Malik Amin Aslam Khan
Delegates from 193 countries and an unprecedented 119 heads of state and government turned up at Copenhagen, as did renowned eco-campaigners such as Prince Charles, Richard Branson, Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai and Al Gore. The intention was to discuss measures against climate change and support an ambitious agreement on the problem. This historic political gathering for two tumultuous weeks also drew more than 3,000 journalists. Around 40,000 visitors had to withstand frigidly cold weather for hours just to get entry passes into the Bella Centre.
Delegates and participants were greeted with banners urging for Copenhagen to be turned into “Hopenhagen.” Ultimately, though, it turned into what Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez aptly called “Nopenhagen.”
The disappointing culmination of this historic gathering was an accord of convenience between the world’s top carbon polluters who inked a document which was neither legally binding nor had any timetable or deadlines. It was, thus, no surprise that this farcical document was unable to get the endorsement of the UN system.
There will be a number of fallouts of this failure in terms of the moral authority of the global political leadership and the multilateral system for confrontation of global challenges. Already there is finger-pointing and shifting of blames, ironically, by the very countries which were part of the impotent accord. The G77-China negotiating group is already beginning to show cracks. While the dynamics of these shifts will play out in the coming months, their having been part of the Copenhagen circus, it is pertinent to draw out and put on record some some useful observations regarding the event:
Firstly, the process of drawing together such a large gathering of negotiators primarily driven by national interests was by its nature chaotic and fractious. The process should have been planned with this possibility being factored in. Such largely attended meetings are designed to technically converge within an agreeable band before being put to the political leadership and are certainly never left open to be finally hijacked by a select few. A planned effort to turn any confusion towards some degree of clarity was absent at Copenhagen.
The high-level segment proved to be an endless series of long-drawn statements and political posturing which was carried out without any real negotiations and, subsequently, the process evaded the political deal which the world was waiting for.
Secondly, the spirit of collective ownership, instead of being carefully nurtured towards agreement, was strategically sabotaged from the onset with the leaking of parallel draft texts reflecting, at best, partial consent by some of the parties. The first was informally floated at the start of the negotiations, supposedly as a discussed text between 42 select countries prior to the meeting. The second was another text which was “lurking” for release at the start of the high-level segment.
Instead of generating any convergence of opinions, these “floating” documents were severely castigated and rejected by the majority of the participating countries. In the meanwhile, they created an air of mistrust, doubt and suspicion, while laying the foundations for an irretrievable political divide.
Thirdly, the Bali Plan of Action decided in 2007 specifically called for a two-track process which included discussions for an extension of the Kyoto Protocol by the developed countries, in tandem with work on long-term cooperative actions to be undertaken with the developing countries. Two years of intellectual input and intensive negotiations had gone into creating the basic technical documents for the Copenhagen Conference.
However, from the start of the negotiations there was incessant effort by the organisers to keep the focus of negotiations on the developing-countries track while bypassing the Kyoto track, which could only receive due attention after vociferous protests in the plenary. This underhand effort to sabotage or kill the Kyoto process and lump both the tracks together did not, and could not have, worked. It only deepened the mistrust and ensured that the negotiations remained politically deadlocked.
Fourthly, the EU which had carved out an enviable and painstaking global leadership on the climate issue failed to raise the level of their ambition above the already announced emissions cut of 30 per cent from 1990 levels. The block which had collectively rescued the Kyoto process after the unceremonious US withdrawal and which had sustained the global carbon market by taking up self-regulated emissions targets, could not inspire political action at Copenhagen.
Considering the fact that the meeting was being held in a country of the European Union, the public expectation was extremely high and the political atmosphere exceptionally conducive. However, all this could not be capitalised upon. One of the reasons for the materialising of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 was the selfless and unbiased leadership provided by the host country, Japan, which transcended regional politics or political groupings. At Copenhagen, such skill and statesmanship was found wanting on the part of the host country.
Finally, representing the world’s largest carbon polluting country, President Barrack Obama made all the right noises but failed to make his mark on a world stage which seemed to be tailor-made for him to take charge. Climate change was, after all, one of his rallying cries during the election. It is an issue which he had strategically placed it second in priority to global terrorism. However, all the hype surrounding his return visit to Scandinavia, just days after receiving the controversial Nobel peace prize, could not deliver any substance.
He came empty handed to Copenhagen and delivered a speech which just repeated commitments made earlier, while adding some thinly-veiled attacks to China. All of this obstructed rather than aided the global agreement process.
Looking back, while some silver linings of the accord can certainly be counted in terms of an initial entry by the US into the climate negotiations process and the sneaking admittance of China and India towards measurable emission-controls, its pitfalls remain strikingly obvious, as stated above. Most alarmingly, the minimalist agreement at Copenhagen unilaterally shirks responsibility for climate adaptation as it drastically failed to provide any comfort or support to the unwilling victims of climate change.
Instead of urgently delivering adaptation funds to the countries bearing the brunt of climate change they have been left in the lurch to cope with its dangerous consequences. Countries like Pakistan, which are the worst victims of climate injustice, will thus have to pay the price of this global indecisiveness. Climate change losses have already cost its struggling economy a whopping $3.8 billion over the past decade and this figure will only inflate as we struggle to cope with the challenge of climate adaptation without a strong and accessible global climate framework.
With such a large divide between political delivery and people’s expectations, the time may be ripe for a people’s enquiry to be held on the Copenhagen catastrophe. In the charged “March for Climate Justice” in the streets of Copenhagen, there were two placards which caught my eye. One read: “Politicians Talk – Leaders Act” and the other demanded: “Change the Politics – Not the Climate.” Copenhagen fell short on both counts.
This single-largest collection of politicians failed to generate global leadership while bickering politics evaded an agreement the world so desperately needed. For the time being, narrowly defined vested interests have certainly slammed shut the door to a viable political agreement. However, the committed social mobilisation evidenced at Copenhagen may just be opening the door for a global people’s movement to take charge of this issue.
The writer is former minister of state for environment and a member of the Core Group on Climate Change. Email: amin@ comsats.net.pk