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Hopenhagen Turns Brokenhagen

by Isagani R. Serrano, President

Isagani R Serrano
PRRM, Social Watch Climate Team

(Copenhagen, 20 December 2009). It started on high hopes and ended up heartbroken. The outcome of the Copenhagen event that drew the participation of more people than any seen in previous UN summits indeed broke the hearts of millions.

People around the world expected their leaders to help avert climate catastrophe. Which means coming out with nothing less than strong, bold, and legally-binding agreements to stabilize the global climate system.

But the Copenhagen climate conference (UNFCCC COP 15) might be remembered more as a rare summit of failure than Obama’s claim of a ‘step forward’. A rare gathering of 192 heads of states, and for what?

The Obama-brokered Copenhagen Accord is a non–binding hodgepodge of promises of keeping global temperature under 2C; an ambiguous assistance of USD 30 billion over three years till 2012 to rise (through best efforts) to USD 100 billion by 2020; and, most of all, of passing on the burden of cutting CO2 emissions to everyone, over emitters and under emitters alike.

First, the 2C goal is already gambling with humanity’s future. That means the present concentration of greenhouse gas (GHG) in the atmosphere of about 390 ppm (435ppm already according to Sir Nicholas Stern), and well beyond the safe 350 ppm, will still be allowed to rise to 450 or more. At 450ppm corals would die. Rice might still grow, but without grains.

Second, nobody knows what that promised money looks like and how it’s going to be raised. It might just be like the ‘bacon’ the Philippine president seemed so proud to bring home from Copenhagen—some $310 million climate funding of which $250 million is loan from the World Bank and ADB. To begin with, the money quoted falls short of the already scaled-down minimum estimate of USD 50 billion yearly to cover the costs of mitigation and adaptation in developing countries, especially those most vulnerable to climate change impacts.

Third, the mitigation burden sharing that high-emitting countries want goes against the bedrock principle of the climate convention. And that is, that any agreement to address the climate crisis should be based on common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Annex I countries are mandated by the climate convention and its Kyoto Protocol to cut or mitigate their emissions. Non-Annex I countries do not have similar obligation but would do well to check their emissions consistent with pursuit of low-carbon economy and sustainable development.

This non-binding Copenhagen Accord merely confirmed what many had already feared before the start of the negotiations. Halfway through the two-week long Copenhagen negotiations the process hit an impasse following the expose of a secret Copenhagen Agreement drafted by the supposedly neutral host Denmark. Instant reactions to the leaked document previewed what was coming.

The leaked draft Copenhagen Agreement and the Obama-brokered Copenhagen Accord caricature the stubborn running dynamic in these climate negotiations. Or should we say, the stubborn refusal of the rich, US in particular, to put their lifestyle on the chopping block, so to say.

High-emitting countries, led by the US, would summon everything they’ve got to avoid deep and urgent cuts on their CO2 emissions. The trick is to emphasize the ’common’ and undermine ’differentiated’ which is at the heart of climate justice. The aggressor (Annex I parties) seems to say to the victim (non-Annex parties) “We’re all, both in this together”, “What’s done is done, and no point rubbing the past in, time to move on, look to the future not the past”, “It’s to everyone’s interest that you play ball and come on board or we all go down together”. Or some such Hilary-Obama-speak.

Ironically, countries go to war on the very same principles they say they want to make peace. The leaked draft Copenhagen Agreement and Obama’s deal did just that. Same principle—common but differentiated responsibilities—or set of principles, as in Article 3 of the climate convention. Same goal and shared vision—climate stabilization, as in the convention’s Article 2.

The interlocking challenges on the table are very clear—combat human-caused globalwarming and end global poverty and advance human rights, as the Social Watch statement puts it. The agenda for Copenhagen was equally clear—rich countries must commit to deep and urgent cuts on their emissions to avoid climate catastrophe and transfer money and technology to developing countries.

Carrying on business as usual, according to Stern, risks a rise of 5C or more to levels not seen for 30 million years. These levels are way beyond what humans who have been around for only 200,000 years have been used to. Humans might perish before they could adjust to the changes.

Global annual emissions of GHGs in 2010 are likely to reach up to about 47 billion tons. Thanks to global recession, the aggregate emissions were down a few billions! To have a 50:50 chance of avoiding a rise in global average temperature of more than 2C, emissions must be reduced to no more than 44 billion tons in 2020, to below 35 billion tons in 2030 and much less than 20 billion tons in 2050. These are the stabilization levels our shared vision must shoot for.

These cuts would translate in dramatic lifestyle changes in the developed world. Each person must have to reduce their carbon footprint (read consumption footprint) deeply and drastically.

According Stern, in 2009 annual per person emission in the US is 23.6 tons. In the EU it’s 12 tons per European each year. These numbers mean that US with a population of 305 million must be polluting the atmosphere by over 7 billion tons and EU with a population of 830 million by about 10 billion tons in 2009.

In comparison, China, the pet-peeve of Annex I countries, the one country they love to blame in Copenhagen, is home to 1.3 billion people and therefore must be doing some six billions tons a year. But the world seems not ready yet to credit China for accommodating so many—one of six of humanity—in such a small place, for being a producer for much of humanity and absorbing the shit for it in its own backyard.

Obama promised 17 per cent cut from 2005 level by 2020. In contrast, the Chinese offered 40 to 45 per cent from 2005 level by 2020 along with progressive reduction of the carbon intensity of their overheating economy.

Stern says that, to help the developing world, rich countries should provide an extra $50 billion a year by 2015, rising to $100 billion a year beginning 2020. More, he says that $50 billion is only about 0.1 per cent of the rich countries’ 2015 gross domestic product, a very small sum compared with the costs of dealing with the impacts of unmitigated climate change.

What Stern didn’t say though is, that the Annex I countries are under obligation in the climate convention to transfer money and clean technology to those in harm’s way.

On both obligations—emissons cut and transfers—the Copenhagen outcome falls miserably short. It’s amazing how anyone would see the US offer as the ‘deal breaker‘ in Copenhagen. Big deal!

So what now? The 350 movement advises us to get over our frustrations and keep on pushing. Good counsel. But then again, what’s the sense in continuing to expect political leadership from those who have nothing to show for it?

Yet, reality, as we know it, is such that politicians are far from being an endangered, much less extinct, species. They can easily reproduce themselves and find suckers all around. And they will continue to dominate the UN system and processes. We just have to find better ways of engaging them to deliver better outcomes.

Leadership in Copenhagen clearly had shifted to the social and environmental movements. Under the banner of climate justice they came out in tens of thousands to express the voices of millions around the world. Excluded from the Bella Center, they have braved the freezing cold to have a say in crafting any agreement and demand action from politicians.

There’s enough lesson to draw from Fallenhagen. And one of them is that ordinary people in their communities need to brace up for the worst on their own.

Farming, fishing, IP/forest communities, the workers, urban poor, the women, the young of today must muster what they know best and can do to deal with the climate crisis, with or without government.

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