Copenhagen is being called a failure, with various candidates blamed. Naomi Klein says it was Obama’s fault. Mark Lynas today is blaming the Chinese. But the conference wasn’t a failure. Or it was only so when measured against unrealistic expectations.
As Tony Brenton pointed out in the FT (letters, December 22nd, registration required), what matters here is power politics not consensus among all the world’s nations. There are about 20 nations that matter in climate change politics, and the core of the deal that was agreed came from five of them—the US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa. (And in what previous global deal could you have seen those five names lined up together?) The US and China have both committed themselves to a deal, indeed all the countries that matter have agreed, in public, that the rise in global temperature must be kept to under 2C. That in itself is a huge advance on just a couple of years ago.
The fact that a legally binding deal has not been achieved is a secondary issue —what matters is the settled conviction of the people that run the countries that count. (Don’t forget that Kyoto was legally binding and yet many countries failed to meet their obligations.) Powerful national feeling in developing countries – especially China – seems to have been the main obstacle to a deal, but that is quite understandable; the west has to accept it and work with it.
Moreover, the developing countries that count have now acknowledged that there will be no solution without a contribution from them. In return $30 billion has been earmarked for poorer countries from rich ones, with the promise of much more to come, and funding has been earmarked for forest nations to protect their trees without losing national income. Enlightened self-interest is what we want to see from the big developing country emitters of the future, and that is what we started to see at Copenhagen.