The long-awaited international climate change negotiations in Copenhagen took place from 7 to 19 December.

What follows is an overview of some of the key points arising during this historic and extremely challenging session.


The Copenhagen negotiations were intended to represent the culmination of years of negotiations, aimed at achieving a new series of country commitments on mitigation that could advance the international effort to avoid the potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change.

Negotiations under the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) reflected two years of efforts under the Dialogue on Long-term Cooperative Action to Enhance Implementation of the Convention, created in 2005 at COP 11, and another two years of discussions under its successor, the Bali Action Plan (BAP), adopted in December 2007 at COP 13. The AWG-LCA, created under the Bali Action Plan, was directed to complete its work in 2009 and “present the outcome of its work to the Conference of the Parties (COP) for adoption at its fifteenth session.”

Copenhagen also represented the conclusion of the fourth year of work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP). This was established in 2005 under the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP/MOP) to deliver a set of new developed country commitments under the Protocol’s Annex B, for the post-2012 period. By agreement of the Parties, this work was also due to be finished in December 2009.

With clear deadlines agreed for a two-track negotiating process, and an expectation of clear deliverables, Parties invested an enormous amount of human and financial resources in the UN negotiating process between 2005 and 2009. Six negotiating sessions were held in 2009 alone.

Nature and legal form of the Copenhagen outcomes

A central issue looming over Copenhagen was always going to be the nature and legal form of the outcomes of the two distinct negotiating tracks: the “results of the work” of the AWG-KP, and the “outcomes” of the AWG-LCA.

Going into Copenhagen, it remained to be decided whether the package, when finally agreed, would take the form of a single new umbrella agreement merging the two tracks and broadening participation in emission reduction efforts (advocated by the Umbrella Group and the EU), two ratifiable agreements reflecting both legally-binding commitments under the AWG-LCA and legally-binding amendments to the Kyoto Protocol (advocated by AOSIS, LDC Group), or legally binding amendments to Annex B of the Kyoto Protocol and a series of decisions under the AWG-LCA track (advocated by China, India, others).

On 18 December, the Joint COP and COP/MOP High Level Sessions met to conclude the session. The COP agreed to extend the mandate of the AWG-LCA; the COP/MOP agreed to extend the mandate of the AWG-KP; and the Copenhagen Accord, which brought both developed and developing country efforts together was “taken note of” by the COP. Despite the number and variety of texts in circulation in Copenhagen, the outcomes of the session did not succeed in providing clarity on the ultimate legal form of any agreement of all Parties.

The Copenhagen Accord

At the end of the two week session, the “Copenhagen Accord” emerged from a drafting group of some 25-30 Heads of States and Ministers convened in the final days of the conference and others also participated at some level of representation.

When the document was proposed for consideration and adoption by the COP, it was challenged by a number of Parties, who questioned the transparency and legitimacy of the process that led to its presentation or highlighted gaps and flaws in its provisions. The most the COP could agree to do, in the clear absence of consensus, was the Parties to “take note of” the Copenhagen Accord.

More details about the Copenhagen Accord.

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)

This issue came up under a variety of agenda items and negotiating streams.

The COP/MOP addressed the report of the CDM Executive Board (CDM EB). In plenary, a variety of views were expressed on the report prepared by consultants for the CDM EB on this issue. Some felt that the report was useful; others highlighted that the report submitted did not follow the mandate given by the CDM EB to the consultant, resulting in the report’s rejection. The draft decision text ultimately forwarded to the COP/MOP for adoption “recognizes the importance of [CCS] in geological formations as a possible mitigation technology, bearing in mind the concerns related to the following outstanding issues, inter alia:

  • Non-permanence, including long-term non-permanence;
  • Measurement, reporting and verification
  • Environmental impacts
  • Project activity boundaries
  • International law
  • Liability
  • The potential for perverse outcomes
  • Safety
  • Insurance coverage and compensation for damages caused due to seepage or leakage.

The report requests that the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) continue work on the possible inclusion of carbon dioxide capture and storage in geological formations in the CDM by working on the above issues, with a view to CMP 6’s adoption of a decision on this matter. Parties are invited to submit their views on these issues by 22 March 2010, for compilation in to a miscellaneous document for consideration at SBSTA-32 in May/June.

The opening AWG-KP text (FCCC/KP/AWG/2009/10/Add.3/Rev.3) contained three options on CCS in the CDM. In essence, these options were: (1) no CCS in the CDM; (2) no CCS in the CDM unless and until a number of listed issues are resolved by the COP/MOP; and (3) declare CCS eligible and task SBSTA to recommend modalities and procedures, including in relation to a series of issues. The co-facilitator succeeded in merging these three options into two options. The Report of the AWG-KP to the COP/MOP (FCCC/KP/AWG/L.15), prepared by Chair John Ashe, at page 29 contains two options. Option 1 provides that CCS shall not be eligible under the CDM in the second commitment period owing to unresolved concerns and issues at the international level, including:

  • non-permanence, including long-term non-permanence
  • measurement, reporting and verification
  • environmental impacts
  • the definition of project activity boundaries
  • issues of international law
  • issues of liability
  • the potential for the creation of perverse incentives for increased dependency on fossil fuels
  • safety
  • the absence of insurance coverage to provide compensation for damage to the environment and to the atmosphere resulting from storage site leakage.

Option 2 would decide that CCS in geological formations is eligible in the second and subsequent commitment periods and requests SBSTA to recommend modalities and procedure for inclusion under the CDM for adoption at its [sixth][seventh] session in relation to the list of issues above.  

The opening AWG-LCA text under 1(b)(v) of the BAP contained short text on the creation of a CCS mechanism. This language was deleted as the text was shortened and replaced by broader language, presenting as one option the establishment of a work programme to promote market-based mechanisms. As that text was not agreed, the discussion will be continued.

SBSTA merely agreed to continue its consideration of CCS in geological formations as clean development mechanism project activities at its 32nd session (May/June 2010), based draft text annexed to SBSTA’s short conclusions. See FCCC/SBSTA/2009/L.20) (12 December 2009).  

Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD)

This issue came up under the COP, AWG-LCA and SBSTA agendas:

  • SBSTA, in the context of REDD reference levels
  • AWG-LCA, in the context of 1(b)(iii) of the BAP, policy approaches and positive incentives on issues relating to REDD, and the role of forest conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries, as well as under 1(b)(iv) various approaches, and 1(b)(ii) NAMAs for developing countries
  • the COP in connection with the Copenhagen Accord.

SBSTA discussions focused on emission reference levels. One of the most divisive issues was whether reference emission levels should be set nationally or sub-nationally. Sub-national actions are prone to leakage, impacting real reductions in the rates of deforestation. However, countries are concerned that they may not be able to set national reference emission levels and therefore may lose access to financing for REDD activities. The decision was taken to remove any reference to the scale (national or sub-national) and to discuss this issue in the broader context of the AWG-LCA.

AWG-LCA discussions resulted in a consolidated co-facilitators’ text with elements on REDD goals, principles and safeguards, scope of REDD activities, a work programme for SBSTA, national action plans for REDD, national reference emission levels, drivers of deforestation, a phased approach, modalities and procedures for MRV to be done by SBSTA, MRV for support, financing for phases 1 and 2 (capacity building and policies and measures, but not for full implementation), and a link to financing. The overarching draft “core” AWG-LCA Chair’s text (FCCC/AWGLCA/2009/L.7/Rev.1), referenced in the final COP decision extending the mandate of the AWG-LCA (FCCC/CP/2009/L.6), contains a paragraph which provides that ”Developing country Parties should, in accordance with the provisions contained in decision -/CP.15 (REDD-plus), contribute to mitigation action in the forest sector by undertaking the following activities: (a) reducing emissions from deforestation; (b) reducing emissions from forest degradation; (c) conservation of forest carbon sinks; (d) sustainable management of forest; (d) enhancement of forest carbon stocks.” However, the L.7/Rev.1 text has not yet been negotiated.

The Copenhagen Accord contains three paragraphs of particular relevance to REDD. At paragraph 6, the Accord provides: “We recognize the crucial role of reducing emission from deforestation and forest degradation and the need to enhance removals of greenhouse gas emission by forests and agree on the need to provide positive incentives to such actions thorough the immediate establishment of a mechanism including REDD-plus, to enable the mobilization of financial resources from developing countries.” Paragraph 8 provides that “Scaled up, new and additional predictable and adequate funding as well as improved access shall be provided to developing countries, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, to enable and support enhanced action on mitigation, including substantial finance to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD-plus) … The collective commitment by developed countries is to provide new and additional resources, including forestry and investments through international institutions, approaching USD 30 billion for the period 2010 – 2012 with balanced allocation between adaptation and mitigation.” Paragraph 10 recites that “We decide that the Copenhagen Green Fund shall be established as an operating entity of the financial mechanism of the Convention to support projects, programme, policies and other activities in developing countries related to mitigation including REDD-plus, adaptation, capacity- building, technology development and transfer.”

Guidance to the CDM Executive Board

The COP/MOP decision on the CDM managed to address a series of issues that have been sensitive under AWG-KP discussions on the improvement of the CDM (standardized multi-project baselines, regional distribution of CDM projects, micro-scale renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, and the advancing of funds for the development of CDM projects for countries hosting fewer than 10 CDM projects).

The contact group formed to address the Report of the CDM Executive Board developed the text described above on CCS. A number of other substantial issues were addressed by the resulting COP/MOP decision, including governance, accreditation, baseline monitoring methodologies and additionality, the registration of CDM project activities and issuance of CERs, regional and sub-regional distribution, and capacity building.

More details about the outcome of Copenhagen with respect to CDM see Copenhagen: CDM and JI.

Guidance on the implementation of Article 6 of the Kyoto Protocol (Joint Implementation)

The Contact Group addressing the Report of the Joint Implementation Supervisory Committee also addressed a series of sensitive issues, including the extension of the share of the proceeds to JI projects. The resulting COP/MOP decision has three sections, addressing general issues, governance issues and resources. The preambular sections of the decision emphasize the need to ensure sufficient expertise and financial and human resources to the work of the JISC. The text stresses the importance of constituencies nominating members and alternatives who have the required qualifications, time and commitment to serve on the Committee.

More details about the outcome of Copenhagen see Copenhagen: CDM and JI.

Future negotiating sessions and Ministerial meetings

The next international climate change sessions that have been announced include: (1) the 31 May-11 June sessions of the Subsidiary Bodies; (2) an inter-sessional event in November; and (3) COP 16 in Mexico from 29 November to 10 December. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has proposed upgrading the Subsidiary Body meetings scheduled for Bonn in June to the Ministerial level. This may end up taking the form of a pre-sessional meeting of Ministers.