It's been several days since the chaotic end to the Copenhagen climate conference but the aftershocks from its failure are still reverberating. The pointing of fingers in the blame game does not help the regaining of trust needed for the positive resumption of talks early this year and to complete them by December 2010, the new deadline agreed to in Copenhagen.
First, the misinformation put out in the past few days has to be corrected. The UK climate secretary, Ed Miliband, has turned on China as the villain that "hijacked" the conference. The main "evidence" they gave was that China vetoed an "agreement" on a 50 percent reduction in global emissions by 2050 and an 80 percent reduction by developed countries, in the small meeting of 26 leaders on Copenhagen's final day.
There was indeed a "hijack" in Copenhagen, but it was not by China. The hijack was organized by the host government, Denmark, whose prime minister convened a meeting of 26 leaders in the last two days in an attempt to override the painstaking negotiations taking place among 193 countries throughout the two weeks and in fact in the past two to four years.
That exclusive meeting was not mandated by the UN climate convention. Indeed, the developing countries had warned the Danish prime minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, not to come up with his own "Danish text" to be negotiated by a small group that he himself would select, as this would violate the multilateral treaty-based process, and would replace the documents carefully negotiated by all countries with one unilaterally issued by the host country.
Despite this, the Danish government produced just such a document, and it convened exactly the kind of exclusive group that would undermine the UN climate convention's multilateral and democratic process. Under that process, the 193 countries had been collectively working on coming to a conclusion on the many aspects of the climate deal.
Weeks before, it had become clear that Copenhagen could not adopt a full agreement because many basic differences remained. Copenhagen should have been designed as a stepping stone to a future successful outcome accepted by all. Unfortunately, the host country Denmark selected a small number of the 110 top leaders who came, to meet in secret, without the mandate or even knowledge of the convention's membership.
The selected leaders were given a draft Danish document that mainly represented the developed countries' positions, thereby marginalizing the developing countries' views tabled at the two-year negotiations.
Meanwhile, most of the thousands of delegates were working for two weeks on producing two reports representing the latest state of play, indicating areas of agreement and those where final decisions still had to be taken.
These reports were finally adopted by the conference. They should have been announced as the real outcome of Copenhagen, together with a decision to resume and complete work next year. It would not have been a resounding success, but it would have been an honest ending that would not have been termed a failure.
Instead, the Copenhagen accord was criticized by the final plenary of members and not adopted. The unwise attempt by the Danish presidency to impose a non-legitimate meeting to override the legitimate multilateral process was the reason why Copenhagen will be considered a disaster.
The accord itself is weak mainly because it does not contain any commitments by the developed countries to cut their emissions in the medium term. Perhaps the reason for this most glaring omission is that the national pledges so far announced amount to only a 11 to 19 percent overall reduction by the developed countries by 2020 (compared to 1990), a far cry from the more than 40 percent demanded by developing countries and scientists.
The imperative for the negotiations next year is to agree on what science says is necessary for the world to do (in terms of limits to temperature rise or in global emissions cut) but also on what is a just and equitable formula for sharing the costs and burdens of adjustment, and to decide on both simultaneously. Learning from Copenhagen's mistakes, countries should return to the multilateral track and resume negotiations in the convention's two working groups as early as possible.
This is an abridged version of an article that first appeared in the Guardian on Dec 28
(China Daily 01/02/2010 page5)