Copenhagen accord

I finally found the full text of the accord.

What’s wrong with it

  1. It isn’t an accord yet. It has not been adopted by the plenary session. It was neither accepted nor rejected. It was “noted”. (I don’t know what noted means, in this context and I doubt anyone else does either). And some nations did not “note” it. (and even fewer — less than 30 nations out of 192, agreed to it).
  2. It isn’t legally binding. It’s not a treaty, just a collection of intents. (This broke a commitment made at the 2007 conference (COP13) which said a legally binding deal would be made in 2009)
  3. It has no substance
    • There is no mention of any cuts in emissions for any nation.
    • There is no mention of how much any individual nation should pay into the fund set up to help the developing world.
  4. The general statement that a US$100billion/year fund will be set up by 2020 is far less than the US$600billion/year fund deemed necessary.
  5. Emissions targets for non-annex 1 countries (China, India, Brasil, etc.) are even less explicit than the unspecified ones for annex 1 countries.
  6. Each non-annex 1 country will perform domestic verification of its emissions. There does not seem to be provision for international verification.
  7. In theory this accord provides a framework for moving forward, BUT there is no word on what the next step should be. No mention of COP16, or any other mechanism.
  8. (added 14 Jan, much later) The US has somehow grabbed control of the accord and is not willing for the UN to move forward on it. I find this very disturbing. It’s as if someone arrived late at a dinner party, threw it into disarray, and then insisted that everyone go eat elsewhere. It sounds like hubris, and I fear it means that the only things which will come out of it are ideas palatable to the US and China. Which will not be sufficient.

It’s full of rhetoric and has some good intents, but if it was this difficult to reach a rhetorical agreement, I can’t help wonder how difficult it will prove to reach a substantive one.

What’s right with it

  1. It does not throw out the Kyoto agreement.
  2. It does say (for the first time in an international document) the intent is still to limit global temperature rises to 2°C. However, since the document was not accepted, and the proposals on the table at the time would let global temperatures rise by 3°C, this statement seems like hypocrisy).

If nations make substantial commitments on 31 Jan, and if they move forward to make and sign a real treaty, then this may prove a useful step. But there is nothing here to make me think that will happen.

What worries me

Even with a rise of at most 2°C there will be droughts in Africa and floods in Bangladesh (and many other places of course). Hundreds of millions of people will be affected. People who have nothing to eat, who have had their house destroyed tend to be angry. And they will be angry with the United States. The US has been for years the largest polluter. (OK, China now produces more per year, but that’s only recently been the case. The US has dumped more carbon in the atmosphere than China over the last century). The US has had the largest per-capita carbon footprint of all major nations. The US never signed the Kyoto agreement (And that wasn’t just Bush’s fault, Clinton did not get it passed either). In the run up to the Copenhagen negotiations the US only committed to a 4% reduction from the 1990 levels, while most other developed nations offered more like 20% reductions. The US negotiators tried to remove the teeth from previous drafts. The US is responsible for the current “accord”. The world’s anger will be directed towards us. And that anger will only grow with time as conditions get worse. How hard will it be to put one man with Ebola onto a plane to the US? How hard to send a fishing vessel with an atomic bomb on board into a US harbor? China also shares some of the blame, mostly by the industrialized nations though. China was smart and claimed that it was refusing to sign the deal out of solidarity with the other G77 nations who were insisting on a stronger deal.

What terrifies me

Britain’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers (the national engineering society) says that Britain does not have the resources to achieve the necessary changes to combat climate change. And if Britain can’t, is it likely that the rest of the world will be able to? I simply do not see how an 80% global reduction in carbon output can be achieved by 2050 (which is what the IPCC says is needed). Can we find technologies which are 5 times more efficient than what we now use? Can we find replacement technologies with lower emissions? Look at cars or trucks. A Prius takes us from 25mpg cars to 50mpg. We’d need to find a technology which goes to 125mpg cars. Actually we need more than that because there will be more people in the world. What about electric cars? Well, an electric car is going to be less efficient than a gasoline powered car. There is a loss in the car’s battery, there is a huge loss in national power grid, and there is a loss when the power is generated. If the electricity is generated from hydrocarbons then gasoline powered cars are better than electric ones.

What saddens me

Humans will probably survive, though our civilization may not. But the natural world will be horrible denuded.

  • Heat is killing off many coral reeves
  • Acidification of water (caused by the increased CO2 in the atmosphere) will send many species to extinction.
  • Habitats will be lost on land.
  • As other sources of food vanish, people will hunt more species to extinction.

My conclusions

Many people (including Obama) said that a bad agreement would be worse than no agreement at all. A bad agreement makes it look as though something has been achieved and there will no longer be the will-power to do something real. This accord looks to me like an agreement which is worse than nothing.

Other views


Oh great big town of Copenhavn, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets gathers an ever-growing blight;
The hopes and fears for future years were dashed in thee last night.


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