So, with the failure of COP15, it’s up to us now….

Mike Rigby, CEO, The Original Carbon Company

So COP15 Copenhagen is over and what is there to show for it? Precious little according to prominent environmentalists.  The likes of Jonathan Porritt and Greenpeace have been out in force in the Western media decrying the paucity of achievement at Copenhagen.  Despite the most robust scientific evidence, the world’s political leaders have come away with the most flimsy ‘agreement’ that it was possible to assemble after almost 20 years of talks, two years of the post-Bali roadmap and two weeks of intensive face to face negotiations.  The post-COP fallout has started in earnest with Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband launching scathing attacks on China’s perceived hijacking of the talks – leaving plenty of ruffled feathers for the older Miliband to smooth over at the Foreign Office.  Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary General of the UN, talks of limited progress having been made and the need to move to a legally-binding treaty with specific caps in 2010.  But why should another few months, or even years, of further negotiations make any difference?  What is going to happen in 2010 to put the process back on track?  Well, Obama may finally get to tame Congress on the issue of climate change but given that the Senate is the oil and gas industry’s poodle, that seems unlikely, especially when even Senators from his own side bellow loudly about the ‘fraud’ of man-made climate change.  And even if Obama is successful in persuading Congress to redefine the US economy and kick its addiction to cheap oil, how is that going to bring the other great ‘Treaty Destroyer’, China, to heel?  It has not been a lack of time that wrecked the Treaty, more a lack of will.  And how is that will to be stiffened?  Maybe we’ll see an exceptional hurricane season next year but then we had one of those in 2005, culminating in Katrina.  Perhaps the price of oil will sky-rocket once again – many commentators are already eyeing $100+ by the end of 2011 as the global economy wakes from its slumber.  It’s difficult to see what event or series of events will occur next year or even the year after to shift the world’s big emitters from their current stubborn positions.

Ultimately, it seems, the task of addressing climate change looks as though it will need to be norne by us all as individuals, companies and organisations.  Our Governments are not going to dig us out of this one.  Judging by the very slow pace of change in the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions (at least they’re shrinking!) it appears that collectively we are still doing very little to address our contributions to climate change.  According to Greenpeace, the UK has 600 million lightbulbs of which only 20% are of the energy-saving variety.  This despite the fact that you can pick them up in supermarkets for less than a quid.  We all know that they generally take a little longer to come to full brightness and that they dim over their lifetime but if we (well 80% of us) can’t even accept this small inconvenience then what hope is there that we’ll be able to address some of the bigger changes needed over the next 30-50 years?

We’re all going to have to look at how we live.  Sure, change your incandescent bulbs to CFLs – it helps – but we need to look at the way we work – more working from home, less long-distance commuting, fewer flights.  We need to consider purchasing more fuel efficient cars.  The Society of Motor Manufacturer and Traders reports that efficiency has shot up the list of key factors in the process of deciding which vehicle to buy, which is a positive sign; we need to use our cars less.  The Government’s Bolier Scrappage scheme can be used to ditch older, inefficient boilers when it launches shortly.  We all need to think about what we can do over Christmas and the New Year and implement as many of the changes as quickly as we can.  And we can all lobby our employers too.  Huge carbon savings can be made by firms and orgainsations that address their contributions to climate change by auditing their impacts and implementing plans to minimise energy use.  And it makes good business sense too.  There are plenty of organisations out there in your area (like The Original Carbon Company) that will help firms achieve this.

The conspiracy-theorist in me (he’s only tiny, but  nevertheless there!) wonders if UK politicians really care about the issue.  After all, the Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CCVI) in 2009 ranked the UK as one of the countries least at risk from climate change (155 of 166) so what do we care?  But that doesn’t square with the numerous reports of the huge efforts made by Brown, Miliband and the UK team at Copenhagen, and before, to secure a deal that may ultimately be more for the benefit of other nations than our own.  And while our population may be more secure than most in a warmed world, the pressure on immigration, legal and illegal will become intense, if only within the EU, as parts of Italy, Spain, Greece and maybe even France become uninhabitable;  Britain is going to look mighty attrractive to many desperate people.

So, time to stop believing that our leaders will save us from climate change – they won’t.  Only we can save ourselves now.  If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us know plenty of things that we could do to cut our GHG emissions but we succumb to the dangerous human frailty – procrastination – and put those decision off for another day.  It’s time to change – do it this Christmas.

The difficulty in the wake of COP15, as I suggested in my last posting here, is that the failure of the world’s leaders will persuade huge numbers of people that the issue can’t really be that serious.  If an asteroid was heading towards the planet and, after a conference of world leaders, they couldn’t decide whose missiles to launch at it and ended up doing nothing, we’d all assume that they secretly knew it was going to miss us.  The same is true with climate change; if they can’t agree, it can’t be a serious problem and all those that billed the conference as the ‘Last Chance to Seal the Deal’ and save the planet oversold their case.  It will take some time (that the planet doesn’t have) before the politics can be repaired.  So, time to fix the problem ourselves; it will be more difficult without political leadership, but not impossible…

The Copenhagen Accord Emerges to Mixed Reception

So COP15 is over and out of it comes the Copenhagen Accord.  But what is it, who has signed up and is it up to the job?  The Accord itself is very brief at just 10 pages.  It is a broad statement of aims rather than a treaty of any description and was produced by the US, China, India and South Africa with Brazil quickly adding its backing.  Many of the other delegations have now backed it, although in many cases, reluctantly.  Some of the small island and African states such as Tuvalu have condemned the accord and refused to back it but others such as the Maldives have hailed it as a big step forward.  Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission said that it was disappointing but was the only deal on offer at Copenhagen.  The Accord does not commit countries to specific emissions cuts, does not set a route map towards a legally-binding agreement or a timetable.  On the positive side, the US and China, which between them emit more than half of the world’s carbon emissions, along with fast-growing India have all accepted the need to limit warming to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, if not agreeing exactly what that means for them in terms of limiting emissions.

Given the meagre achievements of the summit, one is driven to ask what on earth the delegations have been doing for the past 2 weeks, indeed the past 2 years since the road map to Copenhagen was supposedly set.  Mike Rigby of The Original Carbon Company said, ” There is a real danger that having ramped up pressure and expectation before COP15 that this event was the last chance to save the planet, the failure of leaders to agree something more meaningful will turn public opinion away from the need to address climate change.  They will think that if our leaders and scientific advisers have been unable to agree a plan to reduce emissions, the problem can’t be as bad as we’ve been led to believe.  This may make persuading the public to take action even more difficut.”  “That would be a real problem”, added Rigby, “given that it now appears to fall to us as individuals and orgainsations to take action ourselves in the absence of political leadership on the issue.”

The Copenhagen Accord

Reports coming out of COP15 suggest that the hoped-for political statement coming out of the summit may be dubbed the Copenhagen Accord.  Hopefully the fact that they have come up with a name is indicative of progress towards an agreement.  However, it appears that the latest text has dumped references to the end of 2010 as a deadline for concluding a legally-binding treaty.  The clock is ticking…

COP15 Day 5 – The First Official Draft

Day 5 at Copenhagen saw the release of the first official draft of what the hoped-for agreement might look like.  The six-page draft calls for reductions by 2050 of at least 50% and up to 95% below 1990 levels with interim 2020 targets also suggested.  Much of the detail has yet to be agreed but it is interesting to see an offical draft after the emergence of the various competing unofficial versions this week.  Developing countries are urged to achieve ‘substantial deviations’ from current growth rates in emissions.

Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC today insisted that the Kyoto Protocol must survive until the replacement architecture is in place and ready to commence.  Given that it took 8 years for the Kyoto Protocol to come fully into effect, it is possible or even likely that the replacement arrangements will not be ready to begin when Kyoto expires in 2012.

‘Any gap between the treaties could really knock the wind out of the sales of the developing global carbon markets and damage investor confidence in carbon-saving projects around the world,’ cautioned an unnamed Conference delegate.

Also in the news today, the Japanese Government clarified its earlier commitment to reduce emissions by 20% below 1990 levels by 2020.  What had initially appeared to be a unilateral undertaking is now apparently conditional on binding emissions targets applying also to the USA and China.  While the announcement came as something of a surprise, the view is in tune with the sentiment (widespread in Japan) that existing arrangements, such as the CDM (Clean Development Mechanism) are serving only to increase the competitiveness of Chinese industry at the expense of Japan.  In fact the CDM has been dubbed the ‘China Development Mechanism’ in some quarters of Japanese industry given the CDM’s preoccupation with funding for energy projects in China.

Elsewhere EU countries announced a package of more than €7billion over three years for developing countries, to help with clean development and climate change adaptation.  The announcement was hailed by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Sarkozy but left some developing nations underwhelmed.

Bruno Tseliso Sekoli, chairman of the Least Developed Countries bloc said that the EU pledge “cannot be enough for the purpose of meeting the requirements of the Least Developed Countries”.

“Any money that would flow from the developed to developing worlds would be welcome but these numbers are very, very low,” he said.

COP15 Day 4 – More Drafts

Okay, lots of things happening today (Thursday).  As I predicted on Tuesday, the emergence of the Danish text has prompted the release of an alternative draft by the Basic nations (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) which calls on rich countries to reduce their emissions by 40% on 1990 levels, far deeper cuts than currently on offer.  The draft also requires that cuts largely be made domestically rather than through offsets in developing countries.  This latter viewpoint contradicts the apparent direction of US thinking, exemplified by Predicent Obama’s heaping of praise on the forest protection arrangements put in place between Norway and Brazil, while collecting his Nobel gong in Oslo yesterday.  In his acceptance speech, President Obama dubbed climate change a ‘security issue’ referring to warnings from US military leaders that ‘swift and forceful action’ needs to be taken to address climate change.

UK climate scientists from the Met Office have announced that emissions will need to stabilise by 2020 to have any hope of pegging the global average temperature increase at 2C above pre-industrial levels.  This is a similar time-frame to that announced by the IPCC some time ago; they called for stabilisation by 2015 in order to avoid ‘dangerous climate change’.  The statement was seen as an attempt to refocus international attention on the core science in the wake of the ‘dodgy emails’ debacle.

Last night Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aiping, the head of the G77 negotiating team walked out of a meeting with UN negotiators muttering about the ‘bad intentions’ of some conference participators….without elaborating much.  I wonder who he’s talking about?

On a positive note, Russian President Medvedev has joined the swelling ranks of world leaders that have agreed to attend the talks in their final stages.  As I’ve mentioned before, the invite from the Danish hosts to all world leaders to attend the concluding stages will add pressure to ensure a successful outcome.  No politician wants to attend a ‘wake’; they will want to bask in the glow of success.  Looks like the last 20% of Danish Police officers not already in Copenhagen will have to make their way there to look after them all!

COP15 Day 3 – Splits Among Developing Nations

Day 3 in Copenhagen and a new theme emerged, that of a split between the developing nations.  In previous negotiations the developing nations have tended to stick together and present a united view.  The small-island state of Tavalu, the nation with possibly the most to lose from the early stages of climate change, repeated its demand that carbon emissions be limited such that post-industrial, global temperatures increases do not exceed 1.5C.  However, South Africa, India and China all opposed such a move, concerned as they are that it would restrict their economic growth.  Negotiations were suspended while Tuvalu’s issues were resolved.

The other headline on Day 3 was a bust-up between China and the US, the two key states (and largest emitters) at these talks.  While China protests that the 1% cut offered by the US is inadequate, the US rebuts by stating that China must submit to carbon caps and not just intensity targets, which only work if China’s economic growth is limited.  “I’m not very good at English, but I doubt whether just a one percent reduction can be described as remarkable or notable.” observed Su Wei Deputy Head of the Chinese COP15 delegation.

So with the diplomatic niceties out of the way, Days 2 and 3 have seen the start of some of the hard bargaining that we knew would be needed in Copenhagen.

COP15 Day 2 – The Danish Text

Well, only one real story today and that is, of course , the revelation of the so-called ‘Danish Text’ leaked and posted on the Guardian website this afternoon.  One delegate told me that this had ‘thrown a proper spanner in the works’ given the broad differences that it exposed between rich and developing nations.  The document, understood to have been drafted by a clique including the US, UK and Denmark appears to: –

  • All but remove the UN from future climate negotiations and organisation of climate finance;
  • Create a new category of developing nation dubbed “The Most Vulnerable”;
  • Cap developing country emissions to 1.44 tonnes per capita by 2050 while allowing rich nations to emit almost twice that;

The existence of the text has caused fury amongst the developing nations that have seen it and is likely to bring forward the publication of alternative texts from others blocs including the G77 and the BASIC nations (Brazil, South Africa, India and China).  Another delegate said that it was disappointing that drafts were being revealed so early in the process when there was still so much negotiation supposedly outstanding.

Let’s hope that the damage done by the Danish Text can be undone by tomorrow or the Danish contribution to climate negotiations may be remembered for all the wrong reasons once COP15 is done.

Copenhagen Day 1 – Cautious Optimism

COP15 got underway today and at the end of Day 1, what have we learned?  Well, aside from the usual party poopers like Saudi Arabia, there was much consensus.  In fact the main disagreement appeared to be that a target of capping the post-industrial temperature increase at 2C was too lax and that the rise ought to be restricted to 1.5C, this proposal coming from the Alliance of Small Islands States, many of which have most to lose from climate change.

Probably the most notable occurence on the climate front today didn’t actually occur in Copenhagen.  The US Environmental Protectiuon Agency (EPA) today ruled that greenhouse gases were harmful to human health in a so-called Endangerment Finding.  While this, in itself, may not seem particularly surprising, its legal implications are explosive.  The Finding empowers the President to pass laws regulating the emissions of gases that  “threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations” WITHOUT reference to Congress.  While Mr Obama had hoped to persuade Congress to pass laws on greenhouse gas emissions in Q1 2010, that fact that he now no longer needs Congressional support fundamentally alters the balance of power, although it is expected that the President will still want to see Congress pass a Climate Bill.  Previous Presidential attempts (Clinton after Kyoto) to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in the US failed due to Congressional obstruction.  This obstruction appears to have been removed in spectatcular style today.

So, cautious optimism appears to be the result of Day 1, continuing the trend of positive announcements over the last 3 weeks.  And given Mr Obama’s recently announced intinerary change – his scheduled appearance on the last day in Copenhagen – it appears that substantial progress is likely over the two weeks of COP15; no leader wants to to turn up and be associated with failure.

More tomorrow…

COP15 gets Underway

The 15th Conference of the Parties is underway here at the Bella Centre in Copenhagen. Despite watching large numbers of police vans racing around, sirens blaring, last night, everything at the venue appears to be calm with just a small number of (noisy) protesters around, attended by the obligatory drumming group. The station concourse at Bella is even home to some (brave) climate change deniers handing out flyers – well at least the Saudi delegation may approve of their efforts to maintain the World’s addiction to oil for as long as possible! Apparently, 80% of Denmark’s police officers have been drafted in for the event – a good time to pull a bank job in Aarhus as one delegate joked last night). Swedish police have crossed the Oresund to help too. Recent signals suggest greater cause for optimism that the negotiations will reach a positive outcome. In the last few weeks the USA, China, India and South Africa have all made commitments to reduce or curb emissions for the first time ever. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, yesterday became the latest leader to pledge to attend the crucial final sessions, joining the likes of Sarkozy, Merkel, Brown and Obama who recently revised his plans to attend on the 9th December in favour of showing up in the final days. So, the stage is set and the world holds its breath. Watch this space for continuous commentary on COP15 from The Original Carbon Company.