Copenhagen Climate Conference Failure: Post-Mortem

As all of us realize who care to recall, that COP15 “Hopenhagen” Climate Summit of last December was a failure, despite the personal involvement of nearly all top world leaders, including President Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. No clear agreement on worldwide action to act against global warming and the emission of greenhouse gases – much less one with any binding force – was arrived at. Official commitment to such action on the part of most governments since then has mostly just dwindled away. The question naturally arises, “How could it have failed?”, but that is an inquiry that naturally invites a lot of finger-pointing. As for the host Danish government, the Prime Minister’s Office (Statsministeriet) has conducted its own classified analysis of the question – something which reporters Martin Aagaard and Mette Ƙstergaard of the mainstream newspaper Politiken nonetheless managed to get a hold of and discuss in an article in that newspaper.

In the Statsministeriet’s view, one of the main problems leading to the conference’s failure was the lack of mutual confidence between the Danish COP15 delegation – the conference’s hosts – and the secretariat of the UNFCCC, or United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was the official UN body in charge of the deliberations. As commented John Nordbo, leader of the climate program at the World Nature Funds, “A relationship of confidence would have changed a lot. Then one could have been a bridge-builder towards an agreement. Instead, negotiations were stymied by argument and got stuck, and we ended up with an alarmingly meager result.” But such a strained relationship was probably inevitable, given the skant regard for the UN body’s ability to get anything done held by the Statsministeriet – the document describes what it saw as a “too many cooks” problem within that UN organization, with officials all going off on their own separate ways.

However, the Statsministeriet’s is also frank enough to pinpoint how the Danish government caused a lack of confidence in itself to arise in the crucial period leading up to COP15. In the early part of last year that government decided that it had to be realistic about what it could hope to achieve at the December conference, given that unanimity was required for any final accord, and so ceased to advocate any climate agreement with legally-binding obligations on the participating states but rather a mere political agreement. Not only were many countries not yet ready to cut back in this way their ambitions about what could be accomplished, but most of them were notified of the new Danish approach only about one-and-a-half months before the conference was to start. The result was widespread suspicion about Danish intentions and the belief that the Danes were simply in the pocket of the US and other highly-polluting states that wanted as few results as possible. It might be recalled that, at around the mid-point of the actual conference, the Danish delegation did present a proposal for an agreement; it went nowhere and, despite even frantic high-level deliberations among world leaders, things did not much improve from there.

And thus it was, at least in the eyes of the Danish government, that “Hopenhagen” 2009 turn into a flop.

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