Q: Is the Copenhagen Accord a real deal? Are there any beneficiaries of this decision? What responsibilities do nations have going forward?
At the close of the Copenhagen Conference, I commented that the Copenhagen Accord reflected a lost opportunity, largely because the negotiations between two largest greenhouse gas emitters, the U.S. and China, were too little too late. With a holiday respite to clear the mind and a return of realism to balance my disappointment, this is how I now see it.
It is pointless to resolve whether the Accord is a real deal or not. The fact is that it is the only deal available to move global society along the path of achieving large reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases that it must take. The Accord elevated the goal of limiting warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius from the G-8 nations to a much larger group that includes China, India, Brazil and other major emitters. It also made a general financial commitment to assist the vulnerable developing nations adapt to the effects of climate change and preserve their forests. From that perspective, all nations may benefit, but only if the promises are followed by effective actions.
The nations responsible for taking the necessary actions are essentially the same that crafted the Accord, so the failure of the Convention as a whole to adopt it doesn't matter much. The key parties remain the U.S. and China and it is disconcerting to read a firsthand account of efforts by China to weaken the Accord by insisting that no emission reduction targets be included. On the other hand, China is undertaking a crash program for clean energy that is more aggressive than what we are presently doing in the U.S. Massive investments in new technologies will certainly be required, but concomitant binding targets are also needed to allocate responsibilities and spur economic incentives. The U.S. must be engaged in tough bilateral diplomacy over the coming year that leads to firm emission reduction commitments.
Finally, the U.S. remains the lynchpin, one that can only be effectively functional if empowered by legislation. Let's hope that Chris Cillizza is wrong in his prediction that, following the acrimonious contest over health care, there is now no chance that the Obama Administration's climate change-energy legislation will come up for a vote in the Senate prior to the 2010 election. Time is not on our side.