Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Climate Change December 18, 2009 - 12:38 pm

No relief for Arctic in minimalist climate deal

Copenhagen Accord non-binding; more talks to follow next year

JANE GEORGE
U.S. President Barack Obama at a late-evening press conference held inside Copenhagen's Bella Centre Dec. 18, which was re-broadcast on the Bella Centre's internal television network. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)
U.S. President Barack Obama at a late-evening press conference held inside Copenhagen's Bella Centre Dec. 18, which was re-broadcast on the Bella Centre's internal television network. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)
Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, described the deal reached by the United States, China, India, South Africa and Brazil as
Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, described the deal reached by the United States, China, India, South Africa and Brazil as "modest." (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)
During the early hours of Dec. 19, protesters gathered outside an entrance to the Bella Centre chanting “shame, shame” and “bad deal, no deal,” while brandishing a larger-than-life-size image of U.S. president Barack Obama. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)
During the early hours of Dec. 19, protesters gathered outside an entrance to the Bella Centre chanting “shame, shame” and “bad deal, no deal,” while brandishing a larger-than-life-size image of U.S. president Barack Obama. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

(Updated 12:30 a.m. Dec. 19)
COPENHAGEN — A last-minute agreement on climate change worked out Dec. 18 between the U.S., China, Brazil, India and South Africa at the COP15 climate change conference in Copenhagen offers little hope for improving dire scientific forecasts for a warming Arctic.

A draft of the agreement, to be known as the “Copenhagen Accord,” includes the following provisions:

• the increase in average global temperatures must be limited to 2 C;

• rich countries will give $30 billion to poor countries before 2012, to help them adapt to climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions;

• action to help small island countries, African countries and the world’s poorest countries, but not Arctic regions, is “urgently required;”

• rich countries set “a goal” of $100 billion to be given to poor, vulnerable countries by 2020, to be put into a “Copenhagen Green Climate Fund;”

• reporting systems under which countries must communicate how they plan to limit and measure greenhouse gas emissions;

• a second set of climate talks in one year, aimed at creating a legally, binding agreement.

This is the first time that the world’s two biggest greenhouse gas emitters, the U.S. and China, have worked face-to-face on a climate change agreement.

But the deal contains no legally-binding emissions targets.

Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and U.S. President Barack Obama each described the deal, reached after talks moved into overtime late in the evening of Dec. 18,  as “modest.”

At a news conference, Obama defended the agreement by pointing to its flexibilty, saying it lets nations adjust their emissions targets according to science. The fact that the accord isn’t legally binding didn’t appear to be problem for Obama, who said treaties are only as strong as the commitments that countries make.

He also said that,  for the first time, developing nations like India have agreed to make cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, that it’s a first step in building trust between rich and poor nations, and that all nations, whether rich or poor, must do something.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which will continue for now, required that only developed countries make cuts to greenhouse gas emissions. This means, Obama said, that the Copenhagen accord breaks the “fundamental deadlock” that has plagued climate change talks in the past.

The accord will likely include Canada’s previous commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 20 per cent below 2006 levels by 2020, and abandon its previous commitment under the 1990 Kyoto Accord for reductions to 6 per cent beneath 1990 levels — a goal Canada never came close to meeting.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper kept a low profile at the talks, letting Environment Minister Jim Prentice speak on behalf of Canada at a plenary session.

But at a press conference Dec. 18, Harper said he was “comfortable” with the five-nation deal, which was brokered by U.S president Barack Obama and Chinese premier Wen Jiabao.

Harper defended the controversial Alberta tar sands, saying they account for only four per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.

But he had little to say about what Canada will do to meet its stated emissions targets.

And there’s little in the document that offers any hope of preventing big temperature increases in the Arctic that exceed global averages.

The 2 C global increase set out in the Copenhagen Accord would still see Arctic temperatures rise by at least 3 to 6 C higher by 2100.

The accord is not likely to please Arctic leaders.

“To be effective, the process emerging from this conference must recognize the impact of climate change on Inuit by pursuing targets that will eliminate further climate change impacts on the Arctic,” Mary Simon, the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami said in an email.

None of the $100 billion committed by the rich nations of the world by 2020 would go to Inuit and other indigenous peoples of the Arctic — because they already live within some of the richest nations of the world: Canada, the United States, Greenland, the Nordic nations and Russia.

There’s no specific acknowledgment of the vulnerability of Arctic peoples in the accord which mentions “least developed countries, small island developing states,” and “the need of countries in Africa.”

Arctic and indigenous negotiators also wanted to see acknowledgment of human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples in the text and Inuit wanted an acknowledgment of Arctic peoples affected by the loss of snow and ice.

Speaking to press shorty before midnight, Lumumba Stanislaus-Kaw Di-Aping, a Sudanese diplomat who was chief negotiator for the G77 group of developing nations, slammed the accord, saying it won’t keep small island nations from drowning and that the money offered for mitigation and adaptation isn’t enough.

Protesters also gathered outside an entrance to the Bella Centre chanting “shame, shame” and “bad deal, no deal,” while brandishing a larger-than-life-size image of Obama.

But, when he spoke to the conference shortly after noon Dec. 18, Obama urged rich and poor governments to support the deal on climate change — even if it is “not perfect.”

“You would not be here unless you — like me — were convinced that this danger is real. This is not fiction, this is science. Unchecked, climate change will pose unacceptable risks to our security, our economies, and our planet,” Obama said.

One by one, the leaders of India, South Africa, Russia, Korea, and other nations, speaking after Obama, threw their support behind Obama’s call for compromise.

But Juan Evo Morales of Bolivia slammed the proposed 2 C temperature rise, saying it doesn’t do enough to save people whose lives are endangered by climate change.

The leftist leader of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez then spoke, calling Obama’s financial commitments a “joke” and “fraudulent.”

Quoting Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Chavez said the final day of the climate change conference would be “an inglorious closing.”

Chavez said his country, along with Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and several Caribbean island nations, would not accept any deal promoted by the U.S., and walked out.

But German chancellor Angela Merkel, British prime minister Gordon Brown and other European and Asian leaders have indicated they will support the watered-down accord.

The next step comes a year from now, in 2010, when officials from around the world will try to craft a legally-binding agreement on climate change at a meeting in Mexico City.

NDP leader Jack Layton said that Canada failed to show leadership at the Copenhagen talks.

And Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said Harper went to Copenhagen with no plan other than to follow the lead of the U.S.

“We need an aggressive, made in Canada, climate-change plan now,” Ignatieff said.

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