The Copenhagen Accord: A Q&A with our policy team

14 January 2010

What exactly was agreed in Copenhagen? Our global policy team offers its take on the Copenhagen Accord - what it says and what it doesn't say, and what we might expect now.

- Read The Climate Group's Copenhagen Assessment.

- Visit the UNFCCC website to read all decisions adopted by the Conference, as well as the Accord.

  • What was agreed in Copenhagen?

    The principle outcome was the 'Copenhagen Accord'. This is a political agreement, which for the first time commits all countries, both developed and developing, to taking concrete and verifiable action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Accord, however, is not legally binding, contains no emission reduction targets and leaves many key negotiating issues unresolved. The Accord is an important stepping stone in the international community's effort to address climate change, rather than an end in itself.
  • What is The Climate Group's view on the Copenhagen Accord?

    We believe the Accord is neither a perfect nor a final agreement but that the foundations exist for significant progress. For the Accord to be successful governments will need to embrace a "race to the top" mentality and avoid lowest-common denominator climate policies. The next 12-24 months will be crucial to ensure a sound foundation for taking ambitious action over the next five to 10 years is laid.
  • What key provisions were included?

    The Accord covers all the core building blocks for an international climate agreement:  mitigation, adaptation, technology development and transfer and financing. What it lacks is the detail on many of these issues, particularly with respect to mitigation where emission reduction targets are conspicuous by their absence. Climate financing is the one area where substantive commitments have been made, with developed countries committing to $30 billion in 'fast-track funding' to 2012, and mobilizing $100 billion per annum by 2020. Countries have also agreed a basic outline for monitoring, reporting and verification of commitments and actions (to be further developed), and established a "technology mechanism" (details also to be developed).
  • On which key issues was progress made?

    Although the Accord is the primary output from Copenhagen, progress was also made in the two parallel negotiating groups that have been the focus of international climate efforts over the past two years. Officials arrived in Copenhagen with over 200 pages of complex negotiating text from both the Convention and Kyoto Protocol negotiating groups. These have been considerably reduced, although all texts, whether dealing with mitigation, adaptation, technology, financing or capacity building, contain elements on which there is still no consensus.
  • What key issues remain unresolved?

    Arguably, the key issue left unresolved in Copenhagen was the aggregate and individual emission reduction targets for developed countries beyond 2012 and, hence, agreement on an acceptable medium and long-term emissions pathway. 

    Both the Kyoto Protocol and Convention track negotiations were supposed to set these targets by the end of the Conference. It is not clear when these targets might now be agreed. Developed countries are supposed to submit their proposed emission targets under the Accord by January 31st, but with both the Protocol and Convention negotiating groups set to continue their work for another 12 months, it is not clear what status the January pledges will have. 

    Other major and minor issues remain to be resolved in all the other key areas of the negotiation.
  • Which country leaders could be said to be winners or losers in this - did anyone get what they wanted?

    Despite criticism from many environmental groups for the US lack of ambition, it is clear that President Obama is one of the winners from Copenhagen. Securing a political agreement that fits with US domestic needs and timetables, while extracting an important concession from China on the sensitive issue of monitoring, reporting and verification, were all major achievements.

    China itself is also likely to be privately content with the outcome of Copenhagen, despite criticism from some developed countries that it was responsible for the poor result. The summit demonstrated that China, along with the US, will define the post-2012 international climate architecture.

    Other major developing countries in particular, India, Brazil and South Africa - also grew in political stature.

    The EU is undoubtedly the major loser from Copenhagen. Its exclusion from talks between the US and the BASIC group, which hammered out the final details of the Accord, demonstrated Europe's limited influence. EU member states will now need to reassess how Europe can regain a credible place at the negotiating table.
  • Does the Accord make the passage of ambitious US domestic legislation more or less likely?

    In theory, the success in having China and the other major emerging economies sign up to the Accord and commit to actions which are monitored, reported and verified, should remove the main obstacles to passing a US cap and trade bill in 2010.
  • Does it put enough on the table for markets and business to bend the energy investment curve?

    It's too early to say. If countries commit to their most ambitious pledges on January 31st and clearly signal that these represent a floor rather than a ceiling to their mitigation actions, then we should have foundations to spur new, low-carbon investment. Otherwise, there is a risk that, as investment picks up in the aftermath of recession, there is a lock-in to existing high-carbon technologies.
  • What will the Copenhagen Accord mean for the global environment?

    The absence of binding emission cuts for developed countries, the lack of a peaking year for global emissions, and no long-term emission reduction goal, are all serious environmental short-comings of the Accord.

    Most independent assessments agree that even the most ambitious current pledges are insufficient to put the world on a path that keeps global temperature increases to 2 degrees below pre-industrial levels. In fact, more than 3 degrees is more likely. It is therefore vital that countries fill in these gaps as soon as possible, either through the aggregation of ambitious individual efforts, or by agreeing to these commitments in a new, binding international agreement.

    Once action is underway, we are convinced that countries and businesses will see that deeper cuts are possible.
  • What will the Copenhagen Accord mean for the global economy?

    If the Accord results in an acceleration of national level efforts, because of governments embracing a 'race to the top' attitude (not a guaranteed response), then this is likely to result in increase investment in low-carbon products and services, with all the attendant benefits this brings, in particular for employment.
  • What risks persist without a legally binding agreement?

    The bottom-up, pledge and review approach of the Accord creates a significant amount of uncertainty about whether the world will keep to a 2 degree or less trajectory. There is no in-built mechanism for ensuring that ambition is ratcheted up. Instead, there is an inherent risk that ambition is lowered, because of perceived costs associated with taking more ambitious action than other countries.While international treaties may not always be fully enforceable, they do provide greater formality and hence robustness to collected domestic commitments.
  • What is necessary to ensure nations not only make bold commitments but implement them?

    Evidence that other countries are also taking action and mechanisms to strengthen collaboration. This is why a transparent and effective monitoring, reporting, and verification system is developed and put in place as soon as possible.
  • Does the Accord make for a weaker or stronger deal down the line?

    The Accord has the potential to create a stronger deal at a later point. For example, if, as a result of the Accord's adoption, the US passes its cap and trade legislation and China further accelerates its domestic low-carbon policies, then this will build trust and confidence from the ground up. If this makes domestic constituencies more comfortable about taking ambitious climate action, then this paves the way for a similarly more ambitious international agreement.
  • How soon can a legally binding agreement be achieved?

    Most observers believe that December 2010 is the earliest that a legally binding agreement could be agreed. However, in his media briefing announcing the Accord, President Obama stated that it could take "a long time" before such an agreement was signed. This suggests the US is looking at a considerably longer incubation period.
  • Is trust alone enough to save the planet or are mechanisms required?

    A combination is needed. Transparent and effective mechanisms, for financing, technology transfer or capacity building, can all help build trust.
  • What will be the key dates for the climate in 2010?

    Key dates to watch out for include those for the UNFCCC, the G20 and the MEF. COP16 will take place in December, while the UNFCCC's subsidiary bodies will hold their mid-year meetings in June. Mexico, as host of COP16 has also been requested to develop a schedule of work for the Convention and Protocol negotiating groups. These will need to meet at regular intervals if they are to complete their work by COP16.

    Other dates of importance will be the deadline for a US cap and trade bill, and also the US mid-term elections in the autumn.
  • What impact will the Copenhagen Accord have on financing - is it enough?

    The Accord's financing commitments are almost certainly the most significant outcome from Copenhagen. So long as developed countries can deliver the fast-track funds quickly and efficiently, then this financing should have an important impact, not only on emissions but also on the level of trust between developed and developing country parties. Although both fast-track and long-term funding levels announced are at the low-end of financing spectrum, they are a strong base to build from.
  • What impact will the Copenhagen Accord have on REDD?

    The Copenhagen Accord simply agrees that a mechanism to mobilize funds for REDD plus activities needs to be established. It does not provide any further details or instructions. Considerable progress was made on REDD+ under the Convention negotiations, however. Parties will look to build on this work in 2010. The Accord provides the political stamp of approval for accelerating the conclusion of this work.
  • What impact will the Copenhagen Accord have on transparency and monitoring?

    The Accord appears to have made a breakthrough on the sensitive and critical issue of monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV). Developing countries have agreed to an MRV process of both unilateral and supported mitigation actions, although with different measures applying. As always, the devil will be in the detail. Much work remains to be done to clarify how the MRV system will operate in practice. The negotiations here are likely to prove difficult.
  • What impact will the Copenhagen Accord have on aviation and shipping?

    The lack of any agreement, either within the Accord or in the wider negotiation process, arguably leaves aviation and shipping in something of a policy limbo. 

    Both industry and NGOs had hoped to see a clear mandate come out of Copenhagen, which provided direction to ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) and IMO (International Maritime Organization) to deliver an effective and fair solution to address bunker emissions in 2010 or 2011. This did not occur. 

    It remains unclear how aviation and shipping negotiations will now progress. Many are now looking to ICAO and IMO to take full leadership of the issue. ICAO and IMO meetings early in 2010 will provide the first indication of where discussions are heading.
  • What impact will the Copenhagen Accord have on the Kyoto Protocol/twin track discussions?

    This is one of the fundamental issues that countries will need to address in 2010. Both negotiating tracks have had their mandates extended until COP16 in Mexico (Dec 2010), but it remains unclear how their work will relate to the commitments that are supposed to be made under the Copenhagen Accord or what outcomes they are now supposed to deliver.
  • Was there a breakthrough moment between nations?

    Based on comments from the majority of countries that the Copenhagen Accord is not the agreement they wanted to see from Copenhagen, it seems unlikely that there was ever any breakthrough moment. The Accord is ultimately a compromise agreement that must be built on.

    However, the moment at which the US and BASIC countries announced that they had done the deal marked a very significant turning point in international climate politics.
  • Was it effectively a G2 decision?

    No. While the US and China were almost certainly in the drivers seat, agreement could not have been reached without the support or endorsement of India, the EU, Brazil, South Africa and ultimately all other Parties.
  • Why did it take so long after the US announcement for EU and G77 to make a statement?

    Because both the EU and G77 needed to consult internally before making any announcement.
  • What have government leaders said about the Copenhagen Accord?

    US President Barack Obama said "meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough" had been reached at Copenhagen. "It is going to be very hard [to get a legally binding deal], and it's going to take some time...We have come a long way, but we have much further to go."

    European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said: "This has been a first experiment...the level of ambition has not been what we were looking for."

    UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "We have made a start. What we need is a legally binding outcome."

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: "We have done one step. We hoped for several more."
  • What does The Climate Group think policy-makers need to focus on to ensure an effective climate deal is achieved at COP16?
    1. Countries need to take part in a race to the top and confirm their most ambitious medium and long term emissions reduction targets, in line with a 2oC goal.
    2. Deploy existing and innovative financing and market mechanisms that can unlock vital private sector investment for low carbon products, services and infrastructure so that the $30billion pledged leverages considerably greater overall investment.
    3. Increase public-private dialogue with business and private sector input into the ongoing global climate talks.
    4. Conclude a comprehensive, legally binding international agreement by the end of 2010, guided by the science, starting in 2015.
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