work, C&C was first formally proposed
    to the UNFCCC at COP-2 in 1996 by the Global Commons Institute. The C&C
    model will calculate any rate of global emissions contraction deemed
    necessary to meet the goal set by the UNFCCC for safe and stable
    concentrations of GHG in the atmosphere and any rate of convergence to
    equal per capita emissions entitlements within any rate of contraction,
    to satisfy the UNFCCC equity rationale.

    The results of this framework-based approach make a market for
    emissions-trading possible where the key points are [a] it is an
    inclusive integral approach rooted in the science of “safe and stable”
    concentrations and [b] it has a shared equity rationale within that
    global “contraction” limit where the faster the international
    convergence on the global per capita average, the more the valuable and
    tradable entitlements are pre-distributed to ” under-consuming”
    Developing Countries [and vice-versa]. The key negotiating point is
    obviously the rate of convergence, as this addresses the issue of ”
    historic responsibilities”.

    In a nutshell, whatever the agreed rate of convergence, we are all –
    rich and poor – dealing with same emissions contraction event where the
    100 per cent of emissions entitlements is not more or less than that
    available under the contraction rate required to achieve the objective
    of the UNFCCC. The executive of this stated publicly in 2004 that
    contraction and convergence is inevitably required to achieve the
    Convention’s objective.

    When Miliband’s Climate Act became law the UK House of Commons
    Environmental Audit Committee started an enquiry into “Targets in the UK
    Act: – Where did they come from – Were the models, on which they were
    based, valid?” The answer was they came from C&C as advocated from 2000
    by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution [RCEP]: –

    The Report published today: –

    concluded the, “approach to setting emission reduction targets based

    on equalising per capita emissions globally is sensible and equitable”.

    Moreover, though questions about the validity of the climate models
    being used were debated all year by the CCC, DECC, the Hadley Centre,
    GCI and others, already in March 2009 Adair Turner had agreed the key
    insight into the handling of C&C in the international negotiations. He
    agreed that if for reasons of climate-urgency the rate of international
    contraction had to be accelerated, then for reasons of international
    equity the rate of convergence would need to be accelerated relative to

    GCI’s constant advice to Government was this: when you introduce C&C at
    COP 15 in December, as you will inevitably have to do, [a] openly
    propose the principle and the reasoning behind it [b] perhaps provide
    examples of different rates of C&C to show its negotiability [c] if you
    must, prefer the specific example of C&C rates you want but [d] above
    all stress that you invite examples of other rates of C&C from other
    countries particularly China, India and Africa, so we all get via the
    same principle to a discussion that’s on the same page. It is not rocket

    Come the hour did they do this? No. The opaquely un-named group of
    governments behind the Danish Text laid down “the draft treaty” with an
    unexplained prescription of the rates of C&C globally and created an
    acute anti-reaction from the G-77 and China within the negotiations.
    They argued that the proposal meant the “lion’s share of what’s left
    goes to developed countries ” and that “it is still per capita 2:1 in
    favour of developed countries by 2050 “, re-igniting the usual blame and
    fury all over again.

    Let’s fast forward to the COP-15 end-game. The Chinese told the
    developed countries this prescription was unacceptable even to the
    extent that the developed countries couldn’t have their targets either.
    Though Angela Merkel was reported to be outraged about this, the reason
    for the Chinese stance was obvious: effectively capping developing
    countries to just the balance of what was left after a rate of
    convergence to per capita equality by 2050 inside this global emissions
    cut of 50 per cent by 2050, the Chinese (perhaps mischievously) spoke
    for all who saw this as Developed Countries seizing the lion’s share of
    what was left through the slow rate of convergence.

    Instead of suggesting faster convergence, which they could have done,
    they didn’t, but Miliband didn’t either and he came home and started
    publicly blaming the Chinese for the failure and all hell broke.

    The whole affair was made even more plaintive with the comments from the
    Maldives that fighting about equal rights to do the wrong thing doesn’t
    help. They are threatened with inundation and unequal rights to do wrong
    doesn’t prevent that either.

    Arguing accelerated rates of Contraction and Convergence would help, but
    the rates of Contraction and Convergence is a meta-argument that we must
    all now resolve as a whole if the Maldives are to remain visible
    let-alone audible.

    In 2004 the UNFCCC Executive itself recognised that “C&C is inevitably
    required to achieve the objective of the Convention.” So now, instead of
    allowing covert and ad hoc alliances of member nations to ambush
    negotiations, perhaps the UN should recognise formal groups with shared
    interests that can reach positions for negotiation at the higher level.
    Indeed, if the UK and the European Union itself want to remain relevant
    to resolving this now fully global quarrel, this needs to happen. We are
    now in fact nearer to a deal, and there remains one rational choice to
    get it: return and propose the C&C principle openly, formally, globally
    with countries grouping in “regions” as they choose [e.g. EU] to a total
    of perhaps 6 to 10, with an invitation to all sides to put forward their
    preferred rates of C&C from where we all can then negotiate to consensus
    – rationally.

    It will be a compromise but regional fights will remain in the regions
    and away from the UN, and from this C&C deal can follow the global
    framework-based carbon-market that can help resolve many of the
    remaining differences helping to finance survival and development in a
    low-carbon future.

    Aubrey Meyer is founder of the Global Commons Institute (GCI) and the
    developer of the Contraction and Convergence model

    Terry O’Connell is director of corporate relations at GCI

    Aubrey Meyer
    57 Howard Road
    LONDON E17 4SH
    Ph 0208 520 4742

  18. A sort of progress

    The UN climate-change process is back on the road. Try not to crash it again

    THE relief was as palpable as the surf on the beach. After the procedural nightmare of 2009’s Copenhagen climate-change summit, its successor in Cancún, Mexico, played out surprisingly well, achieving a fair bit of what its overhyped and acrimonious predecessor had fluffed.

    Copenhagen produced a lot of ill will and an “accord” put together by only a small subset of nations. In Cancún the ill will faded and large chunks of that accord were at last translated into the official UN process. These included $100 billion a year for developing countries by 2020 as climate assistance; a climate fund, partly under the auspices of the World Bank, through which much of the money might flow; and a much-needed deal on the conditions under which countries may be paid to decrease the damage being done to their forests. The details were left vague (see article). But even an appearance of progress constitutes progress, of a sort.

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