Copenhagen climate summit wasn’t a flop, reports say
The Copenhagen climate summit, roundly dubbed a failure when it ended last year, may actually have sparked significant steps toward curbing global warming, according to some environmentalists and financial analysts.
Analyses from groups, including Deutsche Bank, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the liberal Center for American Progress, are challenging the snap indictment of the December conference, which drew wide criticism for failing to produce a new treaty to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
Now, after adding up the individual commitments from the countries at the summit and translating them into tons of greenhouse gas emissions that will be kept out of the atmosphere, several analysts say the Copenhagen conference appears to have generated even more pledged emissions reduction than the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the first major international climate agreement.
The conference was “no failure” and produced “the highest number of new government initiatives ever recorded . . . in a four-month period,” Deutsche Bank, which tracks climate policy as part of its research on clean energy investments, declared in a March report.
The bank attributed 154 new domestic policies to the talks, which were attended by representatives from 193 countries.
“Copenhagen served to raise awareness of the problem all over the world, and that in turn forced governments to focus on the issue,” Kevin Parker, the bank’s global head of asset management, wrote in the report.
Trevor Houser, a visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics who worked on the State Department’s negotiating team in Copenhagen, tallied the commitments from the accord and projected their effect through century’s end.
Under what he called “reasonable” economic and technical assumptions of what each country could expect to keep doing, Houser concluded that the Copenhagen commitments would give the world a 50% chance of holding warming to 2 degrees Celsius by 2100, the level many scientists say is needed to avert catastrophic warming.
The Center for American Progress estimated the pledges would take the world two-thirds of the way to “climate safety.”
But as is virtually everything related to climate change, the findings are hotly disputed.
“We haven’t seen any action yet” as a result of the accord, said Bill McKibben, director of the climate action group 350.org and an early critic of the Copenhagen result. “Not only did they not agree on anything . . . the stuff they didn’t agree upon was spectacularly insufficient.”
The two-week conference, which included more than 100 heads of state, ended with only a skeletal deal, which spanned only a few pages.
It allowed countries to set voluntary and nonbinding pledges to reduce emissions by 2020. It set up international monitoring of those pledges, and it promised to send billions of dollars from wealthy nations to the developing world to help poorer nations reduce emissions and adapt to warming temperatures.
Critics said neither the cuts nor the money sufficed to avert the likelihood of catastrophic climate change.
“A successful outcome from Copenhagen would have required a minimum of two commitments from developed countries: deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and adequate funds to address climate change in developing countries,” the environmental group Friends of the Earth wrote soon after the summit. “The Copenhagen Accord didn’t deliver either.”
President Obama conceded when he announced the accord that it did not go as far as scientists had urged.
But he contended the agreement was a crucial starting point, particularly because it was the first international deal to win commitments from China and India, whose booming economies will produce much of the world’s emissions growth this century.
Administration officials have ramped up that argument in recent months, as more than 100 countries signed onto the accord, including 60 that pledged to reduce emissions.
“What we’re starting to learn,” said Joe Aldy, special assistant to the president for energy and environment, “is, with this approach where we say to countries, come forward and . . . make public your emissions targets and actions, it is creating almost a positive dynamic now, where countries look at their peers and say, ‘Wait, I should do something.’ ”
Several analysts say those pronouncements, while unenforceable internationally, have begun to spur domestic policies to reduce emissions in China, Brazil and other nations.
Houser said in an interview after the summit that “the focus has moved from a binding international agreement to meaningful domestic policy, which is what ultimately matters. International agreements don’t in and of themselves produce emissions cuts. Domestic policies do.”
The biggest domestic question remains the United States, where emission limits are pending in the Senate. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), one of the architects of the climate bill, said the accord had not soured any colleagues on the legislation, which he is pitching more as an economic and national security boost than an emission-reducer.
The Deutsch Bank analysis shows huge reductions pledged by China and Brazil but little from America.
“The U.S. contribution to planned emission reductions has been dismal,” it said, adding: “While Congress stumbles, America continues to fall behind.”