The world has been taking a long, deep breath since the Copenhagen climate talks concluded on December 19th. The politics, logistics and legalities were so confusing in the last moments that much of the past month has been filled with efforts to understand what happened, and what people think of what happened.
What we know happened was that the Copenhagen accord was “taken note” of within the official negotiations. The Accord was a political agreement brokered by some countries and acknowledged by almost all of the countries. The four-page document outlines some areas of agreement, including keeping global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, recognizing the importance of stopping deforestation and mobilizing billions in funding to tackle climate change. But it falls well short of securing a new legally-binding global agreement.
There are few, if any, who think the accord is a great deal for the climate or for the most vulnerable people who are affected most by climate change. But it has the potential to be an important step forward by — for the first time — registering developing country actions to reduce emissions in a measurable and transparent way.
Why is this important? The Kyoto Protocol — the world’s current best effort to reduce emissions — only covers about 30% of current global emissions because both the United States and China and other major developing emitters are not part of it. Tackling 30% of global emissions leaves 70% left to grow unfettered, which means there is no chance of curbing global emissions and climate change under the current climate regime.
To get China and the United States on board (who jointly make up close to half of global emissions), they both need to jump. Neither is willing to move without the other taking action. And that is where the two simple tables in the Copenhagen accord have the potential to be a game-changing step in global efforts to slow climate change.
Now, the next opportunity to jump is approaching. The Copenhagen accord set January 31st as the date for developed and developing countries to submit their voluntary targets and actions in two simple appendices. One is for developed countries. One for developing countries. Each appendix has two columns: name of country, emissions reductions or “action” to be taken. Well, developed countries also have to list the base year that they will measure against (e.g., 20% reductions over 2005 levels).
In the United States, getting actions on paper in a formal document is hoped to allay fears that U.S. efforts to reduce emissions won’t put us at a disadvantage to our economic competitors (read, China). This is huge in a country where economic progress is the very fabric of our society.
Countries that sign on to the Copenhagen accord with their targets and actions will show their readiness to continue moving forward to address this complex global threat. At least the simplicity of these two tables shouldn’t create any new barriers to further action on climate change.
(Image credit: Chrissy Schwinn.)