Sleepless in Copenhagen

by Dan Bodansky

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(Cross posted on Smith School of Enterprise and Environment)

Copenhagen, December 19 – The Copenhagen conference limped to a finish mid-day Saturday after “working” throughout the night. These all night sessions on the closing day are becoming a COP ritual, with people spending most of their time waiting around the conference room while small huddles of key delegations try to find a face-saving way to declare victory and go home.

The issue last night was how the so-called Copenhagen Accord that President Obama had personally helped to broker during his 12 hour touchdown in Copenhagen on Friday would be reflected in the official decisions of the conference. The Danes proposed that the Copenhagen Accord be adopted as a COP decision, but a small group of countries that had played the spoiler role throughout the conference (Sudan, Venezuela, and Bolivia, joined last night by Cuba and Nicaragua) objected, arguing that the Copenhagen Accord be included simply in a “miscellaneous” (or “MISC”) document, with the same status as the submission, say, of Tuvalu. Ultimately, the impasse was broken through a decision to “take note of” the Copenhagen Accord, giving it some status in the UNFCCC process but not as much as approval by the conference of the parties.

<br /Inside conference center>

The debate last night continued the theme of legitimacy that I discussed in my previous post. The spoiler countries couched their arguments in the language of legitimacy, arguing that adoption of an agreement made by a limited group of countries behind closed doors would be illegitimate and undemocratic. (The rhetoric on this was really quite amazing.) Since the Copenhagen Accord had been initially agreed among the US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa, joined later by the UK, Germany, and France, among others, and since the agreement had been endorsed by all of the UN regional groups, this led to the bizarre spectacle of a handful of countries essentially thumbing their nose (through UN procedures) at a decision personally agreed by the heads of state(or government) of all of the major world powers and endorsed by the vast majority of countries at the meeting.

Two other quick observations about Copenhagen. First, the Conference revealed the deep fissures among developing countries on the climate change issue and the complete breakdown of the G-77 as a negotiating block. In the closing plenary last night, Papua New Guinea openly said that in the Copenhagen Accord negotiations on Friday, proposals for stronger language about emissions reductions (which small island states had desperately sought) had been blocked by major developing country emitters (i.e., China and India), not by developed countries. He went on to chastise other developing countries for sending mid-level negotiators to the final meetings where the Copenhagen Accord was hammered out, rather than their heads of state – a signal of disrespect to the heads of state in the room working on the deal.

Second, the Conference brought home for me the power of the internet as a source of information. Throughout Friday, participants inside the Bella Center who had sweated blood to get their names on the small list of those who were admitted had virtually no idea what was going inside the building. This included not only environmental and business observers, but 99% of the government delegates – in essence, all but the extremely small number of people actually working on the deal. As the day unfolded, I found that the most reliable source of information was not what people were saying inside the conference hall (virtually all of which was simply rumor) but rather the AP pool twitter site, which came from reporters staked out around the room where the negotiations were actually being conducted. So, ironically, rather than spend the time, money, and carbon emissions to come to Copenhagen, one could have followed the conference equally well (or, in some respects, better) in the comfort of one’s own home!

4 Responses

  1. Any comment about the following news:
    Iran’s president says he will soon write to the UN Secretary-General asking for his country to be compensated for World War II damages

  2. Dan, re. “the power of the internet as a source of information,” I daresay it’s helpful for those of us at home to have something beyond the Twitter feed — thanks to you and the other contributors for these great posts, and to OJ for hosting.  And as to attending vs. the relative comforts of home (or even writing vs. reading about the summit), somehow a free rider problem was resolved; we just need to port it over to climate itself!

  3. Response…

  4. Thank you for this great post and coverage from Copenhagen – there is a real need for more critical coverage of country positions at the UNFCCC.  However, referring to the veto states as the “spoiler” groups may not capture the whole picture and suggests that they were destructive players in the negotiations.  Many countries use moral arguments to leverage more power from the agreement (rich and poor countries alike); but many developing countries also object to the Accord and the process because it is not viewed as just.  

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