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News, opinion and analysis from the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

Debatewise: Deal, or no deal

Posted by Copenhagen
  • Monday, 21 December 2009 at 02:42 pm
What’s the difference between an agreement, a deal and an accord?

An agreement implied that everyone is happy with the outcome, as in: “Are we all in agreement? Yes? Good!”

A deal is generally something that not everyone is necessarily happy with, but it’s the best optimum solution to satisfy an objective, as in: “OK, here’s the deal…”

An accord is neither an agreement, nor a deal, but an acknowledgement, for example: “OK, so we all acknowledge that we’re all unhappy about this proposal, but we’re in accord that it’ll do for now, because we don’t have to agree, or sign anything.”

After two years of negotiations to try and find a new treaty to replace Kyoto – 192 countries, 120 heads of state; plus however many lawyers, officials, climate change experts and the rest – have failed to reach an agreement, couldn’t reach a deal, and instead have settled on an accord.

But while this may have delivered some degree of self-satisfaction to most of those involved in the UN climate change theatre in Copenhagen, the post-performance reviews have been far from favourable.

The main criticisms are that the accord is full of holes, almost inevitable when you patch up something hastily at the last minute. There is no agreement to keep the rise in global temperatures below 2C – which was a main aim of the conference. There are, in fact, no legally binding agreements whatsoever, but at least that made it safe to be in accord about anything, for example that a 2C rise should be probably be recognised as the critical threshold for any kind of climate stability. Crucially, not one nation is forced to make specific cuts.

An accord isn’t an agreement, so you don’t need to overcomplicate things and get everyone involved. Such as a section of the G77 block who were told by President Obama that an accord had been reached – as he announced it on TV.

It’s difficult to be enthusiastic about any small positives that might happen as a result of this summit. There were promises of financial aid – $billions to help developing countries. China did agree to set emissions targets for the first time – even if they will inevitably be totally inadequate (and remember this is an accord, so there’s no legally-binding agreement). But in the end, the accord was reached to do nothing more than prevent Copenhagen being called a shambles and a failure – oops! Even that didn’t work. Other comments to emerge over the weekend, including: ‘Brokenhagen’, ‘disaster’, ‘anger’, ‘condemned’, ‘disgusting’, ‘a suicide-pact for Africa’. The scale of the failure of COP15 should not be underestimated. Success was imperative, not optional.

Shakespeare wrote a line for Marcellus in Hamlet: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” – spoken after he’d just seen a ghost. You can’t help wondering whether we’re now staring into the faces of ghosts. The consequences of the failure of COP15 in Copenhagen will undoubtedly hang around to haunt our future.

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Johann Hari on the loopholes in Cop15

Posted by Copenhagen
  • Friday, 18 December 2009 at 04:54 pm
Johann Hari explains some of the loopholes in the proposed Copenhagen treaty.



Debatewise: If things don’t change, they’ll stay the same.

Posted by Copenhagen
  • Friday, 18 December 2009 at 11:07 am
We’ve finally reached the last day of the climate change conference in Copenhagen, and so far no agreement has been reached. The latest proposal is unlikely to see a drop in the rise of global temperatures below 3C. Despite the general target for most of the developed countries being 2C, and the poorer countries 1.5C, and fears that a 3C limit won’t really make the necessary difference. There has been much talk today of last minute deals, and hastily-arranged meetings, even ‘fresh momentum’ when President Obama arrives later.


But why put so much effort into the last 24 hours? Everybody involved in the Copenhagen summit talks will be seasoned conference negotiators. There are senior representatives from just about every country present, all of whom would have known what was on the table even before the conference began. Surely the amount of effort being put in during this last day should have been invested into every day of the conference?
 

Today sees the final sprint to the finishing line to secure a deal. But it’s more a case now of saving face, rather than saving the planet. Which is why there are fears that any agreement will do in order to declare the conference a success.
 

But this isn’t about the success of the conference. It’s about global warming, emissions, deforestation, drought, floods, homelessness, displacement, global security, life and death.
 

The rumoured option is to call it quits for this year, and pick it all up again in Mexico in 2010. The reasoning being that it’s better to have a good deal then, rather than a bad deal now. But, as discussed in an earlier blog, these aren’t simply a random collection of international officials involved in abstract discussions. They are our representatives negotiating on behalf of all of us. They are making decisions that will affect our lives and environment, and even if not ours, then our children’s. So is it good enough that they can’t reach an agreement? Is it right that they should take a breather until next year, then pick it all up again?
 

You have to ask what good a deferral will do anyway: If a deal can’t be agreed in Copenhagen, then why should we presume that Mexico will be any different. And if an agreement can be reached in Mexico, why can’t that same deal be done now?
 

How about another option: The great and the good at Copenhagen have chosen, or been chosen, to work on our behalf and come up with a solution that will ensure the best possible future for our planet. So why not make them all stay where they are until they’ve done exactly that, regardless of whether it takes another day, another month or more. After all, what else could they have to do that’s more important?
 

Al Gore and Gordon Brown are among those to suggest that if the right deal can’t be reached in Copenhagen, then COP16 in Mexico should be brought forward to summer 2010. But what do the Debatewise Global Youth Panel think? Here you have young people, many from the world’s poorest countries, who are likely to be most affected by the outcomes of Copenhagen. We asked them ‘ Is bringing forward COP16 in Mexico is a better option than a poor deal?’ So far in this ongoing debate, 70% think it isn’t a better option, with comments including: “We need some action now… better to deal with it and make a start today than leave it for later. We can always use COP16 and later conferences to review if required. If a deal somehow happens, I hope it allows for some flexibility as we learn more.”
 

Throughout the UN climate change summit, everyone on the Debatewise Global Youth Panel has remained balanced, open-minded, considerate, concerned and intelligent – perfect qualities for negotiators if there is a COP16 in Mexico.

The Global Youth Panel.


Debatewise: If things don’t change, they’ll stay the same.

Posted by Copenhagen
  • Friday, 18 December 2009 at 11:04 am
We’ve finally reached the last day of the climate change conference in Copenhagen, and so far no agreement has been reached. The latest proposal is unlikely to see a drop in the rise of global temperatures below 3C. Despite the general target for most of the developed countries being 2C, and the poorer countries 1.5C, and fears that a 3C limit won’t really make the necessary difference. There has been much talk today of last minute deals, and hastily-arranged meetings, even ‘fresh momentum’ when President Obama arrives later.



But why put so much effort into the last 24 hours? Everybody involved in the Copenhagen summit talks will be seasoned conference negotiators. There are senior representatives from just about every country present, all of whom would have known what was on the table even before the conference began. Surely the amount of effort being put in during this last day should have been invested into every day of the conference?



Today sees the final sprint to the finishing line to secure a deal. But it’s more a case now of saving face, rather than saving the planet. Which is why there are fears that any agreement will do in order to declare the conference a success.



But this isn’t about the success of the conference. It’s about global warming, emissions, deforestation, drought, floods, homelessness, displacement, global security, life and death.



The rumoured option is to call it quits for this year, and pick it all up again in Mexico in 2010. The reasoning being that it’s better to
have a good deal then, rather than a bad deal now. But, as discussed in an earlier blog, these aren’t simply a random collection of international officials involved in abstract discussions. They are our representatives negotiating on behalf of all of us. They are making decisions that will affect our lives and environment, and even if not ours, then our children’s. So is it good enough that they can’t reach an agreement? Is it right that they should take a breather until next year, then pick it all up again?



You have to ask what good a deferral will do anyway: If a deal can’t be agreed in Copenhagen, then why should we presume that Mexico will be any different. And if an agreement can be reached in Mexico, why can’t that same deal be done now?



How about another option: The great and the good at Copenhagen have chosen, or been chosen, to work on our behalf and come up with a solution that will ensure the best possible future for our planet. So why not make them all stay where they are until they’ve done exactly that, regardless of whether it takes another day, another month or more. After all, what else could they have to do that’s more important?



Al Gore and Gordon Brown are among those to suggest that if the right deal can’t be reached in Copenhagen, then COP16 in Mexico should be brought forward to summer 2010. But what do the Debatewise Global Youth Panel think? Here you have young people, many from the world’s poorest countries, who are likely to be most affected by the outcomes of Copenhagen. We asked them ‘ Is bringing forward COP16 in Mexico is a better option than a poor deal?’ So far in this ongoing debate, 70% think it isn’t a better option, with comments including: “We need some action now… better to deal with it and make a start today than leave it for later. We can always use COP16 and later conferences to review if required. If a deal somehow happens, I hope it allows for some flexibility as we learn more.”



Throughout the UN climate change summit, everyone on the Debatewise Global Youth Panel has remained balanced, open-minded, considerate, concerned and intelligent – perfect qualities for negotiators if there is a COP16 in Mexico.



The Global Youth Panel.

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Debatewise: Hot air in a cool climate

Posted by Copenhagen
  • Thursday, 17 December 2009 at 03:00 pm
Maybe it’s because it’s the pantomime season, but the Copenhagen climate change conference is sliding slowly towards farce. The rich countries, major developing countries and the small island states can’t agree on who should cut emissions, how deep those cuts should be, and how much aid should go where – which just about sums up the whole basis of the agreement.

This is despite efforts including Gordon Brown arriving at the summit days earlier than planned to try and sort things out, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying the US was prepared to work with other countries towards mobilising $100bn a year to help meet the needs of developing countries.

Japan has already promised poorer nations $10.6bn over three years, while and a six-member group, of Australia, France, Japan, Norway, the UK and US will also commit $3.5bn over the same period to combat deforestation. Most of the proposed funding is dependent upon an agreement being signed at Copenhagen. However China has said that, even though it remains committed to negotiations, it sees no possibility of a detailed agreement to tackle global warming coming out of Copenhagen.

The problems seem to be not just about the money and a 2C, 1.5C or even 1C limit, but the fact that the talks have descended into a labyrinth of talks about the talks, rather than about the agreement itself – a point raised by Ed Miliband, the UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary. After more than 12 meetings in 24 hours – and after waiting more than 20 hours for one group of nations to assemble – he voiced his frustration that the main problems were over ‘procedural wrangling’: “It would be a tragedy if we failed to agree because of the substance but it would be a farce if we failed to agree because of the process”, he said. The final two days of the conference should be the part where the agreement is nailed down by heads of state and government.

Some 130 world leaders are due to join the talks today, hoping to sign the climate change agreement tomorrow, when President Obama arrives also. In answer to rumours that he might not attend, Hillary Clinton said: “The President is coming tomorrow. Obviously we hope there will be something to come for”. A non-result would be a major embarrassment for all kinds of reasons. Not the least of which is because of the subject of this conference.

It would mean that all the extra energy and CO2 generated by the hundreds of flights to and from the conference, all the commuting, heating the conference and hotels, the food and other consumables, not to mention the amount of waste produced and the paper used – was all generated for nothing more than a load of hot air.

So what do our Debatewise Global Youth Panel debaters think? When it started to become clear that there was a very real threat of the target of the summit not being reached, we posted the debate: ‘Can leaders manage a deal in the last two days?’ And, even after almost two weeks of observing the climate change conference, so far the majority of our GYP (64%) remain optimistic that a deal will be done, against 27% who think it won’t. The last word should then go to one of our ‘Yes’ debaters: “I still have hope, and it’s the hope that will make me go on and keep hoping for a fair climate agreement”.

Global Youth Panel.

Debatewise: Copenhagen Street – the latest episode

Posted by Copenhagen
  • Wednesday, 16 December 2009 at 06:36 pm
Anybody who thought the Copenhagen climate talks would be boring could not be further from wrong. If you could wash CO2 out of the atmosphere – there’s probably enough soap in Copenhagen to do it.

Among the latest twists of drama was the resignation of Connie Hedergaard, the president of the UN climate change conference. Her replacement is the Danish prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen. There have also been more arrests today (16 December), 230 to add to the 1000 arrested over the weekend. Today’s arrests were mainly at demonstrations held about the exclusion of NGOs from the conference centre.

Friends of the Earth international, Avaaz, and TckTckTck were among mainstream environmental groups refused entry this morning. No formal explanation was given by conference officials. Further demonstrations are planned for later today to help push the urgency of the need to reach an agreement that will make a difference.

All the NGOs expressed deep concern that by being excluded, the conference was excluding the voices of civil society. Friends of the Earth were offered 12 places later in the day, but declined them.

Throughout the conference, the G77/G8 temperature debate has been about the difference between a 2C or 1.5C rise in global temperatures. Neither of these is acceptable to Bolivian President Evo Morales, who today called for the hold on temperature increases over the next century to be just 1C. He also proposed an international climate court of justice to prosecute countries for climate ‘crimes’.

As if that wasn’t enough for one day – there were side-shows too. US senator John Kerry announced in a side event that the US was prepared to act if an agreement was signed at Copenhagen, but it would not sign an agreement, or pass a climate change deal in Congress unless China and other developing countries meet its demands for accountability on their emissions cuts. This has increased the chance of a US – China showdown over the next couple of days. While in a back-room, British officials were trying to persuade the US to offer high cuts in emissions – when Barack Obama arrives on Friday, even though they admit they don’t stand much of a chance.

Of course no drama would be complete without a knight in shining armour or two. In Copenhagen Street Gordon Brown is one of several informally-appointed ‘lead negotiators’. Since landing in earlier this week he’s been galloping from meeting to meeting, talking to leaders and representatives from Europe, America, China, India, Africa and other developing countries. There’s even a meeting scheduled with Al Gore this evening. It seems like the only person missing is Simon Cowell.

In our blog on Monday (14 December), we asked whether it was worth speculating on whether it is wrong for the entire focus of the conference on reaching a fixed agreement: “What’s the better outcome: the signing of a 1.5C or 2C agreement? Or for each and every country to do what we all need to do: make a genuine commitment to – first of all acknowledging there is an issue of global warming, and secondly doing everything possible to cure it as quickly as possible”.

South Korea is the first developing nation to agree to an absolute reduction in its emissions rather than a reduction based upon the business as usual level which most are thinking about. We posted a topic today to debate: “More industrialised countries should follow South Korea’s lead’. It’s early days yet of course, but so far it’s the only debate that has attracted a unanimous 100% vote: ‘Yes’.

The Global Youth Panel.

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Debatewise: Stalling in flight

Posted by Copenhagen
  • Tuesday, 15 December 2009 at 05:29 pm
The second week of the UN climate change summit kicked off on Monday in more ways than one. With only a few days to go until the end of the conference, the African group, supported by other developing nations stalled talks for five-hours. They were afraid that attempts were being made to kill off the Kyoto Protocol, alongside suggestions that the Danish hosts are biased towards advancing the interests of the developed countries. Many of this group – the G77-China bloc, are countries most vulnerable to climate change.

Talks only resumed when they were split into two, as the G77 group demanded. But five hours is a long time in the highly pressurised arena of this summit, so there are also now worries about the speed of negotiations, and the hopes of reaching any kind of conclusion as leaders start to fly in from around the world.

There is also criticism of the fact that these talks will create more carbon emissions than any previous climate conference: an estimated 46,200 tonnes of CO2 – 40,500 of this from flights by delegates, observers, journalists and activists (Reuters). This is the same amount produced each year by 2,300 Americans (2006 figures), or 660,000 Ethiopians.

The popularity of the conference – about 18,000 visitors per day – has meant that temporary building have had to be put up. These are not well insulated and are being heated by oil heaters. Most of the energy used at the conference is generated by coal-fired power stations. It does make you wonder whether December in a cold climate is the best time and place for a conference on climate change and global warming.

As you can see, there is no shortage of material to debate. ‘Africa was right to walk out over fears the rich won’t renew Kyoto’ was started late on Monday evening and: ‘Delegates and leaders show their disregard for the issue of limiting emissions – by arriving by plane’, kicked-off at midday on Monday.

These two debates are still ongoing at the time of writing, however on the Africa walkout votes are currently split evenly – 35% each for ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. On the travelling by plane topic, most of our debaters don’t think that delegates and leaders have shown a disregard for limiting emissions – so far 78% have voted ‘No’, and 18% have voted ‘Yes’.

Comments in the travelling by plane debate include: Yes – “Many nations are sending large amounts of delegates. Australia for example is sending 95 delegates, Australian delegates undoubtedly need to fly to get to Copenhagen but does it really need all of them? could they not have a few negotiators - say 10 and then have most things handled back in Australia?” While on the ‘No’ side: “Delegates from Asia, Africa, Oceana and the Americas can't be expected to find greener means of travelling, they have come too far for there to be other realistic options. For a big meeting such as this there is no way they could be connected in by videolink and still keep abreast of all developments that affect their delegation”.

The question of why technology can’t play more of a part in the climate change summits must have crossed the minds of many of us. It’s something that must happen eventually – if not for the entire summit, then for the largest part of the initial period of negotiations. Who knows – in a couple of years we might even see them happening on Google Wave.

The Global Youth Panel

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Debatewise: A matter of fact

Posted by Copenhagen
  • Monday, 14 December 2009 at 03:28 pm
If there’s one thing that’s clear about the UN Climate Change Summit, it’s that nothing is clear. As 110 heads of state start packing their bags ready to travel to Copenhagen for the last 24 hours of negotiations at the end of the week, there is the customary split between rich and poor countries.

The proposed agreement aims to set the limit of global temperature rise to 2C, and set the amount of money pledged to help poorer countries adapt to climate change. But many countries don’t want to be pressurised into signing an agreement by the end of the week deadline.

It’s worth speculating on whether a target is wrong. Not the proposed temperature target. Nor the target of billions to spend on adaptation. But the entire focus of the conference on reaching a fixed agreement.

The facts about climate change and global warming are hard to pin down. We know the planet is getting warmer, and it’s fairly clear that human interference has played some part in that. We also know that many parts of the world will suffer catastrophically. But the nature of the problem (and because it’s a problem with nature) means it’s impossible to state precisely by how much temperatures will rise over a given period, what exactly the sources of that temperature rise are, and where, when and how large those catastrophes will be.

If we did have this information as unequivocal scientific fact, then undoubtedly the UN summit would have been a completely different conference. The firmer the facts, the less room there is for disagreement.

The absence of concrete facts means that everything is open to interpretation – which can be shaped in some way to suit just about any agenda. That’s what’s been happened in Copenhagen over the past week, and that’s what will continue to happen this week. The G77 countries want a 2C limit; the AoSIS is pushing for 1.5C, and some African countries are indicating they might refuse to take part because they don’t want to be pushed into a deal they believe won’t help them. And then there’s the scale of financial help to consider – how much, who pays, and where it goes. The aim is to try and negotiate an agreement that satisfies all of these agendas without any party feeling as if it’s been over-compromised.

But is it necessarily a bad thing if an agreement is not signed? Will the summit have been a failure? Or will it be a failure if an agreement is signed?

The other issue to consider is that of responsibility. The fact that there are representatives of so many countries taking part in talks in Copenhagen runs the risk of distancing the responsibility of the climate problem from each of us. It’s all-too-easy to think that because it’s a global problem it’s a national problem – one our governments should be solving for us. All too easy to wait until advice is issued, or legislation is passed, before any of us takes action minimise our use of energy and resources. It’s easy to blame multinational industries and specific countries for warming the planet, but who buys the things they manufacture? Who uses the energy they produce? Is the solution to global warming and climate change the responsibility of our governments, or each of us as individuals?

Is there any reasons why the UN summit should be any different. What’s the better outcome: the signing of a 1.5C or 2C agreement? Or for each and every country to do what we all need to do: make a genuine commitment to – first of all acknowledging there is an issue of global warming, and secondly doing everything possible to cure it as quickly as possible.

Ideally it shouldn’t matter whether an agreement is reached between countries or not in Copenhagen. A ‘country’ is not an abstract concept, it is a place populated by people. Isn’t this one of those very rare occasions when we all have the power to make a difference?

We’ve been using Google Wave as our debating environment. This is an open source package that’s free to use for anyone with access to a computer connected to the Internet. We have more than 1000 young people from more than 100 countries signed up to use it to debate climate change. Many are from the world’s poorest countries, some have come from circumstances it’s difficult to imagine surviving in. Twenty years ago there is no way many of these voices could, or would have been heard.

It is all too easy to take the Internet, and tools such as social networking for granted, and forget how amazing it is and what a social revolution it has created. For example – through our GYP debates, people are gaining first-hand accounts about exactly what climate change means to named individuals around the world. Ultimately, this kind of technology could by more effective in driving home the message about reducing global warming that any decision reached in Copenhagen.

All the Global Youth Panel debates are here.

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Debatewise: Banking on the future

Posted by Copenhagen
  • Monday, 14 December 2009 at 10:32 am
On Friday an EU summit in Brussels pledged to raise €2.4bn from January to help the world’s poor countries cope with rising seas floods and famine. This is part of an estimated annual €7bn package from industrialised nations around the world. On 4 December, it was announced that public sector support for the UK bank bailout was £850bn (€945bn).

It’s impossible to calculate the financial cost of dealing with climate change – both to control global warming, and to pay for the effects of catastrophes – because nobody knows for sure to what extent the temperature will rise and over what period. Predicted outcomes vary from inconvenient to apocalyptic depending on how high the thermometer climbs. However, it’s estimated that averting catastrophe could cost as little as 1% of global output – as long as that amount is invested in well designed policies. The cost of saving the world’s banks was 5% of global output.

The topic: ‘Is the EU contributing its “fair share” to combating climate change?’ was introduced on Friday into our GYP climate change debates. The debate is still ongoing at the time of writing, but views being posted, include: ‘…the EU countries are doing much more than any other nation’, and: ‘No matter how much the EU agrees to contribute, some will always claim that it is not enough’.

Many people raise the point that it’s not simply a question of how much money is contributed, but what nations also do themselves to combat climate change, such as pledging to cut CO2 emissions and tackling deforestation. Current results are Yes: 62%; No: 23%; Maybe: 15%

The day’s other hot topic was: ‘Climate change is a security issue’ – introduced following President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, during which he said:

“The absence of hope can rot a society from within. And that is why helping farmers feed their own people — or nations educate their children and care for the sick — is not mere charity. It is also why the world must come together to confront climate change. There is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we will face more drought, famine and mass displacement that will fuel more conflict for decades. For this reason, it is not merely scientists and activists who call for swift and forceful action — it is military leaders in my country and others who understand that our common security hangs in the balance.”

Climate change as a security problem is slowly gaining political ground. In our own debate more than 68% agree that it is a problem. If the US truly believes that it is, then it remains to be seen whether it will shift its position from investing heavily in combating the effects – the security issue, to investing heavily in solving the cause – the climate issue.

Of course there is the vague, intensely-remote chance, that one-day somebody in a dusty corner of the White House or Whitehall might link climate change to the banking crisis – then we’ll see how quickly the problem gets solved, and how much money gets thrown at it…

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Behind the scenes of the media set-up at COP15

Posted by Copenhagen
  • Friday, 11 December 2009 at 11:07 am
More than 1,400 journalists currently report from the Bella Center to the whole world from what is the biggest temporary media set-up ever in Denmark. Next week activity will skyrocket, when all of the approximately 3500 journalists accredited to the conference are expected to be on the spot, reporting round the clock. Danish TV2|Denmark A/S is contracted as host broadcaster to provide the entire media set-up. This includes a total of 54 cameras, 300 kilometers of cables and 160 temporary cubicles for media to work from. In addition to this there are 2400 microphones and 2000 spotlights at the Bella Center. Video from the Danish government.

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