Copenhagen is over, so the post-game commentary, in true sports fashion, is just beginning.

The best summary of what did and didn’t happen that I’ve seen so far, is Copenhagen climate conference: The grim meaning of ‘meaningful’ (but not one pointed exception in []’s):

Like businessmen who insist a deal is legit, politicians protesting they have done something “meaningful” arouse suspicions that the opposite is in fact true. And “meaningful” was about the best word the spin doctors could muster in respect of the agreement of sorts that was brokered in Copenhagen late last night.

The climate change summit had three big tickets on its agenda: emissions, financial assistance and the process going ahead. And on each of these counts the accord – which was effectively hammered out not by the whole conference, but rather by the US, India, China and South Africa – fell woefully short. There was no serious cementing of the positive noises on aid that had emerged earlier on in the week. On emissions, a clear-eyed vision for the distant future was rendered a pipe dream by outright fuzziness about the near term. And most alarmingly of all, there was no clear procedural roadmap to deliver the world from the impasse that this summit has landed it in. Outright failure to agree anything at all would have been very much worse, but that is about the best thing that can be said.

Stating climate change was a frightening fact, the president pronounced his determination to act. Soon, however, he broke his own rhetorical spell by following his eloquent overture not with a magnanimous announcement, but with some none-too-subtle pointing of the finger at China. He may have been technically accurate in implying that it nowadays emitted more than the US, but this cheap point distracted from the reality that much of China’s – in any case low – per-head emissions are incurred in serving western consumers. [As I’ve said before, this “stop us before we pollute again while making money selling you things” line of argument is bullshit. China is responsible for what happens in their own country, not anyone else, as they were so quick to point out in Copenhagen to anyone who so much as whispered “monitor” in their vicinity. If they want to lower their production costs as much as possible by destroying their environment, that’s their business. But this insulated view breaks down when the pollution in question is CO2 that affects the whole world. They either give us direct control over how they do things inside their country or they and everyone else should shut up about it and let the world monitor what they do. Trying to have it both ways is pathetic.]

Later on he stood back from the brink. First, by conceding some language on monitoring emissions which addressed China’s concerns about sovereignty, and secondly – at a late-night press conference – by making a nod towards UN scientists who have this week been warning that the offers tabled so far would set the mercury surging by a catastrophic 3C.

Obama’s singular failure to raise the American game no doubt reflects his having one eye on the Senate, whom he still needs to persuade to enact his climate laws. Other leaders, however, proved equally unable to transcend parochialism when the crunch came.

China’s premier Wen Jiabao used his own speech to harry the developed world to make good on the cash it has pledged to the poor, an important demand but one that would have carried more force if it had been married to the explicit acceptance that China will soon have to find the means to prove to a sceptical world that it will curb its emissions as it promises.

Only two years ago, the world’s leaders swore this would be the summit to build a new carbon order. The threadbare agreement thrashed out last night has not even laid the foundations. The progress on financial assistance over the fortnight is welcome, but with much of the money earmarked for climate adaptation, the global community is left resembling an alcoholic who has decided to save up for a liver transplant rather than give up drink.

It is a sad tribute to collective failure that the all-important question at the end of Copenhagen is: what happens next?

Opinions differ, of course. Another paper in the UK, for example, says it’s Not Just Hot Air:

What has become clear? First, climate change is a multidimensional, rolling problem, and dealing with it requires a multidimensional, rolling approach. The Copenhagen decisions will be followed up at an interim meeting in Bonn in June, and next year’s conference in Mexico, but deliberations on climate change should not be separate from deliberations on other aspects of global diplomacy. It makes little sense that it should take such an enormous, two-week jamboree for any progress to be made at all.

Second, delegation does not always work. In effect, representatives from almost every country in the world have spent a fortnight arguing about process. The tiny Tuvalu caused negotiations to be suspended twice, on a technical issue that could have been resolved beforehand. It took the last-minute arrival of the world’s leaders themselves for even a draft agreement to emerge. Had this summit been a week shorter, it is hard to see how less would have been achieved.

And yet, for all that, Copenhagen has proved a milestone, with much success. A deal looks in place to prevent deforestation. There has been a recognition of the problem of acidification in the oceans. Pledges from China and the US to reduce emissions are big news, and the presence of President Obama at the heart of these negotiations can only be welcomed. We should also be upbeat about emerging consenus that the developed world should help to compensate for the limiting of emissions of the developing world, provided it comes with effective checks so that the right money goes to the right places.

Sorry, but even though there will apparently be a “COP 15.5″ meeting in Bonn (I guess my offer to hold it in Rochester wasn’t sufficiently inticing), the best single piece of news that emerged today, I’m not impressed. Progress on deforestation is undeniably good, but “recognizing” ocean acidification is totally meaningless unless we do something about all the CO2 we’re pouring into the atmosphere at a mind blowing rate–well over 30 billion metric tons per year just from energy consumption.

One question I would love answered is: How did we manage to get to Copenhagen, at the end of two years of regular meetings, and only here did we have the 1.5C/2C food fight, arm wrestling over money and monitoring, etc.? What happened at all the prior meetings? Did they skip all that icky climate talk and hold international Yahtzee tournaments?

Needless to say, I’m very disappointed in what happened in Copenhagen. And I remain convinced that had nothing at all happened except an agreement to keep talking, it would have been a better outcome. Then the pressure would have mounted and things likely would have become far testier, but we might have reached an agreement in the next three or four months that was worth more than bird cage liner.


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