• Update on the Copenhagen Climate Talks
  • April 30, 2010 | Author: Meinhard Doelle
  • Law Firm: Stewart McKelvey - Halifax Office
  • Introduction

    In December, 2009, the most anticipated climate change negotiations in a decade took place in Copenhagen, Denmark.1 For two weeks, climate change took center stage in Copenhagen and around the globe with high expectations for a comprehensive global agreement on how to tackle climate change, one of the most complex challenges facing the human race. Over 120 of the 193 parties attending the negotiations were represented by their head of state or government, making Copenhagen the largest gathering of heads of state outside New York.

    Substantive Outcomes

    The main substantive outcomes of the Copenhagen climate talks are the Copenhagen Accord, and modest progress in the more technical negotiations under two working groups (AWGs) set up in 2007 in Bali.2 The work of the two AWGs was far from completed. The Copenhagen Accord was limited to a few key issues, and was not universally accepted and therefore not formally adopted by the COP. In short, the direct substantive outcomes from Copenhagen were limited.

    The following are some of the key elements of the Copenhagen Accord:

    • Endorsement of the continuation of the two AWGs to conclude a more comprehensive agreement at COP 16 on the range of issues currently before the two AWGs.

    • Endorsement of the goal of limiting global average temperature increases to below 2 degrees Celsius, and the need to make deep cuts in emissions to achieve this goal.

    • Annex I Parties were asked to submit by January 31, 2010, and subsequently implement, quantified economy wide emission targets by 2020. Efforts to implement these targets will be subject to international monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV). The agreement does not include a collective target for Annex I Parties.

    • Non-Annex I Parties were similarly asked to submit a list (also by January 31, 2010) of mitigation actions they intend to implement (supported and unsupported NAMAs). Any involvement of LDCs and SIDS is strictly voluntary. The implementation of these actions is to be communicated through National Communications every two years. The level and nature of the monitoring, reporting and review (MRV) will depend on whether the actions are supported by Annex I Parties. For unsupported actions, the focus will be on domestic MRV, but with some international transparency. For supported actions, there will be international MRV. As with Annex I parties, the agreement does not include a collective target for Non-Annex I parties.

    • A collective commitment from developed countries to contribute $US 30 billion from 2010 to 2012 for adaptation and mitigation in developing countries.

    • A collective commitment from developed countries to increase the funding to $US 100 billion a year by 2020 from a variety of unspecified sources.

    • A review by 2015 to assess the implementation of the Accord and its adequacy, including in particular the need to consider the 1.5 degree global average temperature limit based on the available science at that time.3

    How does the Copenhagen Accord stack up against expectations? To start with, the Accord is short on detail on a shared vision consistent with the goal of the UNFCCC. The statement on shared vision lacks many of the elements introduced in the Bali Mandate and the subsequent negotiations on what would be required globally to keep global average temperature increases below 2 degrees. There is no mention of the maximum concentration of GHG emissions that would ensure the 2 degree target can be met, nor is there agreement on peak emissions or global emission reductions either in the medium or long term. Furthermore, the Accord does not address the much more difficult and controversial issue of how the global emission reductions needed to achieve the 2 degree target would be shared among the parties to the UNFCCC. In short, the Accord side steps the tough issues on adequacy and fairness. It does, however, set the overall adequacy target that could lead parties to fill in the missing detail at COP 16 in Mexico.

    The Accord is also weak on mitigation. Emission reduction targets and actions are left to individual parties to put forward unilaterally. This is expected to happen early in 2010. If the commitments introduced by key Parties in the lead up to Copenhagen are any indication, mitigation commitments by both A1 and NA1 parties will fall well short of the 25-40% for A1 and the 15% below BAU for NA1 suggested by the IPCC to be needed to have a reasonable chance of meeting the 2 degree target. If there has been progress on mitigation, it is that developing countries have agreed to put mitigation actions forward and have agreed to some level of international transparency and oversight.

    Finance is one area where significant progress was made. The long term finance may still fall short of what is needed to support mitigation, adaptation, technology and capacity building in developing countries, but the commitment appears to be in the right order of magnitude.4 Unresolved issues include sources of funding, compliance, and the details on how funds are to be allocated and disbursed.


    In spite of its many limitations, the Copenhagen Accord has the potential to have a positive impact on the development of the climate change regime. Most immediately, it should result in a quick start to finance. It can also, if accepted by the UNFCCC parties negotiating the LCA and KP texts, resolve some key issues, and thereby provide much needed momentum to the ongoing negotiations under the two AWGs. The acceptance of the agreement reached in the Accord by the two AWGs is, however, far from certain. There is a significant risk that these issues will be reopened when the AWGs pick up their work in 2010.

    Regardless of what happens to the issues resolved in the Copenhagen Accord, the many outstanding issues will have to be taken up by the AWGs in 2010. An interesting question in assessing the impact of the Copenhagen Accord will be whether it can create momentum in these negotiations, particularly as a result of the agreement on the scale of long term finance, the level of mitigation efforts by key parties and the transparency and reporting and review commitments. Unfortunately, while the substance of the Accord has the potential to provide some momentum to the negotiations in these key areas, the way the Accord was negotiated by a limited number of nations while excluding a number of developing nations has the potential to undermine the trust and atmosphere of cooperation needed to resolve the many outstanding issues.

    1. See UNFCCC http://unfccc.int/2860.php (website last accessed January 2010) for general information about the Copenhagen climate talks.

    2. See UNFCCC website at http://unfccc.int/2860.php (website last accessed January 2010) for official UNFCCC documents from the various negotiating processes underway in Copenhagen. For the results of the LCA AWG, see FCCC/AWGLCA/2009/L.7/Rev.1 and Add.1, Add.2/Rev.1, Add.3.7, Add.8/Rev.1 and Add.9. For the results of the KP AWG, see FCCC/KP/AWG/2009/L.15.

    3. The Copenhagen Accord was at the time of writing available as part of document FCCC/CP/2009/L.7, available on the UNFCCC website at http://unfccc.int/2860.php (website last accessed January 2010).

    4. For a perspective on the level of finance required, see Andrew Pendleton, Simon Retallack, Fairness in Global Climate Change Finance (London: Institute for Public Policy Research, 2009) available online at http://www.boell.de (website last accessed January 2010).