A storm in Copenhagen

By Pascale Palmer
December 9, 2009

Who would have thought you could have a storm inside a conference centre?

HopenhagenBut storm there was. And so big were its whipping, curving gusts that yesterday it toppled both the UNFCCC head and the Danish PM's office right out of their beds. With much talk of rotten goings on in the state of Denmark, The Guardian revealed it had in its hands a leaked text.

Now for those unfamiliar with the workings of these serial UN climate meetings known as COPs or Conference of Parties (we're on COP15 now - where have you been?), there is a legal process being followed which negotiates an official text that all countries hammer out to the last comma and bracket. What was interesting about this leaked text, was that it was separate to the official text and was therefore tantamount to a kick in the teeth for the UN process.

The document, known as the "Danish text" because it comes from the office of the host prime minister with input from a number of other developed countries, albeit still in draft form, played around with some notions with which those fighting for a fair deal for the world's poorest were not at all happy.

For a start, it was ambiguous about the role of the Kyoto Protocol in any final climate deal. And secondly, it went against the basic tenet of historical responsibility of emissions reductions, which as far back as 1992 was agreed to be fairly shared between rich and poor countries with the understanding that industrialised nations must cut first and deepest.

On the first issue of the Kyoto Protocol - it is widely accepted that this agreement (that the US notoriously would not sign) is flawed, but as a foundation for the new Copenhagen agreement we have nothing that could act with such solidity as the foundation for the next period of an international deal. It is also held dear by the developing nations because it enshrines a measure of protection for them in its text.

On the second issue of emissions reductions, the richest nations have been pumping out greenhouse gases since the late 18th century, as one by one they hit their industrialised strides making use of fossil fuels in the pursuit of faster, bigger, more. While we began to sit pretty on manufacturing, energy and transport super-economies, the developing nations were still being run on people power rather than coal and oil. And even now, some 200 years later, the difference in greenhouse gas output per capita is stark.

There are lots of estimates, but let's use these from the US's Energy Information Administration: a typical person in the UK in 2007 was responsible for emitting 9.3 tonnes of carbon through energy consumption. In Bangladesh that figure plummets to 0.3 tonnes, in Brazil 2.1 tonnes, Nigeria 0.7 tonnes, India 1.2 tonnes and China 4.8 tonnes. And just to add to the mix, the figure for the United States was 19.9 tonnes.

So it is safe to say that most of the carbon emissions sitting in the atmosphere come from the actions of the richest nations. It was therefore just that the richest nations agreed to shoulder their fair share of the burden of greenhouse gas cuts. And that is why the G77 countries were up in arms over the Danish text yesterday with its suggestion that this agreed fair share be redistributed so that a greater burden than before rested with the poorest nations.

With the story running across UK media, Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), came out talking about how usual "informal papers ahead of the conference" were, and the Danish prime minister's office insisted the document was the result of informal consultation.

I am sure neither is lying and Yvo de Boer is actually quite right - there are a lot of texts doing the rounds. But what the paper does reveal for Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark, is that far from being the nonpartisan host of the Copenhagen talks, he has been brokering the makings of a deal that prioritises the demands of rich countries and weakens the UN's role. So when his grandchildren ask him, "What did you do at Copenhagen, grandpa?" I wonder if he will ever have the heart to tell them.


Pascale Palmer is blogging from Copenhagen for Ekklesia and is CAFOD's advocacy media officer

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