If climate change must be understood as a civilization challenging ethical problem, what can be said about the positions taken by governments and results achieved at the recently concluded Copenhagen conference?
To evaluate what happened in Copenhagen one must understand that the Copenhagen meeting was only the last in almost two decades of meetings that have failed to achieve a global solution to climate change. Copenhagen was the 19th meeting of governments from around the world that have been meeting every year since 1990 to forge a comprehensive climate change regime. Copenhagen was also the 15th conference of the parties (COP-15) since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) came into effect in 1994. (UN, 1992)
For more than twenty years some nations have been taking positions on climate change that raise serious ethical concerns. Copenhagen meeting was no exception. However, as we saw in a prior ClimateEthics post, there were two issues that arose with a new force in Copenhagen. They were the intensity and frequency of calls for: (a) global justice, and (b) increased funding for adaptation programs in vulnerable developing countries. See, ClimateEthics, Two Climate Change Matters Move To Center Stage In Copenhagen With Profound Implications for Developed Nations: Ethics and Adaptation, http://climateethics.org/?p=331.
Yet, at the conclusion of the Copenhagen conference, as we shall see, little was accomplished in response to these issues or the other climate change disputes that have now plagued climate negotiations for almost two decades. Although, as we shall see, some have pointed to a few positive Copenhagen outcomes, most observers have judged COP-15 to be a disaster.
This post begins with an analysis of what actually happened in Copenhagen and contains the following sections:
• The path to the Copenhagen Accord
• Arguments about whether Copenhagen was a disaster or a positive step forward.
• Analysis of the “disaster-step forward” controversy
• Ethical analyses of the Copenhagen Accord
• Climate change ethics after Copenhagen
II. The Path To The Copenhagen Accord
The Copenhagen conference took place from December 7-19, 2009. Copenhagen was intended to be the culmination of a two-year negotiating process that was agreed to in Bali, Indonesia, in December 2007.
In 1990 negotiations began that led in 1992 to opening for signature and ratification of the UNFCCC. This treaty itself does not contain binding greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions limitations for countries but nevertheless includes numerous other binding national climate change obligations.
To understand the significance of what happened in Copenhagen, it is necessary to understand the goals and objectives for an international climate regime that were originally set out in the UNFCCC. Among other things, for instance, the parties to the UNFCCC agreed that: (a) They would adopt policies and measures to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system, (b) Developed countries should take the first steps to do this, and (c) Nations have common but differentiated responsibilities to prevent climate change, (d) Nations may not use scientific uncertainty as an excuse for not taking action, and (e) Nations should reduce their GHG emissions based upon “equity.” (UN, 1992) As we shall see, some national proposals in Copenhagen, seventeen years after the UNFCCC was agreed upon, failed to abide by many promises made by governments in the UNFCCC.
As of December 2009, the UNFCCC had 192 parties, a number that includes almost all countries in the world including the United States which ratified the UNFCCC in 1994.
The UNFCC is a “framework” convention because it has always been expected that additional requirements would be added to the framework in updates that are known as “protocols” or in annual decisions of the conferences of the parties.
The first major addition to the UNFCCC was the Kyoto Protocol which was negotiated in 1997 because the international community had been convinced by emerging climate change science that developed nations needed to be bound by numerical emissions reductions targets. The Kyoto Protocol entered into force on February 16, 2005 and currently has 190 parties. The United States is the only developed country that never ratified the Kyoto Protocol.
Under the Kyoto, Protocol, the developed countries agreed to reduce their overall emissions of six greenhouse gases by an average of 5.2% below 1990 levels between 2008-2012. The developing countries had no binding emissions reductions obligations under Kyoto.
The Copenhagen negotiations were necessary because the emissions reductions obligations of developed countries set out in the Kyoto Protocol expire in 2012.
At climate negotiations at COP-13 in Bali, Indonesia in 2007, parties to the UNFCCC agreed to replace the Kyoto Protocol with an agreement that would create a second commitment period under the UNFCCC and would include binding emissions reductions for developed countries and new programs on adaptation for developing countries, deforestation, finance, technology transfer, and capacity building. This agreement is referred to as the Bali Roadmap which also called for articulating a “shared vision for long-term cooperative action,” including a long-term global goal for emission reductions.
The Bali decision also recognized that developing countries could make contributions to solving the climate change through the development of Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs), that is climate change strategies for developing countries. The NAMAs, however, would not constitute binding emissions reduction requirements for developing countries in contrast to the binding obligations of developed countries in the Kyoto Protocol that would be further developed in Copenhagen.
At Bali the parties also agreed on a two-year negotiating process to achieve the objectives of the Bali Roadmap. Under this action plan, nations would proceed on two negotiation tracks. One under the UNFCCC and the other under the Kyoto Protocol. The first track was know by the acronym “AWG-KP,” standing for the Ad hoc Working Group on the Kyoto Protocol. The second track was referred to as “AWG-LCA,” standing for the Ad hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action. The Bali agreement also included a deadline for concluding these negotiations in Copenhagen in December of 2009.
Intense negotiations in preparation for Copenhagen took place during the two years between Bali and Copenhagen including four separate meetings in 2009 alone. In these deliberations, many contentious issues surfaced. Among other things, these disputes included particularly strong disagreements about the magnitude of developed country emissions reduction commitments and institutional arrangements and funding amounts for financing developing country needs for technology cooperation, adaptation, reducing emissions from deforestation, and capacity building.
Although some progress was made on a few issues in the two year lead-up to Copenhagen, little progress was made on the major issues and particularly on commitments for GHG emissions reductions and funding for adaptation, deforestation programs, and technology transfer.