Kate Mackenzie The post-Copenhagen decade

Connie Hedegaard’s pessimism on the chances of a successor to the Kyoto protocol being agreed doesn’t bode well, coming after comments last month by outgoing UN climate chief Yvo de Boer that a treaty will be ‘very difficult‘. After all, these two know the challenges of the negotiations process as intimately as anyone.

This would be a shame. Not only have China and India now formally agreed to support the Copenhagen accord, but there is a good argument that the deal – despite being non-binding and lacking specific emissions targets – could make some real progress. There was process, for example, on issues such as technology transfer, the very thorny question of financing, and crediting for land use practice.

And as for emissions, the Peterson Institute for International Economics has published a paper by Trevor Houser which estimates that the Copenhagen commitments – if they are all met – may come just within a whisker of what’s needed for an emissions peak in 2020.

Trevor Houser/PIIE

Source: Trevor Houser/PIIE

What this shows is Houser’s estimates of incremental reductions from each of the key commitments of Copenhagen if adhered to. The first two segments look at commitments by Annex 1 (developed) countries and non-Annex (developing) countries – the ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ commitments reflect conditional offers made by some countries such as Australia, Japan and the EU. The final segment is based on whether the international financing agreed by developed countries – up to $100bn a year by 2020 – is actually delivered. So far, details on that money are sketchy, although some of the finance was promised to begin this year).

Houser points out that the final figure of just over 48bn tonnes of emissions in 2020 is not far off recent estimates of the 40bn-48bn tonnes range that analysts believe is the upper limit if emissions are to peak that year – which is seen as a crucial goal in reducing both risk of climate change, and the cost of mitigation.

So, not quite a failure. Maybe.

Although he has his own barrow to push, we think this comment from US Democratic congressman Ed Markey perhaps best sums up the optimistic view:

“This is the most complicated political transaction in the history of the world, and we are getting closer every day to completing it.”

Houser’s paper, we should point out, was published alongside a more pessimistic piece titled ‘After the Flop in Copenhagen’ - which makes the increasingly popular point that a 192-country consensus-based decision making process will probably never work, and looks at how alternative efforts, such as using the G20, would best work.

Where next? It’s onto Bonn in April for another round of meetings; then another in June – before the big meeting in Cancun in November/December. By then, it should be a lot clearer whether the commitments set out at Copenhagen are really being met.

Related links:

Developed-vs-developing country tensions still going strong (FT Energy Source)