Climate Groundhog Day

“This agreement is a vital step forward for the whole world,” Gordon Brown after the Bali climate summit in December 2007.

“This is the first step we are taking towards a green and low carbon future for the world,” Gordon Brown after the Copenhagen climate summit in December 2009.

“A pivotal first step toward an agreement that can address the threat of climate change,” Ban Ki-Moon after the Bali climate summit in December 2007.

“It is a step in the right direction,” Ban Ki-Moon after the Copenhagen climate summit in December 2009.

Copenfailure: a first analysis

So here’s a very rough first analysis of the Copenhagen outcome.

Of the three Copenfailure scenarios David and I outlined, we think this morning’s Copenhagen Accord is closest to a very, very weak version of Bali #2. On that basis, here are 10 initial thoughts on what happened, where we go next, and how countries performed at the summit.

1. Don’t Panic.

2. We need to own up to how weak and ineffective deal-makers have been.

3. We also need to face the fact that the international system for dealing with climate is broken.

4. With this said, as UN Assistant Secretary-General Bob Orr observed in a press conference this morning, the head of governmment level engagement was “the most genuine negotiation I’ve ever seen between leaders”.

5. The main thing deal-makers need to do now remains: be brave, and steer into the skid.

With regard to countries’ positioning:

6. The US is still all about domestic legislation – which is as far away as ever.

7. The EU had a shocking summit, captured for all to see in its exclusion from the closing hours caucus of US, China, India, South Africa and Brazil. The open question of whether any hypothetical deal would have been bad enough for the EU to reject it did nothing whatsoever to enhance EU influence.

8. Appeasing China has failed. Period.

9. Much of the G77 participated in its own shafting – a point seen most clearly in Sudan’s chairmanship of the bloc.

10. But there are some weak signals of fragmentation in the G77 – seen most clearly in the case of the Maldives, which showed real determination in standing up to China.

A rough guide to Copenfailure: conclusion

In the first three parts of this series (1, 2, 3), David and I have explored how Copenhagen might fail; what might lead it to do so; and why some kinds of failure are better than others.  With the summit now into its closing hours, this final post turns to how leaders should respond if the summit really is headed for deadlock.

Right now, the likely outcome of the talks remains shrouded in uncertainty.  All three of the possible scenarios we discussed in Part 1 of the Rough Guide – a Bali 2 political deal without numbers, a Bad Deal with weak numbers, or an out-and-out Car Crash – remain entirely possible. (And let’s not forget that it’s still at least conceivable that the summit could actually succeed – in other words, reach a binding deal which puts the world clearly on track for limiting warming to two degrees C – which would be by far the best case scenario.)

But if, as currently looks more likely, the summit fails to produce a robust deal, then we argue that the most important thing is for policymakers to steer into the skid.

When a car loses grip on the road and begins to slide, the driver’s every instinct is to turn away from the skid to try to control the car. Actually though, what the driver must do is to steer into the skid – or, as driving instructors put it nowadays, “take your feet off both pedals and align your tires with the direction of your intended travel”.

If things start to slide at Copenhagen, the instinct of some policymakers will be settle for whatever deal they think they can reach. It’s a well-honed script; and if, this time tomorrow, you see pro-deal policymakers like the UK’s Ed Miliband doing the rounds of TV news studios saying things like “No, it’s not all we were hoping for – but it is a step in the right direction, and in the end, we mustn’t let the best be the enemy of the good”, then you’ll know that this is what has happened.

Other policymakers will react to a skid by slamming on the brakes (e.g. “This thing is just too complicated to deal with through an international treaty – let’s just all do national policies and see what they add up to in emissions reduction terms”), or indeed by applying more gas (“Two degrees was a total sell-out anyway! When policymakers come back, we have to push them for zero emissions by next Thursday!”).

What advocates of a serious deal should actually do, on the other hand, is – ready? – take feet off both pedals and align the tires with the direction of intended travel.

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For better or for worse, two degrees has become a widely agreed upon reference point. So what policymakers should do at Copenhagen is keep their tires resolutely aligned with two degrees. If what’s on the table at the end of the day is clearly off track for that, they should still keep steering towards it – even if that means refusing to sign the deal.

If pro-deal policymakers – especially the EU – do no better today than merely deferring failure, then they’ll allow themselves to pushed into a defensive posture.  That will make them  look weak, further eroding their (already declining) influence over the process.  Worse, it will undermine the principles that are the essential rationale for an eventual deal. Only by guiding, shaping – and, if necessary, accelerating – breakdown, will champions of a deal have the basis for turning defence back into attack.

True, the best should not be the enemy of the good. But neither should the ever-changing calculus of political possibility lead us to shut our eyes to another crucial test: what’s good enough.  The EU and other champions of two degrees must stick to their guns today.

Scandinavian efficiency goes AWOL

ChinaDialogue’s Isabel Hilton on how to make a critical situation desperate:

Step 1: Take the most ambitious and important world summit ever, invite the press, global civil society, advisors, security men and women, activists, nuns, monks, philosophers and scientists, put them in a conference centre that can only accommodate one-third of them

Step 2: Tell the NGOs that only three out of their list of up to 50 registered participants will be able to get in, and that to do so they need not one, but two passes. Make several thousand of them re-register. Then close the registration over the busiest weekend on Saturday afternoon; take the whole of Sunday off, so none of the new arrivals can register.

Step 3: If you have followed steps 1 and 2 above, you should have a situation of maximum confusion and enormous queues by early Monday morning. If, however, insufficient chaos has been caused, try this: restrict access to the site to one narrow gate through which everyone – registered, unregistered and those requiring re-registration need to pass. Ensure they are thoroughly mixed up, so that even those with valid passes cannot get in because they cannot reach the gate.

That works. At least it worked so well this morning that everyone, from Rajendra Pachauri to a contingent of Turkish negotiators were stranded along with everyone else. 

Though in fairness to the Danes, not sure how many conference centres there are can easily hold 40,000 people. Now if they used a stadium, on the other hand… presto! Every NGO can be in the plenary!

A rough guide to Copenfailure (part 3)

In a couple of previous posts (1, 2), Alex has been looking at how and why Copenhagen might fail – but here’s a fresh question: what’s the difference between a bad and a good failure?

Not all failures are equal, clearly. Some outcomes boost the prospects of eventual success. Others will push the climate process towards semi-permanent dysfunction, an equilibrium that will probably only be shifted by future climate catastrophe.

Good and bad outcomes do not split neatly across our scenarios for failure. Neither will they necessarily be immediately obvious to climate insiders, whose judgement is (understandably) swayed by optimism bias (success is always just around the corner) and a partiality for politeness strategies (obfuscating red lines with technical language; not tackling opponents in public, etc).

Bali #2 – a high level political declaration with little real substance – could be a good deal, and will almost certainly be heralded as such by governments keen to garner good headlines. But there’s a strong chance that it’s simply the prelude to future failure – especially if:

(i) Healthcare continues to block the path to a US Senate bill; (ii) there is ambiguity between countries on the eventual legal status of a deal; (iii) the US and China are at loggerheads, or are huddling in a low ambition coalition; (iv) obvious bear traps – especially Monitoring, Reporting and Verification  – have not been cleared away; or (v) the roadmap to an agreement has no clear timetable or a timetable based on more than wishful thinking.

If enough of these conditions are met, then all Bali #2 does is to defer failure to a bis follow-up – or, more likely, all the way through to the COP16 summit in December 2010. Given wriggle room, the Senate will not able to resist elbowing its way into the talks, larding its Bill with conditions designed to provoke the Chinese, while undermining Obama’s primacy in international negotiations.

Pro-deal campaigners may well let up the pressure, their funds and momentum exhausted by a premature push at Copenhagen. The anti-climate lobby, in contrast, will be energised by blood in the water – and will attract additional funding as a result. Even if a deal is sealed in the spring, the process will still not be out of the woods – as we discuss in our Death by Climatocracy scenario).

Bad Deal is the worst possible outcome.  If overall targets for developed countries are either non-existent or well below the 25-40% reduction beneath 1990 levels needed by 2020, and if there’s no clear resolution of the long term position of developing countries, then valuable political bandwidth has been expended on a deal that simply isn’t up to the job.

Advocates of a serious deal will then have no option other than to ‘go into opposition’ and exert continued pressure against the status quo – although European countries in particular will be sorely tempted to play along, pretending that the deal, however weak, gives the world something to build on.

Car Crash is the most difficult scenario to judge. It will grab headlines, and horrify insiders. But if negotiators must stare into the abyss, it is surely better that they do so at Copenhagen, rather than at the bis, in Mexico in a years’ time, or on the road to implementation in 2012. Indeed, breakdown at Copenhagen could actually be cathartic and help to tee up more ambitious action. Crucially, though, this will only happen if:

– The crash is spectacular, and clarifies differences between countries – thus catalysing a long-overdue discussion about the principles that must underpin a global deal.

– The ‘last straw’ is a totemic issue that can subsequently be tackled and seen to be resolved.  By contrast, the crash must not be over some abstruse technical point that the media can’t explain (as for instance when WTO trade talks collapsed over the obscure Special Safeguard Mechanism in July last year).

– Leaders are confronted by their personal responsibility for a failure of imagination that history is certain to judge harshly.

    Next up – how to respond to failure…

    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. Continue reading