You have to feel for the Danes – they have pulled out all the stops to host this conference, which is completely unprecedented in its scale, and so far they have done a bloody good job. The broadside against the city’s prostitutes was a bit mad but the provision of free public transport to all delegates and the expansive facilities provided in the cavernous Bella centre show how much thought has gone into this event.
But now their name is being dragged through the mud because of their leaked text that appears to have upset everyone.
I suspect many seasoned commentators will simply dismiss the current storm over the ‘secret document’ as all part of the theatre of international negotiations. Of course there is a document in circulation – it would be naïve to think there wouldn’t be. The official public document is still hundreds of pages long with innumerable square brackets everywhere. And yet Ministers and then World Leaders arrive next week and they need something to discuss and sign.
So the Danes did what they had too – drafted something and then set about consulting on it. The fact that the developing countries were able to produce a line-by-line commentary shows that far from keeping it secret they were sharing it with everyone. It is actually difficult to think of any other way they could have done it. Everyone concedes that the UN process is unwieldy and time consuming and, sadly, as far as the outside world is concerned, time has run out for this negotiation.
So the question now is what happens next? Will the angry reactions by developing nations mean the text is shelved? Will the content be changed, and if so how, or will someone be tasked with merely changing the document’s appearance so a ‘new’ document can be produced at some later point in the proceedings?
Hopefully what will happen is that after all the apparent outrage has died down the process of knitting together a document that both the G77 and China and the US, Europe and the rest of the industrialized nations are happy with will begin. In fact it almost certainly already has.
The main sticking point in the new text seems to be the rather laissez-faire approach to developed country targets. The text implies that targets will be derived from the pledges made by countries rather than by any top down science led formula. In that sense it reflects the political reality of the situation. But there is also no mention of any compliance mechanism which is a serious omission guaranteed to undermine trust.
The US is much more concerned with its domestic situation; its primary aim is to make sure the UN process does nothing to exacerbate problems back home. So the chances of them signing up to anything more ambitious than the target currently on offer are virtually nil. They may, however, be persuaded to give ground on some of the structural aspects of the new deal including on compliance regimes and finance arrangements. These are the issues the developing countries now need to focus on as well as ensuring that all other developed countries – most notably Europe – commit to at least the upper end of their target ranges.
Putting aside this latest ‘furor’ it is still true that all the major countries now have quantified targets on the table and the political stars have never been more favourably aligned to achieve a deal. This cannot be squandered.
Copenhagen should capture current ambition from all countries and create a framework for action over the next five years. During this time global emissions will in reality be dictated by domestic policies in China, the US and Europe, and those will be guided, but not dictated by UN agreement.
Then in 2014 the next IPCC report will be issued and it is sure to sound an even louder alarm call for action. At that point 2020 targets can be reviewed and the gap between where targets are now, and where they need to be, can be addressed.
Something like the Danish text has to emerge at the end of this process. It will serve no-ones interest, least of all the poorest nations, to abandon hope of producing a clear, intelligible text indicating the way forward. Lets hope the Danes can succeed in this monumental task of diplomacy.