After the Flop in Copenhagen

by Gary Clyde Hufbauer, Peterson Institute for International Economics
and Jisun Kim, Peterson Institute for International Economics

March 2010

Despite high drama, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference in Copenhagen ended as a flop. During chaotic negotiations and fundamental disagreements surrounding the formation of a post-Kyoto deal, five heads of state got together on the last day of negotiations in an attempt to salvage the conference with a document that would later be called the Copenhagen Accord. The United States, Brazil, South Africa, India, and China led a group of 20 supporting countries to craft the Copenhagen Accord, which was criticized because it was crafted behind closed doors and it did not commit major emitting countries to much in terms of emission reductions, finance, or technology transfer. The members of the UNFCCC agreed to "take note of" the Accord: Some leaders characterized this as a meaningful first step toward a future climate treaty, but many observers characterized the Accord as a failure because it is nonbinding and vague.

The meeting in Copenhagen made it clear that nothing will be accomplished in a system that requires consensus among 192 member nations. Some have stated that future climate cooperation should be driven by coalitions that are best suited to the task, such as a narrower group like the G-20. This approach would work best, according to Hufbauer and Kim, if several points are addressed: (1) financial responsibility to developing countries must be divided among the developed members; (2) there must be a commitment to provide public funds if private funds are not forthcoming; (3) a template of conditionality for developing countries must exist; and (4) emission control targets must be frequently reviewed in light of the 2 degrees Celsius cap.

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