High Noon at Copenhagen?

Dr. Angelika Brinkmann

High Noon is a legendary Western drama about a crisis of conscience. On his wedding and retirement day as well, a marshall, played by Gary Cooper, learns that a gunman is coming seeking revenge. Though he has good excuses for leaving, he feels a responsibility to stay and face the gunman but no one in town is willing to help. Does that apply to the situation in Copenhagen?

In Copenhagen, the historic U.N. climate conference (Dec7-19/09) yielded a three-page document and ended with a nonbinding “Copenhagen Accord”.

Major Outcome:

Research states that China could meet that target by continuing its long-term trend. The authors come to the conclusion “that assessing the challenges of the carbon intensity target proposed by China is not an easy task”. If China were to continue on its long-term historical trend, then the 40%-45% objective would essentially yield nothing more than the baseline. It does not mean leadership to fight climate change.

Yet, the significant variations over time and accross countries suggest that the proposal could turn into a serious mitigation policy, and possibly a very challenging task, even for somewhat lower rates of decarbonisation of the Chinese economy. [Carlo Carraro/Massimo Tavoni: China's Copenhagen commitment: Business as usual or climate leadership? 5 January, 2010, ]



The verifiability is required under Articles 5, 7 and 8 of the Kyoto Protocol at regular intervals. A compliance system ensures that Parties are meeting their commitments and helps them to meet their commitments if the have problems doing so. Article 18 of the Kyoto Protocol calls on the signatories to approve at its first session “procedures and mechanisms” to determine and address cases of non-compliance with the Protocol.

A proposal to form an organization to verify greenhouse gases had already been presented prior to the Rio Conference by a group of British scientists. [John Lanchberry/Owen Greene/Julian Salt: Verification and the Framework Convention on Climate Change. A briefing document for UNCED Rio de Janeiro, 3rd-14th June 1992, May 1992] It called for establishing a fixed conference structure similar to the arms control talks which may not be flexible enough. A state-by-state appproach of co-operation between national organizations for clean air seems more practical.

It should also be noted that reducing emissions via verification is a long-term and rather insecure measure. In reference to arms control experiences: What is the actual capability of those states who are parties to an agreement to exercise their legal right to verify that treaties are being adhered to by the signatories? What do the verification methods rely on? Are they possessed by a few states or alle the states? This could create a considerable discontent and a reluctance to join an agreement. To be both successful and meaningful an agreement has to be a global undertaking. Moreover, the fact that some agreements may require comparatively intrusive methods of verification further complicates the achievement of progress in the discussion on climate change/global warming, since stronger international co-operation based on trust and good faith is required. And most important: What happens to those parties to a treaty that violate an agreement? What kind of enforcement systems is planned? Will there be a world wide pillory?

Countries that are rapidly industrialising are acquiring technical capabilities that can be used for verification purposes.Other countries will not be able to acquire these capabilities alone but only via multinational organizations. This process of rapidly acquiring new technologies is unorganized and is not directed specifically towards clean air purposes/objectives. As a result, it may bring about the expansion of certain capabilities.

To be useful, a verification system must be carried out by well-calibrated equipment; otherwise data from the observations made by individual parties to an agreement may not be consistent and may even be contradictory. This could result in unwarranted accusations and suspicions, thus undermining the agreement in question. The effectiveness of a verification system is greater when it is based on several mutually-supportive methods. The discovery of violations is then more certain and concelmeant of such actions more difficult.


Financial Support

An analysis of the financial support is offered by: Carlo Carraro/Emanuele Masseti: [ Two good news from Copenhagen, 15 January 2010, ]


Remaining Problems

Conference structure

The negotiating structure has been largely in place since a summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. It allows countries to jointly address a problem that is truly global in nature. It also permits relatively small countries, and therefore, rather minor polluters, to make demands and slow/change the process, as frequently happened in Copenhagen.

In Copenhagen, talks focused on the U.S.' demand that China, India and other countries submit to international monitoring to ensure emissions targets are met. One reason: U.S. labor unions, including the AFL-CIO, have expressed fears that, otherwise, Chinese manufacturers could continue to use cheap polluting energy sources such as coal and reach a cost advantage over their U.S. counterparts.



Just in time for the global warming conference, Climategate arrived, referring to the controversy over thousands of e-mail messages and documents purloined from the computers of British climate scientists, i.e. electronic theft.

Despite the uproar, it does not prove global warming is a fraud. Even though some e-mails reflect a disturbing willingness to disguise inconvenient data among leading climate scientists. By hiding and distorting information, the climate scientists have achieved what global warming skeptics could not: to support the impression they have falsified their data to sell global warming to the public.

But the overwhelming scientific consensus remains that the earth is warming, largely because of human activity with potentially dangerous consequences like melting ice caps, rising sea levels and shifting agricultural patterns. One can argue for hours if not days whether this rather unusual long and heavy winter is a sign that global warming is not happening. It is fact and not fiction. Instead of looking at thermometers one should start looking at the physical and biological characteristics of the Earth. Skeptics need to be convinced that it is indeed human activity and carbon dioxide[ A recent study calculates individual and institutional data to measure household carbon emission in 74 Chinese cities: How green is China? Mathew E. Kahn/Siqi Zheng, 15 January, 2010] and not pysical process such as energy output from the sun, wobbles in the Earths's orbit or undersea volcanos causing global warimig. Debate continues over the degree to which human activity is responsible and how quick and severe the impact will be.



The two-week, 193-nation environmental conference in Copenhagen ended with a deal that fell short of some participants' expectations. President Obama described it as a “meaningful” first step to combating global warming, whereas others said the accord and the negotiating process itself may need changes to yield stronger results.

The Copenhagen conference will contribute less to the battle against climate change than most of the participants had hoped for, but probably more than if it had not taken place. There is no reason to lose sight of what one can do right now to affect climate change. Investments in energy efficiency can provide up to half of the necessary reduction of greenhouse gas emissions through 2050, according to a report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.[http://www.aceee.org]

In the absence of long-term regulatory measures, if only a small part of American households took practical actions, in a country as big as the U.S. small steps add up. A program to support these efforts is already in place. The $300 million “cash for appliances” program, funded by the federal economic stimulus, is being rolled out gradually, state-by-state. In contrast to the popular “cash for clunkers” car trade-in program which was national, so all buyers were eligible the same day, this is a state-level program which is allocating the money based on population. The program is fairly new so it took time for each state to set up its own rules for handing out rebates. The site http:// www.energysavers.gov provides a link to each state's program.

The new incentives are for appliances that carry the U.S. government's Energy Star label, which shows they are more efficient than other products. The rebates can be hundred or thousands of dollars, but in some states they are available only to low-income people; other states require recycling.

The new money is on top of any state incentives and federal tax credits that are also available for energy-efficient home upgrades.


To be continued or..Something's Gotta Give

This movie has a self-styled owner of a music company and playboy (played by Jack Nicholson) with a penchant for younger women arrive at his current girlfriend's weekend home only to fall in love with her mother (played by Diane Keaton), an accomplished woman closer to his age.
Even though Copenhagen is perceived a failure, most politicians worldwide still believe in the urgent need for action- like most of their voters. So yes, there was a little bit of High Noon, but more of 'Something's Gotta Give'.

The outcome of the conference demonstrates that global warming is not only about climate change, but a mixed bag of export funding, market competitiveness, development aid, security policy, billions of dollars and budget policy. Not environmental ministers but heads of state decide. It has to do with trust, like other negotiations as well and it means coming up with a global compromise. So it follows the golden rule of international co-operation: agree first, arrange celebrations and photo opportunities later. In order to repair the process we have to understand what went wrong. In other words, what were the obstacles to progress and how can these best be overcome?

Climate change requires global co-operation because the spread and danger of greenhouse gases know no boundaries. Collective action is essential. But a global treaty with binding caps on emission is going to be extremly difficult to achieve. Enforcing caps can be a problem as the Kyoto protocol amply states. Lack of clarity in the exact degree that humans are causing global warming should not be used as an excuse to ignore the changes that it will bringto the planet and our society. Most important: The global approach should not be held hostage to progress. There is a need for more realism and to embrace a 'double-track' approach. The U.S. and China can take the lead because the friction between the two was evident. On the one side the U.S. was calling for independent verification of emission reduction and on the other side China was resisting infringements of its sovereignty.

The year 2010 will see more concerted moves/efforts to strengthen the Copenhagen accord, e.g. with another conference being planned in December. Also, there are talks of reforming the complicated and cumbersome U.N. negotiating structure or thinking about alternatives. British delegates suggest that Mexico, as the host of the next conference should convene immediately a group of 20 representative countries to work on a potential treaty. German delegates suggest to establish a structure like the WTO talks. My suggestion: “soccer diplomacy”. South Africa should convene and work with all those countries qualified for the soccer world championships and organize a 'consultative' round one week prior to the start of the competition.

This is no zero sum game, either everybody wins or all loose. Unlike the movie, some nations realized that it is better to stay and work on an agreement because something's gotta give: You convene for one thing and end up with another but you do not walk away empty-handed.

January 19th, 2010