Copenhagen “in disarray”? Don’t believe the hype

The Guardian’s leading with a rather breathless piece this evening on how the Copenhagen talks are

… in disarray today after developing countries reacted furiously to leaked documents that show world leaders will next week be asked to sign an agreement that hands more power to rich countries and sidelines the UN’s role in all future climate change negotiations.

The document is also being interpreted by developing countries as setting unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for developed and developing countries in 2050; meaning that people in rich countries would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much under the proposals

The article’s author, John Vidal, also says he’s seen a “confidential analysis of the text by developing countries” , which he says argues that the draft text will “force developing countries to agree to specific emission cuts”, “divide poor countries further by creating a new category of developing countries called ‘the most vulnerable'”, and “not allow poor countries to emit more than 1.44 tonnes of carbon per person by 2050, while allowing rich countries to emit 2.67 tonnes”. Vidal continues that,

Developing countries that have seen the text are understood to be furious that it is being promoted by rich countries without their knowledge and without discussion in the negotiations.

But having read the full draft negotiating text (also on the Guardian site, here – and n.b. there’s no proof it’s genuine) Vidal’s article seems weirdly off beam.

For one thing, the text says nothing whatsoever about having different per capita allocations in 2050 for rich and poor countries. On the contrary, it explicitly says that “Parties’ contributions towards the goal [of limiting warming to 2 degrees C] should take into account … a long term convergence of per capita emissions”. Admittedly, the text doesn’t say anything about the convergence date, and it also falls into the trap of talking about convergence of emissions as opposed to convergence of emission entitlements (explanation here) – but there is no reference to enshrining unequal allocations.

As to the other stuff about “forcing” developing countries to take on emission cuts or “dividing” them by talking about the idea that some are more vulnerable than others: oh, come on.

There’s nothing here about compulsion on emission cuts. On the contrary, the draft uses well-established language about Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions. Nor do the references to the “most vulnerable” countries create a new category of developing country that would (say) exclude countries not in this category from adaptation funding. The draft merely says that “priority” should be given to the most vulnerable countries: hardly some radical departure.

What the draft really says is exactly what you’d expect a chair’s uncirculated draft text to do at this point in the game: set out a framework of the main issues, keep square brackets firmly around any numbers, and start focusing the negotiations around some key variables. The issues where the text really is disappointing are the ones where we all knew it would fall short: namely that

– this is not the outline for a legally binding agreement, but rather for a non-binding declaration that would need to be followed up at some so far unspecified date;

– although there’s a references to 2 degrees C the text looks like lining up short term actions that are manifestly inconsistent with it (e.g. peak emissions in 2020, only a 50% global emissions cut by 2050 when the IPCC thinks up to 85% is necessary – and even that’s before we consider how fast sinks are failing);

– there’s nothing here about starting to get us on a glide path away from dodgy offset schemes like the CDM; and above all,

– there’s no start point for a more serious discussion about the principles that would underpin a really comprehensive deal, above all how a global emissions budget would be shared out. True, the reference to per capita convergence is both surprising and welcome – but it doesn’t mean much, unless it (a) initiates discussion on a specific convergence date, and (b) flags up the need for a process to accelerate convergence if a worsening science outlook means the overall emissions budget has to shrink.

These are the really serious drawbacks, and the ones we’ll be focusing on in our series of posts on Copenfailure (more on that subject shortly). But the talks are not in disarray over this draft, as Vidal charges. Instead, they’re limbering up for a 2 week haul, with everyone clear that the heavy lifting will only get underway next week.

What we do have is a somewhat over-excited media / NGO circus that’s both itching for gossip, and totally uncritical when a G77 government decides to strengthen its negotiating hand by playing the victim card in anonymous briefing.

And incidentally, I’ll bet my bottom dollar that the source for this piece was an emerging economy, not a least developed country. What John Vidal might have asked his anonymous source, but apparently chose not to, is this: in what way is it possibly a good deal for (say) Burkina Faso if China gets a free pass on reducing its emissions?   Or to put it another way: is it really a good idea to be quite so deferential to the sacred cow of G77 solidarity when we all know that in fact, there are massive divergences between those emerging economies for whom this is about growth, and those least developed countries for whom it’s about survival?