The United Nations Climate Change Conference (“COP15”) took place at the Bella Center in Copenhagen, Denmark, between December 7 and December 18, 2009. One of the aims of the conference was to negotiate an agreement that would be in place when the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. In that respect, the Conference was intended to be monumental, though it had been apparent for weeks, perhaps months beforehand, that this goal would be unachievable.

By far the most widely-discussed outcome of the Conference was the “Copenhagen Accord”, which emerged in the final days of the Conference. This document summarises the key elements of the Accord.

Hopenhagen or Nopenhagen?

The proof of the pudding has always been in the eating. This will certainly be the case in respect of the Accord, which promises big (lots of money by 2012, a "REDD" (reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation) mechanism, technology mechanism, and even more money by 2020), but which is devoid of any legal obligation to deliver. Countries were already distancing themselves from the Accord during the plenary that considered its fate on the last day of negotiations, only hours after it had been “agreed”.

Background to the Copenhagen Accord

Following expectation management exercises before the climate change talks in Barcelona in October/November, (and even more so following the lack of progress made in the first week at Copenhagen), a legally binding outcome to COP15 was not expected. And we did not get one. Much as there was a valiant effort to squeeze the Accord (which had already been described as a “deal” by developed countries) into a Decision of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP) and the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP), in the final hours of the negotiations, even this proved impossible. Even if this had been possible, a Decision is far short of a Treaty. Instead, the Accord was merely “noted”. This leaves the Accord in a kind of limbo-land, though a number of Parties have emphasised their desire to make it legally binding in the future.

What is included in the Accord?

2 degrees C

Parties to the Accord agree “that deep cuts in global emissions are required according to science …with a view to reduce global emissions so as to hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius.” This is less ambitious than the 1.5 degrees Celsius many called for. Unfortunately the data that is likely to be added to the Appendices of the Accord (see below) will fall short of this 2 degree target.  

Peaking  

Though the Accord notes the need to peak global emissions as soon as possible, no firm date is provided. This is contentious. The further away the target date is for emissions peaking, the harder it will be.  

Adaptation  

The importance of adaptation is recognised. It is agreed that developed countries will provide adequate, predictable and sustainable financial resources, technology and capacity-building to support the implementation of adaptation action in developing countries. Some countries had called for a more ambitious insurance-based approach.  

Mitigation (Annex I)

Annex I (developed) Parties commit to implement individually or jointly quantified economy-wide emissions targets for 2020. These are to be submitted in the format given in Appendix I of the Accord by 31 January 2010.  

Delivery of reductions and financing by developed countries will be measured, reported and verified in accordance with existing and any further guidelines adopted by the COP, and will ensure that accounting of such targets and finance is rigorous, robust and transparent.  

This perhaps provides a useful start by way of setting up a non-binding “depositary” for the US’s emission reduction target. However, this target is not legally binding and is not subject to an international compliance mechanism like a target under the Kyoto Protocol.  

Mitigation (Non-Annex I)

Non-Annex I (developing) Parties will implement mitigation actions, including those to be submitted in the format of Appendix II to the Accord by 31 January 2010.

Mitigation actions by Non-Annex I Parties shall be communicated through national communications every two years on the basis of guidelines to be adopted by the COP. They will be subject to domestic measurement, reporting and verification.

Nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) seeking international support will be recorded in a registry along with relevant technology, finance and capacity building support. Those actions will be added to the list in Appendix II.

Supported NAMAs will be subject to international measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) in accordance with guidelines adopted by the COP.

This represents the “MRV compromise” that was necessary to unlock the negotiations. It is necessary to be able to assess what all Parties are doing in relation to mitigation in order to be able to review how effective the Accord is. However, the Accord envisages differentiated levels of MRV between developed and developing countries.

Domestic MRV will be possible in developing countries, except that where a NAMA is supported; the MRV guidelines will be “international”. This helps to assuage concerns about national sovereignty and ensure that when developed countries provide support to developing countries they will be able to verify that such support leads to genuine emissions reductions.

REDD

Parties to the Accord agree on the need to provide positive incentives to such actions through the immediate establishment of a REDD mechanism, to enable the mobilization of financial resources from developed countries. However, we note that the AWG-LCA’s work on this issue was not finalised so there is little clarity about the nature of this mechanism at this stage.

New market mechanisms

Little clarity was provided in respect of new market mechanisms for Post-2012, with the Accord recording a decision to pursue various approaches, including opportunities to use markets, to enhance the cost-effectiveness of, and to promote mitigation actions.

Finance

The collective commitment by developed countries is to provide new and additional resources approaching USD 30 bn for the period 2010-2012 with balanced allocation between adaptation and mitigation.

Developed countries commit to a goal of mobilizing jointly USD 100 bn a year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries. This funding will come from a wide variety of sources: public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance.

New multilateral funding for adaptation will be delivered through fund arrangements, with a governance structure providing for equal representation of developed and developing countries. A significant portion of such funding should flow through the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund.

A High Level Panel will be established under the guidance of and accountable to the COP to study the contribution of the potential sources of revenue, including alternative sources of finance, towards meeting this goal.

Copenhagen Green Climate Fund

The Copenhagen Green Climate Fund will be established as an operating entity of the financial mechanism of the Convention to support projects, programmes, policies and other activities in developing countries related to mitigation including REDD, adaptation, capacity-building, technology development and transfer.

Technology

A technology mechanism will be established to accelerate technology development and transfer in support of action on adaptation and mitigation that will be guided by a country-driven approach and be based on national circumstances and priorities. As is the case for the REDD mechanism, there is little clarity on how the technology mechanism will evolve.

Review

The Accord calls for an assessment of its implementation to be completed by 2015. This would include consideration of strengthening the long-term goal referencing various matters presented by the science, including in relation to temperature rises of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Moving on

So what will be on the agenda for 2010?

COP and CMP Decisions were adopted that the two Ad-Hoc Working Groups, the AWG-LCA and AWG-KP, will continue their work in 2010. Both have mandates to bring Decisions for adoption in Mexico at the end of 2010.

Given that the Accord is to be “operational immediately”, and is supposed to be delivering substantial amounts of finance by 2012, much activity on this front must start very quickly. Parties adopting the Accord have very little time to submit information in respect of Annex I and Annex II. Further, work will have to “start” on the REDD, technology transfer, and finance elements set out under the Accord. Does this represent “business as usual” in the AWG-LCA?

We note that the Accord devolves a number of functions to the COP. However, as the COP was unable to marshal the consensus required to adopt the Accord as a COP Decision, this could create an interesting dynamic to this year’s negotiations.

Contentious areas that remain to be clarified include the negotiation of a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (the Accord is not specific on this point) and the fact the Accord contains no reference to entering into a legally binding instrument.

In respect of international climate change sessions in 2010, few are scheduled for the moment. It remains to be seen whether negotiators will have the stomach for another marathon year in the style of 2009.

In general though, it has to be taken as a positive sign that Heads of States and the world’s largest emitters are actively engaged in this process. Perhaps this “new approach”, which could be described as “super top-down” is what is required to unlock the negotiations, which have been very difficult to move forward until now.