Confusion About Copenhagen Accord Casts Cloud Over UN Climate Treaty

Hopes for Trust-Building, Fast-Start Financing Dashed at Bonn

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Uncertainty over the fate of the controversial Copenhagen Accord continues to cloud global climate negotiations. Some observers complain the confusion could snowball into a total crisis of confidence this year in the already battered UN climate system. 

“No one knows exactly how [the accord] fits,” said Wael Hmaidan, executive director of Lebanon-based IndyACT, who has been involved in UN climate talks since 1999.

“Developing countries want clarity on this.” They are “worried,” he said.

The comments were made at the tail end of a three-day meeting in Bonn that wrapped up in the early hours of Monday. It was the first formal negotiating session since December’s contentious Copenhagen summit.

The talks were designed to chart the way forward before the next major international climate conference, planned for Mexico in December. Countries agreed to hold two additional meetings before then, each lasting at least one week, to fine-tune text for an enforceable global warming treaty.

But Bonn did nothing to repair the broken trust or clear the confusion left by the fractious 10-day Copenhagen summit. 

Copenhagen ended in the non-binding, three-page accord that was only “noted” by the Conference of Parties. So far, some 120 nations have declared their willingness to align themselves with the accord, though experts say many have signed up reluctantly due to its dubious legal status.

Poorer nations in particular fear the document is being used by rich countries to sideline the two tracks of negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Speaking in Bonn, the African Group of nations called the accord a “blatant attempt to discard the Kyoto Protocol.”

Adding to those fears, Jonathan Pershing, U.S. deputy special envoy for climate change and head of the delegation at Bonn, said the U.S. wants any new treaty text to “reflect” the Copenhagen Accord.

“In our view, the chair’s draft text in June should reflect the understandings of the final days of Copenhagen,” Pershing told reporters on Sunday.

One main reason for unbridled U.S. backing is that the Copenhagen text would make major emerging economies like China and India subject to mandatory carbon curbs, unlike the Kyoto Protocol.

“We are willing to have a [legal] agreement as long as it has the appropriate kind of symmetry,” Pershing said. “It needs to have legal contexts for developed and the emerging developing countries.”

The EU acknowledged the presence of a standoff in Bonn but attributed it to climate politics as usual, not the Copenhagen Accord. According to Artur Runge-Metzger, chief climate negotiator for the bloc, nations want Washington to take on a legally binding agreement; meanwhile the U.S. refuses to budge without China.

“That’s where the problem lies in the end,” Runge-Metzger said.

For the poorest nations most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, however, the low level of ambition for rich-nation emissions cuts is the real problem.

Several analyses have revealed that pledges made under the Copenhagen Accord fall short of meeting the document’s  commitment to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. Currently, there is a 5 gigaton gap between the Copenhagen pledges and the cuts necessary to reach that goal, according to figures from the Center for American Progress.

Hmaidan and other observers said discussions on the gigaton gap were not on the table in Bonn. Neither was the issue of financing to jumpstart climate mitigation in poorer nations, they said.

Where’s the Money?

The Copenhagen Accord commits the rich to deliver a total of $30 billion in kick-start financing to developing nations from 2010 to 2012, and it sets a goal of mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020.

Putting up this year’s $10 billion would go a long way toward rebuilding trust in the UN climate process, said Hmaidan. Still, there are few signs the money is coming, particularly from the U.S. 

According to Ilana Solomon, climate finance advisor at ActionAid, a global anti-poverty agency, the U.S. fair share of the $10 billion should run about $2.5 billion based on its 25 percent contribution to global warming emissions. In February, President Barack Obama put out a budget request for $1.4 billion in international climate finance.

“This means that the U.S. is in fact increasing its contribution to short-term finance, but it’s not necessarily meeting its fair share of approximately $2.5 billion,” said Solomon.

“More than that, I think we need to look at where this money is actually going,” she said.

Out of the $1.4 billion, roughly $650 million would flow through the World Bank, which tends to push projects favored by Western agendas. Poorer nations prefer climate dollars to be handled by the UN, where they have more influence. Only about $64 million would end up in the coffers of the UNFCCC, Solomon explained.

World Bank funds “are not accountable to the UNFCCC,” Solomon added, and “are not likely going to serve to build the trust that we need to see in the negotiations moving forward.”

Further angering advocates, Pershing said that only developing nations associating with the Copenhagen Accord would be eligible for climate dollars. It is “not a free-rider process,” he said on Sunday.

That means nations opposed to the accord, including Ecuador and Bolivia, could be out of luck for now.

“In our view the fast-start financing was explicitly a creation of the agreement in the Copenhagen accord,” said Pershing, adding that “those countries that are part of the Copenhagen Accord should expect to see that financing.”

“If they’re not part of that agreement, we would not anticipate prioritizing those requests under the accord.”

Pablo Solon, Bolivia’s ambassador to the UN, said the decision to withhold money was within “their rights,” but added that is is “unfair and clearly an attempt to punish Bolivia.” From April 19-22, Bolivian President Evo Morales is hosting an alternative climate summit with 15,000 people and up to 10 foreign leaders to protest the Copenhagen outcomes.  

“What kind of negotiation is it where you lose money if you disagree?” Solon added.

In contrast to the U.S, the EU won some praise from advocates on the financing issue. The 27-nation bloc, which has pledged $3.3 billion a year in quick-start funds, has promised to detail by the June round of climate negotiations in Bonn how it is adhering to its finance goal.

Katherine Guttman, head of climate policy at WWF International, a Switzerland-based environmental group, called the EU announcement a “positive step.”


See also:

Conference of Parties ‘Takes Note Of’ Copenhagen Accord

More than a Quarter of World’s Poorest States ‘Associate’ with Copenhagen Accord

Highlights from the Proposed ‘Copenhagen Accord’ on Climate Change