Newsletters from No 10: 1 February 2010
Today the Prime Minister sets out his view of how the international community should take forward action on climate change following the Copenhagen conference last month. Writing an open letter to the Chair of the Parliamentary Liaison Committee Gordon Brown notes that, despite its weaknesses, the Copenhagen Accord is a more significant achievement than has generally been recognised.
The PM's letter is at http://www.number10.gov.uk/Page22323. In it he argues that the Copenhagen Accord represents an important turning point in global action to tackle climate change. If over the coming week the countries which agreed the Accord submit to the UN the emissions reduction commitments they made in the run-up to Copenhagen, the agreement will put the world on a potential course to a peaking of global emissions around 2020 or before. Though more will clearly need to be done, this is the vital first step in building a trajectory to limiting global average temperature to 2C. Implemented through domestic policy in all the major economies of the world, the PM points out that these emission reduction commitments will create over the next decade a huge market in low carbon technologies which can help to drive green growth in developed and developing countries alike.
Gordon Brown sets out six principal tasks for the international community this year:
- Domestic implementation of the commitments countries have made
- Early delivery of fast-start finance to developing countries for mitigation, forest protection (REDD+) and adaptation
- Establishment of a High Level Panel on climate finance to examine innovative financing sources
- Implementation of the transparency (measurement, reporting and verification) measures agreed in the Accord
- Taking forward collaboration between governments and with industry on the development and deployment of low carbon technologies
- Re-commencing the negotiation process towards a comprehensive UN agreement at the Mexico COP, aimed at delivering a legally binding outcome
The PM commits the UK to working closely with other countries in these tasks.
Reflecting on Copenhagen
The PM's letter articulates the Government's view of the Copenhagen outcome. As you can imagine, we have spent the last month engaged in an intensive process of internal analysis, and discussion with many other countries, to reflect on what happened at the conference and why, and to formulate a way forward. I thought it might be useful for me to add some further detail on the Government's thinking.
(Apologies for another long email. The important bit to read is the PM's letter!)
The text of the Copenhagen Accord itself is at http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2009/cop15/eng/l07.pdf - it's worth reading. Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband have been quite open that the Accord is not all we went to Copenhagen to achieve. We worked extremely hard for a comprehensive, ambitious, fair and effective agreement with detailed implementing provisions and a clear timetable to turn it into a legally binding treaty as soon as possible. This was not what was agreed. But at the same time, as Ed Miliband said in his statement to the House of Commons last month (http://www.actoncopenhagen.decc.gov.uk/en/ambition/achievements/january/21520730/), the Accord does represent considerable progress, and a foundation on which we can build this year. Perhaps I can first set out what it does achieve, and then what it does not. At the end I will say something of what actually happened at Copenhagen and how the deal was reached: reporting on this has in some places been misleading.
What Copenhagen achieved
The Copenhagen Accord
- Sets for the first time in a UN context the goal to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees C, thereby anchoring the agreement in the science and establishing a benchmark against which commitments will be judged.
- Requires for the first time all countries to set out their mitigation (emissions reduction) commitments to 2020 and to stand behind them; developed countries must set out economy-wide emissions caps; developing countries 'nationally appropriate mitigation actions' (as agreed in the 2007 Bali Action Plan).
- Establishes a transparent international system of measurement, reporting and verification (MRV), including international consultation and analysis of domestic policy.
- Provides for up to $30bn of 'fast start' climate finance for developing countries for adaptation and mitigation (including forest protection / REDD+) in the 2010-12 period, along with the establishment of a new Climate Fund, with particular priority given to the poorest and most vulnerable countries for adaptation support.
- Sets a goal of $100bn pa for public and private finance flows to developing countries by 2020; and establishes a High Level Panel to examine how this figure can be raised, including through 'alternative' financing sources (such as the Norwegian proposal for auctioning national allowances, revenues from regulating emissions in the aviation and maritime sectors, and proposals such as a global transactions tax, bonds and use of SDRs).
- Proposes new mechanisms to create incentives for REDD+ and for accelerating technology development and transfer.
- Establishes a review in 2015 to analyse whether the world is on track to meeting the 2C goal, and whether this should be tightened to 1.5C.
Much of the initial disappointment with the Accord stemmed from the absence of specific mid-term targets to reduce emissions. But as the PM argues, this was temporary. The Accord includes two Appendices (one for developed countries, one for developing) into which countries agreed to put their commitments by January 31st. Many have now done so: over the coming days we are confident that all the world’s major economies, representing over 80% of global emissions, will submit the commitments they made in the run-up to Copenhagen. If countries then implement the high end of their ambition, this could mean emissions peaking around or before 2020. (See Nick Stern's analysis at http://www2.lse.ac.uk/granthamInstitute/mediareleases/bridgingEmissions.aspx.) We would absolutely acknowledge that these commitments are not enough; they do not in themselves achieve the 50% probability of limiting global warming to 2C that the Accord itself sets as the global goal. That will require further action, not least a faster rate of reduction in the period beyond 2020. Importantly, the Accord establishes a review in 2015. They nevertheless provide the essential foundation for a 2C trajectory. For the first time we have a truly global set of national plans to cut emissions, collectively agreed.
This was the paradox of Copenhagen. For although the two weeks of the conference itself could not be called a success, in one crucial respect Copenhagen had already succeeded before it began. The highly visible, politically inescapable deadline we created in COP15 stimulated every major country in the world to adopt emissions reduction targets and commitments for 2020. China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, Korea, Japan, Russia, the US - it is hard to deny that it was Copenhagen that brought forward their policy processes, in many cases with extremely radical and ambitious results. And in nearly every case, these are not promises made primarily to the international community, but domestic political commitments made to their own voters and political constituencies. This makes their implementation much more likely. And in turn it means that over the next few years, as the PM argues, we can expect to see increased global demand for the deployment of low carbon technologies and for their further research and development. So our belief is that, despite the disappointment that many felt immediately after Copenhagen, investment in the low carbon sector should be stimulated not retarded by it.
What Copenhagen did not achieve - the agenda for 2010
So Copenhagen gives us an important platform on which to build. However we are the first to acknowledge what is missing. First and most important, the Accord does not set out a goal or timetable for an internationally legally binding outcome. The UK government firmly believes that we need a binding treaty that includes mitigation commitments (in differentiated ways) from all countries. In such a collective global project it is important that national commitments are given international legal force and that countries adhere to, among other things, a common system of measurement, reporting, verification, governance and carbon market rules. We regret that we could not reach agreement on a timetable to a legally binding outcome in Copenhagen; this remains the UK's goal.
Second, the Accord is insufficiently detailed for all of its provisions to be implemented immediately. In Copenhagen negotiations on many detailed issues - including REDD (forests), technology, carbon finance governance and carbon markets - almost reached conclusion in the second week. However, the events of the final days meant that these conclusions were not in the end considered by the contact group that had been established to receive them, so the detailed agreements were lost. We need to ensure that the progress made on these issues in Copenhagen is captured and converted into full implementing decisions in 2010.
Third, the Accord is not yet a UNFCCC agreement. Due to the events of the last two days (see below), the Accord was only 'taken note of' by the Conference, not agreed. Instead, countries have been invited to 'associate' themselves with the Accord and this is now happening. Over the coming weeks we hope that most of the United Nations membership will signal their support. We will then have to work hard with all parties to ensure a full UN agreement is reached at COP16 in Mexico at the end of this year.
Fourth, though the Prime Minister achieved considerable success in persuading other developed countries to support his 2020 goal of $100bn in climate finance for developing countries - US acceptance of this was perhaps the most significant single negotiating breakthrough made in Copenhagen - there is still considerable work to be done to work out how this sum can be raised, from both public and private sources (including a global carbon market). In addition the UK Government will be working hard to ensure that finance after 2013 includes new and additional sources. The High Level Panel to be established will have a crucial role in this respect.
So these are some of the areas on which the UK Government, in collaboration with our partners in the EU and in dialogue with other countries, will be working this year. Even had Copenhagen achieved more of what we wanted, it would have been the beginning of the process not the end. That remains true. And in the longer term, as the PM's letter observes, we will need to examine how the UN climate institutions can be strengthened for the task of global governance that lies ahead.
What happened in Copenhagen - briefly!
This is the not the place for a detailed account of the conference. Nevertheless, I thought a short description might still be useful. Given the extraordinary, unscheduled events of its final two days - indeed, of the final week - it is perhaps not surprising that some of the reporting of what happened has not been wholly accurate.
The second week of the conference was highly unsatisfactory. What had been expected to happen after the environment ministers arrived during the middle weekend was a move from a negotiation process involving all 192 countries to one in a smaller group representative of different regions and negotiating positions. This is normal UNFCCC practice - it is how agreement was reached in Kyoto and Bali. In Copenhagen however, partly due to issues of substance, but largely due to the procedural tactics adopted by certain countries, the conference was never able to move to a smaller group negotiation. Indeed during much of the second week there was no negotiation on the overall agreement at all as the procedural wrangling continued. In the end it was only when the leaders met for their ceremonial dinner on the Thursday evening that the Chair was able to convene a smaller representative group.
The leaders had not come to Copenhagen to negotiate the text of the agreement - they had expected to be presented with a near-finished product negotiated for them by their ministers and officials, with just a few outstanding issues for them to finalise. In the end however the leaders had to do it themselves. This they did, on the Friday, in a representative Working Group presided over by the Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. The countries were:
Australia, Algeria, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Colombia, Ethiopia (for the African Union), European Union (Sweden as Presidency + European Commission), France, Gabon, Germany, Grenada (for AOSIS, the association of small island states), India, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Lesotho (for the Least Developed Countries), Maldives, Mexico, Norway, Papua New Guinea (for the Coalition for Rainforest Nations), Russia, Saudi Arabia (for OPEC countries), South Africa, Spain, Sudan (for the G77), United Kingdom, United States.
Apart from a few nations who were by their own choice represented by ministers or officials, this was a direct negotiation between heads of government or state. Gordon Brown took a strong lead, proposing a long list of amendments to strengthen the Chair's draft text. Towards the end of the day, as has been recorded, President Obama met the leaders of China, India, Brazil and South Africa; this was where the clause on international consultation and analysis of actions was agreed. In the very final session, as has also been reported, various further amendments (including the deletion of the 50% global and 80% developed country targets for 2050) were made by China. The result, at the end of a long day, was the Copenhagen Accord.
Having been agreed by the representative group, the Accord was then taken to the final plenary of the Conference. Unfortunately however, again partly for procedural reasons, and partly due to the opposition of a small number of countries, it was not possible to reach consensus on adoption of the Accord. This was when the Sudanese delegate made his shocking statement likening the impact of the Accord to the Holocaust, and Ed Miliband responded with a passionate speech which earned a standing ovation. In the end, despite the support of most countries, the Accord could not be agreed by all, so was 'taken note of' by the Conference as a whole, with countries invited to associate themselves with it. This process is now occurring.
It will be for others to explain why Copenhagen unfolded as it did. From the British Government's point of view the lack of serious negotiation in the second week was deeply regrettable. But in the end the Accord represents a strongly positive outcome. We will now seek to use the agreement reached to work towards the comprehensive, ambitious, fair, effective and legally binding outcome that remains our goal. In the meantime – even more importantly – the task is to accelerate the national action and international collaboration on tackling climate change that, as the Prime Minister notes, will be the real global driver of low carbon investment and emissions reduction.
I hope this is helpful. As always, I will be very pleased to receive comments and reactions.
With best wishes
Special Adviser to the Prime Minister
10 Downing St
London SW1A 2AA