After COP15: ?Road to Mexico’ has only just began

This is an agreement which had been thrashed out between the leaders of China, India, Brazil, South Africa and the United States on the evening of 18 December. It is now left to individual countries to sign up to the accord by the end of January. Judging from the discussions during the closing Plenary session, it can be expected that most UN member states will do so except Tuvalu, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela, and perhaps one or two more.

The discussions in the plenary session, as well as the analyses that followed, showed that most people were disappointed with the Copenhagen accord, and that governments have failed to live up to the promises they made to each other two years ago in Bali.

The Accord constitutes a letter of intent rather than an international treaty, and all reference to a ‘legally binding’ nature (now or in the near future) has disappeared from the final text, and it ended up as a collection of voluntary actions by countries, with no legally binding commitments and no international architecture.

Global Wind Energy Council had been calling for stringent legally binding emissions targets to spur continued investment in renewable energy and to establish a solid basis for carbon markets. The voluntary approach taken in this declaration fails to send clear confidence building signals to the market and to investors in clean energy technologies.

“For myself, it seems that what appears in the document is the lowest common denominator of the elements to which the new ‘big five powers’ (China, India, US, Brazil and South Africa) could come to agreement on, and the rest of the world (including the EU) was told to ‘take it or leave it,” commented Steve Sawyer, Secretary General of GWEC. “This is a weak agreement, which missed a unique opportunity to make genuine progress towards saving the climate and spurring investment in renewable energy technologies.”

The wind power industry stands ready to deliver on its promise to save 10 bn tons of CO2 by 2020. The boom of wind energy and other renewable energy technologies will continue, driven by national concerns over climate change, and economic and security considerations. However, a clear signal of long-term political commitment into decarbonising our energy system was needed to drive even more private investment to clean technologies. Wind energy is a major source of power in over 70 countries across the world.

“On a more positive note, we did get through the decision on the COPMOP guidance to the CDM Executive Board which will give us some hope of avoiding the situation we had with wind farms in China being rejected by the EB on the basis of the additionality text in the week before the COP. It also contains a directive to SBSTA (the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice) to come up with a COP decision on standardized multi-project baselines for consideration in Mexico. So we have something to work for on that front,” concluded Sawyer.

In conclusion, the international climate regime survives in some form, weakened and wounded, but some hope remains for a comprehensive agreement and a global price on carbon. As one senior EU negotiator said, “We swallowed a lot of water, but we didn’t drown”. The international community indeed has a lot of work to do on the road to Mexico.