Copenhagen – the breaking point

Der Spiegel has obtained audio of the heads of state negotiating in the final hours of COP15. Its fascinating stuff. The headline reads, How China and India Sabotaged the UN Climate Summit. This point was actually raised back in December by Mark Lynas at the Guardian (there’s a nice discussion and event timeline at Inside-Out China). On the surface the video supports the view that China and India were the material obstacle to agreement on a -50% by 2050 target. However, I think it’s still hard to make attributions about motive. We don’t know, for example, whether China is opposed because it anticipates raising emissions to levels that would make 50% cuts physically impossible, or because it sees the discussion of cuts as fundamentally linked to the unaddressed question of responsibility, as hinted by He Yafei near the end of the video. Was the absence of Wen Jiabao obstruction or a defensive tactic?  We have even less information about India, merely that it objected to “prejudging options,” whatever that means.

What the headline omits is the observation in the final pages of the article, that the de facto US position may not have been so different from China’s:

Part 3: Obama Stabs the Europeans in the Back

But then Obama stabbed the Europeans in the back, saying that it would be best to shelve the concrete reduction targets for the time being. “We will try to give some opportunities for its resolution outside of this multilateral setting … And I am saying that, confident that, I think China still is as desirous of an agreement, as we are.”

‘Other Business to Attend To’

At the end of his little speech, which lasted 3 minutes and 42 seconds, Obama even downplayed the importance of the climate conference, saying “Nicolas, we are not staying until tomorrow. I’m just letting you know. Because all of us obviously have extraordinarily important other business to attend to.”

Some in the room felt queasy. Exactly which side was Obama on? He couldn’t score any domestic political points with the climate issue. The general consensus was that he was unwilling to make any legally binding commitments, because they would be used against him in the US Congress. Was he merely interested in leaving Copenhagen looking like an assertive statesman?

It was now clear that Obama and the Chinese were in fact in the same boat, and that the Europeans were about to drown.

This article and video almost makes up for Spiegel’s terrible coverage of the climate email debacle.

Related analysis of developed-developing emissions trajectories:

You can’t fix emissions inequity with more emissions

The AWG-LCA draft agreement

The AOSIS draft agreement

Danish text – emissions trajectories