China has been accused by campaigners, analysts and heads of state of being the chief culprit in scuppering an effective deal to tackle global warming at the Copenhagen summit.
Though US President Barack Obama and the US delegation have been doing their best to talk up the deal on the table as “unprecedented”, the absence of a mandatory timetable, of verification procedures, and of individual accountable targets for specific nations make it unenforceable in reality.
The hope now is that these issues can be re-addressed over the coming year, during which time it had previously been anticipated that the world would be moving towards a binding agreement.
However, the deep divisions between rich and poor nations surfaced again and again as the Copenhagen talks proceeded – with development and environment campaigners accusing the wealthy countries of failing in their responsibility towards those who will be the most vulnerable from climate change around 2 degrees.
The last day of negotiations in the Danish capital descended into an unseemly series of arguments and walkouts, as heads of state took exception to each other and appointed junior replacements while they went away to nurse their wounded pride.
The future of the planet got short shrift from all this preening and posturing, say observers.
The Chinese premier, in particular, was infuriated by President Obama’s call for verification inspections on carbon emission reductions, seeing it as an insult to his nation – which is now the largest producer of these emissions, as it rapidly and continuously industrialises.
It has been suggested that Mr Obama got the style of his intervention wrong in cultural terms, not understanding the extent to which ‘not losing face’ is central to the Chinese outlook. His ‘straight talking’ approach is popular with some, but unacceptable to others.
However analysts say that, politically and economically, China had already set its face against a properly enforceable agreement and would have been unlikely to respond even to a more emollient approach at this particular juncture.
The Chinese state-controlled media is now seeking to blame others for the Copenhagen crunch, and to present the country as instrumental in a meaningful deal despite unreasonable terms from the US and others.
Meanwhile, there was also anger at what one green campaigner called the “childish and petulant” behaviour of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales, who both indulged in name-calling towards Mr Obama before leaving the summit.
Obama, in turn, was frustrated at having to deal with junior Chinese delegates in the absence of the Premier and senior officials, and was heard to remark that “it would be good to deal with someone who was able to take political decisions.”
Climate activists are now assessing the damage and disappointment arising from the talks, in order to calculate which pressure points popular campaigning needs to be focused on in an attempt to pull the word’s reluctant governors into more responsible and effective behaviour over the coming months.
The last-minute political accord will potentially push millions of people deeper into poverty as they wait for meaningful commitments, development agency CAFOD warned. The potential declaration, which is insufficient to combat climate change, would have to be urgently followed by a legal deal with credible actions.
Neil Thorns, CAFOD’s head of policy and campaigns, said: “If this is decided, it is a tiny step forward in terms of laying foundations, but there was a legal and moral responsibility on developed nations, as those responsible for climate change, to take the lead on reducing emissions and providing finance to the poorest. Their comprehensive failure to do this is shameful.”
The absence of a constructive agreement based on substantial emissions cuts by industrialised nations and an additional funding package for the poorest, leaves the developing world without a secure future. As rich nations renegotiate in the next six to 12 months, climate change will accelerate, with its impacts felt first and most violently by the poorest and most disadvantaged living in developing countries.
Thorns added: “How could some countries put limiting self-interest above unrelenting scientific evidence and a growing number of deaths amongst the poorest due to climate change?
“Without the Kyoto Protocol’s fair share approach to emissions reductions; without enough money for poor countries’ adaptation and mitigation; without emissions cuts in line with scientific evidence, this proposal could be as close to meaningless as makes no odds.
“It would be a devastating outcome for the poorest nations. This declaration would condemn the poorest families to brutal changes in climate that, without the means to adapt, will be fatal. In these next months, as world leaders hammer out the details, many of the poorest will be six or 12 months deeper into climate changes with the chance of more flooding, an increased frequency of storms and severe droughts.”