Climate Negotiators Push for “Solution” Rather Than Treaty

RasmussenCopenhagen, Denmark - Connie Hedegaard, host of the ongoing United Nations-sponsored climate negotiations, opened the two-week summit yesterday in Denmark's capital with a passionate call for an international commitment to combat climate change.

"This is the time to deliver," said Hedegaard, the Danish minister of climate and energy. "This is the place to commit.... Let's get it done!"

Problem is, Hedegaard did not clarify what "it" is.

A Danish proposal, released to the British newspaper The Guardian, revealed that the United States, United Kingdom, and Denmark had formed a negotiation text on their own that would replace the Kyoto Protocol.

The "political agreement" rocked the negotiations yesterday and has led major parties such as China and the Alliance of Small Island States to begin crafting their own negotiation texts as well, sources said.

The Copenhagen summit was previously billed as the deadline of a two-year process, initiated at a similar UN summit in Bali, Indonesia, to forge a legally binding international treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. Negotiators agreed that Copenhagen would host a historic agreement. But disagreement among international negotiators, national politicians, and consumers worldwide pushed talk of a binding treaty off of the Copenhagen agenda.

The Danish proposal has now led to even greater uncertainty about how the Copenhagen summit will end.

The confusion was clear at the opening ceremony. Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen mentioned "a strong common approach," "effective global solutions," and an agreement "founded on legal principles."

The word "treaty" was never mentioned. Rasmussen instead reiterated his proposal for a "very strong politically binding agreement," first discussed last month. Tricky issues related to finance, technology transfer, deforestation, and accountability should be addressed in Copenhagen, he said. If so, leaders could be ready to sign a treaty in December 2010 at the UN summit in Mexico City.

Leaders of major industrialized nations, such as the United States and European Union, have since supported a "political agreement."

"What we need to do now is to bring these leaders together next week and push them to make strong concrete commitments, which we can, in a system of transparency, follow all the way until we have a legally binding instrument," Rasmussen said at a side event on Monday. "I know this will be disappointing for some. But on the other hand, this approach, in my opinion, is a very realistic and ambitious approach.... Don't underestimate that naming and blaming is a very strong sanction tool."

Action Aid protestersDeveloping countries, especially those currently facing the harsh realities of climate change - water scarcity, sea-level rise, reduced crop yields - have not responded well to the political proposal. Until a legally binding treaty is adopted, the responsibility, and required funding, to deal with climate changes in their regions will rest on developing-world governments, said Saadeldin Ibrahim Mohammed Izzeldin, a Sudanese delegate who speaks for the Group of 77 developing-country negotiation bloc.

News of a "political agreement" crafted without developing-country consultation has led to further frustration among negotiators. The Group of 77 was notified of the Danish-U.S.-U.K. proposal this past weekend, even though the draft, as published on The Guardian's Web site yesterday, was several weeks old, according to members of the Climate Action Network, an international coalition of environmental groups that learned about the sideline negotiations today.

"After spending millions of air miles negotiating a text, Copenhagen setting the entire [UN Framework Convention on Climate Change] process aside and bringing in a new text is totally unacceptable to most developing countries," said Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow with the International Institute for Environment and Development.

Bruno Tseliso Sekoli, lead spokesman for the bloc of Least Developed Countries, said that he became aware of a separate negotiation process during the UNFCCC meeting in Bangkok, Thailand in October. Although Sekoli was not shown the Danish proposal, he defended the Danish hosts.

"They did try to make an effort," said Sekoli, climate change coordinator and director of Lesotho Meteorological Services in Maseru, capital of the sub-Saharan African nation, in an interview. "We still insist on more serious consultation on the issue of controlling greenhouse gas emissions through a Kyoto Protocol mechanism."

U.S. delegates said that the Danish government, as host to the negotiations, is expected to propose various agreement options. The leaked text was no more than an "exercise."

Prime Minister Rasmussen is supposedly no longer promoting the Danish-U.S.-U.K. plan.

Press scramble African protestAfrican negotiators demonstrated their frustration at the inadequate progress of negotiations today by storming through the conference center's main floor and shouting, "1 degree is enough; 2 degrees is suicide."

"So far this negotiation is coming out with an outcome that will not be able to protect the safety of Africa," said Mohamed Adow, a program officer with Christian Aid in Kenya. "I'm talking about climate colonialism."

A U.S. senator, Jim Webb (D-VA), has also expressed concern about the negotiation progress. A "political agreement" would be as unacceptable as a treaty, he wrote in a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama.

"As you well know from your time in the Senate, only specific legislation agreed upon in the Congress, or a treaty ratified by the Senate, could actually create such a commitment on behalf of our country," said Webb, a hold-out in the Senate debate on a climate bill.

The meaning of "political agreement" had no definition before today. Yet some environmental campaigners began to question whether the political proposal was merely a way to ensure that the Copenhagen summit appears historic regardless of its outcome.

"All leaders are under more pressure to sell something back at home that's not too bad," said Antonio Hill, Oxfam International's senior climate advisor, yesterday. "This leads to the possibility of tricks and loopholes."

Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo appealed on Monday directly to Rasmussen that he not allow other heads of state to settle for the "lowest common denominator."

"Let's ensure that we deliver a fair and ambitious and binding treaty," Naidoo said. "If we fail to do that, then Copenhagen will be remembered as ‘Flopenhagen' when we want it to be remembered as ‘Hopenhagen.'"

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Chair Rajendra Pachauri said during the opening ceremony that global emissions must peak no later than 2015 in order to limit global temperature increase to between 2 and 2.4 degrees Celsius.

"And some may even question the goal of 2 degrees Celsius as a ceiling because this would lead to sea-level rise on account of thermal expansion alone of 0.4 to 1.4 meters," he said. "This increase, added to the effect of melting of snow and ice across the globe, could submerge several small island states and Bangladesh."

Mohammed Axam Maumoon, 15, lives on North Malé Atoll, one of several islands in the Maldives that may disappear into a rising sea. His parents have told him stories about beaches that Mohammed now describes as lagoons. Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed is searching for foreign land where his residents could relocate in the event of a tragic flood.

"We are now in the era of climate injustice," said Mohammed, whom the Maldives government chose to represent the island state at the Children's Climate Forum organized by UNICEF in Copenhagen. "Those with more than enough are damaging our world blindly in the common cause of development."

Marstella Jack, a private attorney from the Federation States of Micronesia, also emphasized the climate severity faced by her community.

"When I look at the dialogues here and the realities we face now at home - it's so detached," said Jack at a CAN event. "We want to live for the next 100 years at least. But it's not looking like our islands will live to see the next 100 years."

Fellow John Mulrow contributed to this report.

Ben Block is a staff writer with the Worldwatch Institute. He can be reached at

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