Copenhagen was more than the accord

COP15, December 23, 2009
Morten Andersen
Many are disappointed with COP15’s main output. However, the summit did not only introduce the Copenhagen Accord but also a new kind of dynamics in global climate policy.

Looking across the world’s leading media, enthusiasm for the Copenhagen Accord is scarce. Yet, some analysts choose to focus beyond the new deal itself.
“The very struggle to reach agreement at Copenhagen (…) demonstrates that climate policy has finally come of age. The negotiations at Copenhagen were so contentious because of the very real impact the proposals will have, not only for the environment, but also on national economies. China and the US played hardball – and sent heads of government to do the talking – precisely because they had something to lose. The onset of a kind of climate realpolitik, which eschews hot air for real action, is a sign that global climate talks have moved beyond symbolic rhetoric,” writes TIME.
Interviewed by Danish daily Jyllands-Posten, the president of COP15 during its high-level stage, Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, says:
“The top leaders were taking Copenhagen seriously as their deadline and delivered beforehand. Had Obama not been due to attend, I doubt whether the US would have begun committing on long-term finance – which is historical. Had Lula not been due to attend, Brazil would hardly have raised its level of ambitions. Had Wen not been due to attend, China would probably not have opened to some level of international insight as to what it is doing – which actually is a globally politically significant admission.”
According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung the new political dynamics shown in Copenhagen is likely to change the way climate policy is addressed internationally:
“The format of the consultations at the UN level, in which every member state can exercise veto power, holds no promise for any success. The balancing of interests between those who want to preserve their standards of living and the emerging economies that want to soon reach such levels of prosperity appears to be impossible. Meanwhile, the global population is growing as well as its energy needs, which will lead to even greater carbon dioxide emissions. Only the most stubborn climate change deniers would say that this is not going to impact the lives of millions of people.”
A frequent media observation is that especially four emerging economies – Brazil, South Africa, India and China, constituting the informal BASIC group – unlike at earlier UN conferences played an absolute key role in Copenhagen.
“The BASIC group (…) has emerged as a powerful force in climate change negotiations, especially in the face of relentless pressure from richer countries,” Jairam Ramesh, India’s Environment Minister, notes according to BBC News, while adding that “all of India’s concerns had been safeguarded” and that yet “India’s approach had been recognized as constructive”.
In its analysis “Lessons from the Copenhagen climate talks” TIME comments:
“President Obama (…) plunged into seven hours of hard, direct bargaining (…) eventually cutting a deal with China, India, Brazil and South Africa (…) their agreement was presented on a take-it-or-leave-it basis to the other 180 plus nations. While Copenhagen won’t end the UN process for addressing climate change, it marks a shift to decision making by smaller groups of powerful nations working in more manageable numbers. As undemocratic as that may be, Copenhagen showed that it may also be the only way to get something done.”
Again according to TIME, “if Copenhagen was tough, Mexico City (COP16 in December 2010) will be a lot more so, because there, countries will be tasked with filling in details sketched in the Copenhagen Accord” – but, as the toughness of the negotiations only demonstrate that climate policy has moved beyond hot air into economic reality – “It’s going to get harder, and that’s a good thing”.