Report from Copenhagen: Fourth Day of Negotiations

Report from Copenhagen: Fourth Day of Negotiations

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By Karen Orenstein (cross-posted from Open Left)

Over the last day in Copenhagen, heated debates and surely thousands of conversations here in the conference center have focused on what the legal outcome of the climate negotiations should be — and how to get there.

You may have seen some news stories over the past two days talk about actions by delegates from the tiny Pacific nation of Tuvalu — whose existence as an island above sea level is literally at stake in climate talks. Here’s how Rachel Morris at Mother Jones described Tuvalu’s move:

On Wednesday Tuvalu’s longtime climate adviser, an Australian named Ian Fry, grabbed the spotlight at Copenhagen by halting talks until negotiators considered a new, legally binding climate protocol that Tuvalu wants adopted instead of merely a political agreement. Tuvalu’s alternative treaty outlines more drastic emissions reductions aimed at preventing temperatures from rising by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Some stories describing Tuvalu’s move (including the one above) have suggested that it’s caused a rift to open between developing countries. A lot of this coverage is missing a key point: the differences of opinion between developing countries are about tactics, not substance; they’re about how to get the best legally binding deal out of Copenhagen. Jargon aside (and there is a heck of a lot of jargon here – I think of UN climate negotiations as “acronym city”) — developing countries remain firmly united in demanding (1) that rich countries commit to binding emission reductions targets in line with science and justice, and (2) that rich countries provide adequate funding for developing countries to address climate change.

This video shows yesterday’s action by Young Friends of the Earth Europe to stand in solidarity with these demands.


Read on for more about the tactical implications of Tuvalu’s move and some footage of the powerful action by African activists and parliamentarians from Tuesday. 

The tactical difference of opinion between developing countries boils down to this worry: Tuvalu’s attempt to formally consider a new legally binding protocol could help developed countries jump ship from their existing obligations to make ambitious commitments for greenhouse gas emission reductions under the Kyoto Protocol. Legal terminology and nuances in language are being batted about like hot potatoes as delegates, officials and activists debate the implications of different tactics. One reason to build a new protocol would be to bring the U.S. on board, but right now the U.S. is proposing a significantly weaker system than what exists under the Kyoto Protocol. What is clear is that the types of proposals coming from the U.S. would lead to a race to the bottom in ambition level among the rich countries that bear the most responsibility to act.

It’s key that the Kyoto Protocol remains intact in Copenhagen because it’s the only legally binding instrument that commits developed countries to quantified targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. What’s needed at Copenhagen is for developed countries to agree to a second commitment period for emissions reductions under the Kyoto Protocol, as the current one ends in 2012. As rich countries try to shift the burden for addressing the climate crisis they have done the most to cause onto developing countries, developing countries continue to stand firm in their demands for climate justice.

As my colleague Kate discussed yesterday here on Open Left, African activists and members of parliament made an emotional appeal for climate justice inside the Bella Center on Day 2 of the negotiations.  Here’s some video footage of their protest that we just put together: