Waking up from the Copenhagen hangover

Campaigns and Advocacy, Media Releases, News, Opinion article written on the 13 Dec 2010

For the past year we have all operated under the hangover of Copenhagen: the disappointment, suspicion and scepticism.

And while there was so much more that could have been accomplished at the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Cancun, Mexico, we are in a much better place coming out of these talks.

The Summit in Cancun was certainly not perfect, but the building blocks to get us back on track to the ultimate prize of a fair, ambitious legally-binding deal have been laid. The kind of progress made in Cancun is not the makings of front-page news but ironically far more was achieved in this quiet holiday town than in the hype that surrounded Copenhagen last year. While the Cancun deal is certainly not enough to tackle global climate change on its own, life-saving decisions have been made.

Most notably, the Climate Fund has been established – a streamlined one-stop shop under the United Nations that should be operational from late 2011 to help developing countries adapt and mitigate to the impacts of climate change. This was always the cornerstone to getting a deal between rich and poor countries in Cancun.

Australia is likely to have a seat on the fund’s designing committee which will also give strong representation to the voice of developing nations – a move that Oxfam welcomes as people from those countries are suffering disproportionate impacts of climate change and are best placed to know what will work in their environments.

However, while the fund was established, countries did not identify how they will source funding. Negotiators missed an opportunity to implement levies or a global emissions reductions scheme on international aviation and shipping that could generate over time the finance to tackle the needs of developing countries.

Australia announced important commitments to the Fast Start Finance Fund, as part of the agreement at last year’s UN Copenhagen Negotiations to see a new and additional $30.5 billion dollars spent for the period of 2010 – 2012 to help developing countries adapt to climate change and develop on a low carbon pathway. As part of Australia’s pledges, Minister Combet announced allocations of $80 million to the Pacific, $44 million to South-East Asia, $25 million to Africa, and $20 million to South Asia.

These are important steps towards helping developing countries adapt to the devastating impacts of climate change. However the fact that this money will come from Australia’s aid budget overlooks that climate change is an additional burden on the world’s poor. Every dollar diverted from the aid program is one dollar less for vital health, education, water and sanitation projects that save lives and help people out of poverty.

On emissions reductions, the targets agreed at Copenhagen were woefully inadequate and will fall far short of taking the world to below two degrees warming. However following Cancun there is now at least an acknowledgement that current pledges are inadequate and a process in place which leaves the door open to reassessing them.

The Kyoto Protocol – brutally battered during the past two weeks – has survived. Much more needs to be done, but we now have a baseline that emissions cuts must be relative to 1990 not 2005. There is now more confidence among developing countries that richer nations support the continuation of the second commitment period under the Kyoto protocol.

This is not the end of the story, rather it is the beginning. We need to increase the pledges in the Cancun Agreement and ensure compliance mechanisms are in place for countries to have legally binding targets under the Kyoto Protocol.

Brazil, South Africa, India and China should build on the ambitious actions they have outlined since Copenhagen and in Cancun, setting a new model of clean development and poverty eradication.

Governments of vulnerable countries – those least responsible for the climate crisis, but suffering first and worst from its savage effects – must develop long-term plans to build the resilience of their people and communities from climate impacts. Many of the poorest countries have already outlined ambitious plans to control their emissions growth – like the Maldives’ plan to be carbon neutral by 2020. The international community must support them in these life-saving efforts.

Cancun is an important chapter in the epic story to tackle global climate change. If countries view Cancun as they should – a turning point from which to build from – the end of the book could well be in sight.

Andrew Hewett, Executive Director, Oxfam Australia

This opinion editorial was first published by ABC’s The Drum Opinion on 13 December 2010.