Copenhagen Failed

Mission not accomplished.  Copenhagen completely failed to fulfill it's mission. But it succeed at doing what was needed — thanks to some heroic efforts by President Obama. We will return to that below.

Copenhagen's mission was to was to extend and expand the Kyoto agreement. But it did not:

  • set a second commitment period (the first ends Jan 1, 2013).
  • Set new emission targets for any country.
  • Get any developing country to commit to a future target.
  • Upgrade the Clean Development Mechanism.
  • Discus any method of enforcing commitments.

Canada reneges.  During the summit, Canada simply reneged on its Kyoto commitment.

Canada's line may not always be popular, but we do feel the scientific and political assumptions we've inherited from the Kyoto Protocol no longer suit present physical or market realities, or a vigorous energy policy into the future," notes Michael Martin, Canada's chief negotiator in Copenhagen.

Obama brings realism.  On the final day of the Copenhagen summit, “China's representative insisted that industrialised country targets, previously agreed as an 80% cut by 2050, be taken out of the deal. ‘Why can't we even mention our own targets?’ demanded a furious Angela Merkel.”† China was not having caps—its own or anyone else’s. India was no less staunch.

At 7pm that same evening, Obama crashed a secret meeting (discovered while trying to find a room for a final negotiation) of China, India, Brazil and South Africa. At that meeting he hammered out the Copenhagen Accord. In it there is no hint of caps for developing countries. Half of all emissions, and by far the fastest growing half, will not be capped.

China's commitment.  “China will endeavor to lower its carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 40-45% by 2020 compared to the 2005 level. ... the above-mentioned autonomous domestic mitigation actions are voluntary in nature.”

So China's commitment to endeavor is autonomous and voluntary, but what does it amount to?

  • DOE (May 2009) estimated China would reduce intensity 45% over this same period.
  • China decreased intensity 44.4% over the previous 15 years.

So China committed to do exactly what DOE predicted it would do five months before it invented this commitment. Perhaps, in fact, China just read DOE's report to find out what it should commitment (documentation). 

The bottom line. In short, what Copenhagen accomplished most emphatically was to put an end to the 15-year attempt to convince developing country to accept caps. They have said all along that they would not. They gave sensible reasons and they meant what they said. Those who study international negotiation rather than climate could see all along, they were telling the truth.