A haggard but surprisingly relaxed Yvo de Boer just held the concluding press conference for the COP15 climate talks, answering some of the questions that have been plaguing the minds of every journalist (and probably a whole lot of U.N. delegates) on the heels of the unprecedented gathering of over 120 heads of state from around the globe yesterday.
Questions like ... What's an "accord?" How does it fit in with the U.N. agreements that have been in negotiation for two years now? Does it matter that the Conference of U.N. officials (the COP) is "taking note" of the accord when basically their bosses' bosses' bosses have all come in at the 11th hour to finish (or start, rather) their work for them?
In the 18 hours or so since President Obama's announcement of the Copenhagen Accord, "chaos" has ensued. Yvo said an event like this has never transpired before nor will it likely occur again. So there simply aren't procedures in place yet to reconcile the tiny, weeny three-page document I'm holding in my hands — a document which, though scant and enormously controversial, will likely go down in the history books as THE defining moment, the official birth certificate if you will, of the post-carbon economy.
Here are some clarifications I've gleaned on the Copenhagen Accord.
It is not binding legal agreement.
It is not a binding political agreement.
The Copenhagen Accord is now signed by 25 countries and provides an open invitation for other nations to join.
The accord emerged from a meeting between the U.S. and the BASIC group — China, India, Brazil, South Africa + 20 additional "friendly nations" representing 80%+ of total carbon emissions.
The accord establishes the target of max 2 degree Celsius rise in mean global temperature but it does not give a "by when."
Surprisingly AOSIS (the Island Nations) agreed to back it in exchange for initial fast-start funding pledged by the U.S and the EU.
According to Yvo, joining the accord is voluntary for each nation and is NOT a U.N.-sanctioned consensus document.
The U.N. has officially moved to "take note" of the agreement, which basically means it MAY be considered in future COP's as the framework for the legally binding agreement.
The accord calls for some form of third party "consultant" process for accounting carbon emissions of each of the participating nations.
The U.S. delegation made it clear this morning that the accord agreement was made "far above" the level of U.N. officials and cannot be modified by the U.N.
I've been grappling like many in the environmental community with a sense of depression over the whole thing. Thom Yorke of Radiohead expressed it well last night when he said, "We're f***g f**d."
But today I've been working hard to see past the blizzard of negative e-mails and tweets to try and find the silver lining in this whole thing. And thanks to Dan of the Climate Community for pointing out the positive in the tumultuous conclusion of COP15:
Copenhagen has been a major disappointment ………….. and yet …
This week, China, India, Europe and the United States all stated clearly that the risks posed by climate change are unacceptable to the global community. The leaders of China and the leaders of the United States have agreed in concept to work together towards a binding agreement that would both lower CO2 emissions and also provide more meaningful tracking of regional emissions.
This week (a seemingly tired) president of the United States - hung around - gathered other world leaders back in one last effort at an agreement - and he succeeded (sort of…)
Copenhagen should give us hope.
Though Hopenhagen could rightfully be called Flopenhagen, life for politicians and activists alike will be very, very different in 2010. When Obama crashed the two-year COP stalemate, he removed any doubt about the importance and validity of the struggle to solve the climate crisis.
Putting meat on the premature skeleton that is the Copenhagen Accord will be messy, very messy, and everyone is going to lose something in the process of forming a binding treaty (except maybe the Chinese). But like it or not, it will move forward and it will remain at the top of every leader's national priority list henceforth.
So climate skeptics, you can finally pack up your things. The "climate debate" is over.