Climate accord offers some grounds for hope, say analysts

Chinese president Hu Jintao. China was one of the signatories to the accord Copyright: Wikicommons/Agência Brasil (http://www.agenciabrasil.gov.br/)

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The UN Climate Change Conference ended on Saturday (19 December) with frustration and verdicts of failure from many delegates because it did not reach a binding agreement on how to tackle climate change — or any agreement at all on targets for carbon emissions.

But some commentators say that important principles behind fighting climate change have been established for the first time, and some action could start immediately even without the existence of a universal agreement.

The Copenhagen Climate Accord — a political "statement of intent" forged by four major developing country economies (Brazil, China, India and South Africa) and the United States, backed in principle by the European Union and "noted" by the rest of the world during the final session of the conference — states that signatory nations will build clean-energy economies and help the most vulnerable nations adapt to the effects of climate change.

The accord envisages a Copenhagen Green Climate Fund — approximately US$30 billion a year between 2010 and 2012 — to help developing countries prepare for climate change, develop and integrate new technologies into development plans and protect their forests.

By 2020 the accord envisages US$100 billion a year for mitigation and adaptation — far below what bodies like the World Bank estimate is needed.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, contrasted the deal with the 2007 talks in Bali, Indonesia, when countries offered no financial support.

"This time we have US$100 billion a year … significant big money," the New York Times reported him as saying. "This is a new step toward the era of clean energy security and toward an era of green growth."

And Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace, said the funding pledge was one of the few "plus points" emerging from the meeting.

But crucial questions, such as where the money will come from, remain unanswered.

During the Copenhagen meeting the European Union pledged US$3.6 billion annually to a quick-start fund, Japan has promised about US$5 billion annually for three years and other nations have said they will contribute.

In the area of forests, experts were vexed that their progress finalising texts relating to REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) was thwarted by the lack of a legally binding way to drive them forward.

N. H. Ravindranath of the Indian Institute of Science, who is involved in REDD negotiations, said that "crucial decisions on the financing of REDD, and institutional arrangements, are still not approved and indeed unresolved".

And Leandro Carlos Fernandez, Argentina's REDD national focal point, told SciDev.Net that statements on REDD are "better than nothing, but a step back regarding the hard work done. I think that the final text didn't capture the political momentum created and we lost a tremendous opportunity for putting the forest strongly in the highest global agenda".

But he praised the text of the accord for including "clear safeguards of indigenous people's rights and against forest conversion into plantations. It also makes explicit mention of natural forests, this is very important".

And there was one positive financial step forward. During the conference Australia, France, Japan, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States pledged US$3.5 billion towards cutting deforestation in poor countries.

Experts who had been working on technology transfer to developing countries were also frustrated at the lack of a binding outcome.  

But Ahmed Abdel Latif, programme manager for intellectual property at the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development in Switzerland, said that the accord did at least include the decision to establish a "technology mechanism" to enhance action on technology development and transfer.

"This seems to be an important concession to developing countries who have been demanding for many years such an institutional reinforcement of the technology transfer pillar under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change," he told SciDev.Net.

"Of course — and pending further clarity on the formal status of this accord — details of the structure, functions and activities of this mechanism will need to be worked out from now to COP-16 in Mexico."

"In any case, developing countries need to remain actively engaged in discussions on climate change and technology transfer during next year."

Click here to read our blog from the COP-15 UN climate change conference in Copenhagen