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The Copenhagen Climate Change Conference
– a case of commitment phobia!

Compiled by SALT

Welcoming Ceremony to mark the opening of the High-Level Segment of the Conference, December 15, 2009

It was a much-awaited event that held the promise of a cleaner, cooler world by 2050. But it came to a disappointing conclusion. Or was it indeed "an unprecedented breakthrough" – as President Obama would have us believe?

The 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) in Copenhagen, which took place from 7- 18 December, 2009, was the biggest environmental get-together in history. Negotiators from 193 countries met in an attempt to broker a worldwide deal to fight global warming – instead there is now an icing of chill on the deal.

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of the twenty-first century. The worst affected will be the disadvantaged and the poorest people of the planet – who consume the least resources, have no role in global warming, have a minimal carbon footprint, and are also the least prepared to cope with the devastating effects of climate change. They are already bearing the worst impacts of floods and droughts in South Asia. Even the mighty Himalaya – the highest mountain range in the world – and Sundarbans - the lowest deltaic islands – have not escaped the effects of global warming. The communities that live in the region have been severely impacted.

In the tiny islands of the Sundarbans in India, global-warming is a reality – not a theoretical warning. Rising sea-levels are already beginning to flood many of the small islands within the Sundarbans – creating thereby the world’s first climate change refugees. Islands have disappeared under water and many are in the process of disappearing. Lohachara Island was the world's first populated island to be lost to climate change and its disappearance left more than 7000 people homeless. Nubra valley in Ladakh had flash floods in 2006. Chemday in Ladakh does not have enough water for cultivation – the volume of water in the river draining the area is decreasing. The tongue of the millennia-old Imja glacier in Nepal Himalaya is reduced to a lake. The existence of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean is threatened by swelling ocean levels. These are only a few of the examples in South Asia. Elsewhere in many parts of the world the picture is equally grim.

A star-studded gathering of world leaders met in the city of Little Mermaid –Copenhagen- in mid-December to strike a deal for a global action plan to keep the world from warming beyond 2C. For almost two weeks prior to the arrival of Presidents and Prime Ministers, the negotiators and Environment Ministers had worked tirelessly, albeit unsuccessfully, to produce a draft agreement. Jairam Ramesh, the 55-year-old Minister for environment and forests (India) felt that developed countries should commit to a legally binding reduction of their greenhouse gases. The media savvy President of Maldives, who had, prior to the summit, held a dramatic underwater cabinet meeting in Maldives, was the key voice for soon-to-be climate victims.

Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh, with President Obama and other world leaders at Copenhagen.

What was planned to be a streamlined agreement to safeguard the fate of future generations turned chaotic as divisions emerged between old and new superpowers, and rich and poor nations – on the question of reduction of emissions. Nobody wanted to commit to a legally-binding figure of their reduction of emissions. Accusations flew back and forth as the world leaders from 24 nations arrived in a chaos-ridden Copenhagen. Had things moved as planned, these leaders would have arrived in Copenhagen to give their assent to the Draft Agreement on a low-carbon future prepared by their negotiators – but this was not to be. The negotiators had failed to produce a working draft. Instead, the heads of states found themselves huddled in a marathon negotiating session. President Barack Obama declared, soon after Air Force One touched down, "The time for talk is over." "I don't know how you have an international agreement where you don't share information and ensure we are meeting our commitments," he said. "That doesn't make sense." This was a reference to China’s refusal to inspections of its greenhouse gas emissions. China had, in turn, accused industrialised countries of not doing enough.

On the night of December 18, President Obama announced that five major nations – Brazil, China, India, South Africa and the United States, had together arrived at a climate deal. He called it "an unprecedented breakthrough".

"The deal eventually came together after a dramatic moment in which Mr. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton burst into a meeting of the Chinese, Indian and Brazilian leaders, according to senior administration officials. Mr. Obama said he did not want them negotiating in secret." –The New York Times

This may well be the last time that 193 nations would gather in this way to negotiate a deal of such global significance.

To many – it was a disappointing conclusion.

Highlights of Copenhagen Climate Accord

The ‘agreement’ is a statement and not a legally binding pact

It does not set a 2010 goal to seal the provisions of the accord.

The plan does not commit the industrialized nations or the developing nations to midterm or long-term greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

Individual nations accepted their responsibility to tackle global warming and will set their own pollution-reduction goals.

Wealthy nations will help finance clean-technology to countries most vulnerable to climate change

It set a goal of limiting the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius.

It is not internationally enforceable or binding.



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