Isagani R. Serrano Philippines Rural Reconstruction Movement and Social Watch Philippines

The outcome of the Copenhagen event that drew the participation of more people than any seen in previous UN summits indeed broke the hearts of millions. People around the world expected their leaders to help avert climate catastrophe, this is, coming out with nothing less than strong, bold, and legally-binding agreement to stabilize the global climate system. But the Copenhagen climate conference (UNFCCC COP 15) might be remembered more as a rare summit of failure than the US President Barak Obama’s claim of a ‘step forward’. A rare gathering of 192 heads of states, and for what?

The Obama-brokered Copenhagen Accord is a non--binding hodgepodge of promises of keeping global temperature under 2°C; an ambiguous assistance of USD 30 billion over three years till 2012 to rise (through best efforts) to USD 100 billion by 2020; and, most of all, of passing on the burden of cutting CO2 emissions to everyone, over emitters and under emitters alike.

First, the 2°C goal is already gambling with humanity’s future. That means the present concentration of greenhouse gas (GHG) in the atmosphere of about 390 ppm (and well beyond the safe 350 ppm), will still be allowed to rise to 450 or more. At 450ppm corals would die. Rice might still grow, but without grains.

Second, nobody knows how that promised money looks like and how ii is going to be raised.  The money committed falls short of the already scaled-down minimum estimate of USD 50 billion yearly needed to cover the costs of mitigation and adaptation in developing countries, especially in those most vulnerable to climate change impacts.

Third, the mitigation burden-sharing that high-emitting countries are currently seeking goes against the bedrock principle of the climate convention that stating that any agreement to address the climate crisis should be based on common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Annex I countries are mandated by the climate convention and its Kyoto Protocol to cut or mitigate their emissions. Non-Annex I countries do not have similar obligations, but would do well to check their emissions consistent with the pursuit of sustainable development. 

The outcome fall too short

This non-binding Copenhagen Accord merely confirmed what many had already feared before the start of the negotiations. Halfway through the two-week long Copenhagen negotiations, the process hit an impasse following the exposure of a secret Copenhagen Agreement drafted by the supposedly neutral host Denmark. Instant reactions to the leaked document previewed what was coming.
The leaked draft Copenhagen Agreement and the Obama-brokered Copenhagen Accord picture the short-sighted dynamic in these climate negotiations. Or should we say, the rich countries’ stubborn refusal to put their lifestyle on the chopping block.  High-emitting countries, led by the US, emphasized the ’common’ and undermine ’differentiated’, the concept which is at the heart of climate justice. The aggressor (Annex I parties) seems to say to the victim (non-Annex parties) “We’re all in this together”, “It is to everyone’s interest that you play ball and come on board, or we both go down together”.

The interlocking challenges on the table are very clear – combat human-caused global warming, end global poverty and advance human rights, as the Social Watch statement puts it. The agenda for Copenhagen was equally clear – rich countries must commit to deep and urgent cuts on their emissions to avoid climate catastrophe, as well as transfer money and technology to developing countries.   

Global annual emissions of GHGs in 2010 are likely to reach up to about 47 billion tons. Thanks to global recession, the aggregate emissions were down a few billions! To have a 50:50 chance of avoiding a rise in global average temperature of more than 2°C, emissions must be reduced to 44 billion tons in 2020, to below 35 billion tons in 2030 and much less than 20 billion tons in 2050. These are the stabilization levels that our shared vision must shoot for.

These cuts would translate in dramatic lifestyle changes in the developed world. Each person must have to reduce their carbon footprint (read consumption footprint) deeply and drastically.  According to experts, in 2009 annual per person emission in the US reached 23.6 tons. In the EU it is 12 tons per European each year. These numbers mean that the US, with a population of 305 million, is polluting the atmosphere by over 7 billion tons and the EU, with a population of 830 million, by about 10 billion tons in 2009.  In comparison, China, the pet-peeve of Annex I countries, is home to 1.3 billion people emitting 6 tons each and therefore must be contributing some 7 billions tons a year.

Obama promised a 17 per cent cut from 2005 level by 2020. In contrast, the Chinese offered a 40 to 45 per cent reduction from 2005 level by 2020 along with progressive reduction of the carbon intensity of their overheating economy.   
Economist Nicholas Stern says that, to help the developing world, rich countries should provide an extra $50 billion a year by 2015, rising to $100 billion a year starting in 2020.  What Stern didn’t say though is, that the Annex I countries are under obligation in the climate convention to transfer money and clean technology to those in harm’s way.

On both obligations – emissions cut and transfers – the Copenhagen outcome falls miserably short. It is amazing how anyone would see the US offer as the “deal breaker” in Copenhagen. Big deal!

So what now?  Leadership in Copenhagen clearly had shifted to the social and environmental movements. Under the banner of climate justice they came out in tens of thousands to express the voices of millions around the world.  Excluded from the Bella Center, they have braved the freezing cold to have a say in crafting any agreement and demand action from politicians.

There’s enough lesson to draw from Fallenhagen. And one of them is that ordinary people in their communities need to brace for the worst on their own. Farmers, indigenous people, workers, urban poor, the women, and the youth of today must muster what they know and can do best to deal with the climate crisis, with or without government backing.