Copenhagen’s Carcass

Six months on and commentators continue to pick the last morsels of analysis off the carcass of the 15th Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen. The UK’s Guardian, for instance, has had a couple of goes at this piece, which pins the blame on the Danes and their cursed text.

Per Meilstrup, a Danish journalist, has written a whole book on COP 15 – largely the source of the Guardian piece – and reveals the ‘real’ Danish text on his blog.

Mistakes were clearly made – by the Danes and the UNFCCC’s secretariat – but the key question that the climate coroners need to ask is arguably this one: Had Lars Lokke Rasmussen not botched the high-level diplomacy, would Copenhagen have concluded with a more substantive outcome? The answer is almost certainly still no.

Why? The reasons are fundamentally to do with politics at the national level, which is where the politics mostly are. China and the US had already made announcements before Copenhagen and because of their respective domestic decision making processes, neither were in a position to increase their offers. So the conventional logic of diplomacy – that governments always arrive at summits with something extra tucked in their back pockets – did not hold.

Had events played out differently, the EU might have enjoyed its 30 per cent moment, but as the recent London Times debacle has illustrated, the debate among member states is by no means settled. While waiting in one of Copenhagen’s many queues, I chatted to an adviser to one European government’s finance minister who told me the Poles had only consented to 30 per cent in principle and on the understanding that Poland incurred no additional cost. How would that work?

It’s a real shame de Boer’s legacy is Copenhagen. Few people can have worked harder for a climate treaty. But the Danish lesson is not so much one of diplomatic failure. The leaders that matter have no mandate to agree a new climate treaty.

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