Climate Change

COP15 Copenhagen - UN Climate Change Conference 2009

The outcomes from Copenhagen


COP15In December 2009, representatives of more than 180 countries from around the world met for talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, to seek a new international agreement to tackle climate change.

The RIBA was represented in the political and scientific ‘fringe’ to the conference, through our links with the Danish embassy, and helping to lead the UIA’s international activities. We were also active in engaging other professional institutes, and our own members, with the issues being addressed at the summit, agreeing a Call to Action with a number of international architectural organisations to push for an agreement and to bolster our various national governments' own negotiating positions.

So, what eventually emerged from the discussions?

The outcomes of the Copenhagen Global Climate Change negotiations have been met with a variety of responses, from catastrophe to success. So what are we to make of the summit, and what does this mean for the future fight against global warming?

Firstly the negatives. No legally binding agreement was reached, so there is not yet a new Kyoto protocol. Neither was there agreement on the rules needed to structure international carbon markets, nor the means to enforce compliance. Such uncertainties will need to be ironed out if a workable and binding agreement is to be reached in the future.

However, keen watchers of these types of international negotiations will not have been surprised by the results of the intense negotiations. The Kyoto agreement– far less daring in its targets – itself took 6 months to complete after the initial summit. This is following the same pattern.

A step forward

There were significant positives to emerge, reflected in the Minister for Energy and Climate Change Ed Miliband's recent speech in the House of Commons. These developments provided very welcome steps forward towards a global agreement, and reflected some interesting and unexpected alliances that emerged during the course of the discussions.

 The tentative agreement that was reached - the Copenhagen Accord - signals a significant change in the world's approach to global warming. It drew a line in the sand that environmental scientists had been pressing for over a number of years, by setting a goal of limiting global warming to 2C. It also reflected an agreed requirement for explicit and measurable pollution reduction commitments.

In addition, it contained a vital agreement on the US-lead calls for all countries to agree to verification of their carbon-cutting achievements. This begins to build the trust that will underpin any legally binding treaty.

A shift in power?

The negotiations seemed to reflect a fascinating shift of power in the negotiations. The Accord was originally negotiated between the leaders of Brazil, China, India, South Africa, and the United States. This demonstrates the 'real' politics of climate change, where the emerging giants of Asia, Africa, and Latin America are seen as absolutely fundamental to a workable solution. The 'Copenhagen 5' represent 45% of the world's population and 44% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and perhaps reflects the beginnings of a new balance of power.

But perhaps the biggest positive was that the accord was negotiated directly by heads of state, and that this allowed an agreement of sorts to be reached without unanimity – something that has held back negotiations in the past. By turning up to the negotiations, the world's leaders demonstrated their desire to tackle the issues head on, and their willingness to negotiate these issues provides a firm foundation for a full and binding agreement to be reached in 2010.

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