Stopover in Copenhagen

Mr. Ajay Mathur is Director General of the Bureau of Energy Efficiency, Government of India, and was a Member of the Indian Delegation to CoP-15. This is his personal opinion.

Road to Copenhagen

The 15th Conference of the Parties (CoP 15) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held in Copenhagen from the 7th to the 18th of December, 2009. At this CoP, agreements were to be finalised in two sets of parallel negotiations. One set of negotiations, carried out in the Ad hoc Working Group on the Kyoto Protocol (KP), was seeking agreement on the developed country GHG emissions reduction commitments in the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, i.e. beyond 2012. The second set of negotiations, carried out in another Ad hoc Working Group, originated from the decision at CoP13 in Bali in December, 2007 to develop a new Long-term Cooperative Agreement (LCA), in parallel with the KP. The Parties decided, in the Bali Action Plan (BAP), that the LCA would address inter alia: Mitigation commitments by developed country-Parties; mitigation actions by developing country-Parties; adaptation actions; and financing, technology and capacity-building support for developing country-Parties to undertake mitigation and adaptation action.

Two Weeks in Copenhagen

During the course of the negotiations over the past two years, and especially by the seventh negotiating session in Bangkok in October 2009, it was clear that differences between Parties were large. In Copenhagen, the Parties continued to focus on reaching an agreement through a “bottoms up” approach, driven by negotiations based on text and ideas provided by Parties. However, the political differences between the Parties remained intractable, and agreement was elusive both at the official-level meetings and the ministerial-level meetings during the two-week period.

During the last two days of CoP, over a hundred Heads of State of governments gathered in Copenhagen. During this period, there was a strong effort by the Danish PM (as President of CoP) to negotiate an agreement, based on a text prepared by him, in discussions with a select group of countries. The discussions on the text went on down-to-the-wire, and then about 18 hours beyond that. An accord based on the President’s text (now called the Copenhagen Accord) was negotiated between select heads of states/governments in a number of plurilateral meetings, including an important one between the US President and the BASIC leaders (Prime Ministers of China & India and Presidents of Brazil and South Africa). This Accord was negotiated in the expectation that it would be adopted by the CoP as a whole.

However, when this Accord was presented to the CoP, a number of countries raised objections to the “non-inclusive” manner in which the Accord was negotiated, and to its content. Since CoP decisions require unanimity, and unanimity was not forthcoming, the Accord was not adopted by the CoP, but only “noted” by it[1]. The CoP also decided to continue with the ongoing negotiations on the LCA and the KP and conclude them at the next CoP to be held in Mexico City from November 29 to December 10, 2010.  Consequently, at the very least, the unfinished negotiations on all the issues of the Bali Action Plan (BAP), and on the second commitment period of the KP, will continue.

The “noting” of the Accord presents a unique legal conundrum. The UNFCCC Secretariat has clarified that, “…its provisions have no legal standing within the UNFCCC process even if some Parties decide to associate themselves with the Accord”[2].  Consequently, the formal relationship between the Accord and the to-be-resumed negotiations is not clear. The Accord is, at best, an expression of intent of some Parties who can be expected, despite its rejection by some other Parties, to promote it as the high-level framework within which the agreements reached in the to-be-resumed negotiations on the various issues (mitigation, adaptation, financing, technology, etc.) of the BAP would be fitted in.

The Copenhagen Accord

The full text of the Copenhagen Accord is at Annex 1. To summarise, it has the following key features:

(a)  It recognises that the increase in global temperature should be below 2o C; it also recognises that actions to accomplish this goal should reflect equity and sustainable development.

(b) The global goal of ensuring that global temperature increase does not exceed 2o C also implies the need for peaking of national and global emissions. The Accord, in this context, recognises that the timeframe for peaking will be longer in developing countries.

(c)  Adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change requires immediate attention, and that developed countries should provide adequate, predictable and sustainable, financial, technological and capacity building support to developing countries.

(d)  The developed countries (Annex-I Parties) would commit to quantified economy-wide emission reduction targets for 2020, which would be subject to international measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) process that are rigorous, robust and transparent.  These commitments would be listed in Appendix-I to the Copenhagen Accord. Annex-I countries would provide their emission goals to the UNFCCC Secretariat for incorporation in this Appendix by 31st January, 2010.

(e)  Developing countries (non-Annex-I Parties) would implement mitigation actions which would be listed in Appendix-II to the Accord.  Developing countries would report on these actions through National Communications which would be submitted to the UNFCCC every two years.  There is a provision for international consultation and analysis of these reported actions, as per clearly defined guidelines.  Those national actions that require international support for implementation would be recorded in an international registry, and will be added to the list of actions in Appendix-II once they are supported.  Actions that are not internationally supported would be subject to domestic MRV, and supported actions would be subject to international MRV processes.  Developing countries need to submit the proposed mitigation actions to be listed in Appendix-II by 31st January, 2010.

(f)   Reducing emissions from the deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) is recognised as a crucial mitigation measure which requires positive incentives. It agreed that a mechanism to mobilise financial resources for this purpose is required.

(g)   A technology mechanism was created to accelerate technology development and transfer, guided by a country-driven approach.

(h) A funding mechanism called the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund was created to support mitigation (including forest management), adaptation, technology development, and capacity building actions in developing countries, which would be the primary repository of financial resources.   The developed countries committed to the goal to jointly mobilise approximately $100 billion per year by 2020 supporting climate-change actions by developing-country Parties.

In the absence of the adoption of the Accord by the CoP, the mechanisms and the Fund have not been created, and the mitigation actions listed in Appendices I and II are declaratory actions, especially as the CoP is under no obligation to develop guidelines on the MRV and the consultation and analysis processes.

Implications of Copenhagen

Following the Copenhagen meeting, the Prime Minister, at the Indian Science Congress, stated that, “We were able to make only limited progress at the Copenhagen Summit and no one was satisfied with the outcome”[3].  The main reason for the lack of satisfaction is that the Accord does not provide finalisation to any of the issues under negotiation; it is more like a stopover on a long journey, rather than the destination.

The Copenhagen Accord and the Copenhagen CoP decisions however formalised, in an international context, some of the key Indian goals regarding the climate change negotiations. These include: Continuation of formal negotiations under KP; differentiation in the mitigation commitment activities of developing and developed countries; funding for developing country actions; and mechanisms to reward forest management (“REDD plus”) technology development and transfer, and adaptation.  However, it must be noted that the presence of these issues in the Copenhagen Accord and decisions do not imply that agreement has been reached on any of them. It only implies that these issues are still on the negotiating table.

The Road from Copenhagen

In view of the Accord’s possible role in providing a nucleus around which an Agreement could coalesce, the challenge-of-the-moment is to ensure that trust-and-confidence building actions are taken by Parties, while also ensuring that the to-be-resumed negotiations reach closure and finalisation on the issues under consideration.

The main trust-and-confidence building action in the short-term is the listing of actions that countries are willing to carry out voluntarily. Voluntary actions have been submitted by a number of countries and group of countries[4], and Box 1 lists the actions submitted by a few key countries/ group of countries. It is evident that each country/group of countries “expects” the actions of others to be wanting – these expectations of limited actions by others are reflected in the conditionalities that these countries have expressed in their submissions which are listed in the Remarks column of Box 1. Time will tell whether these submissions are adequate as a first trust-and-confidence building step, but they do have a better chance of success other then earlier climate agreements.  As the Prime Minister has succinctly stated, “ (p)resumably the countries that have made the commitments have assured themselves that they can and will be fulfilled.5

Significantly, the Prime Minister went on to say that “(a) modest accord that is fully implemented may be better than an ambitious one that falls seriously short of its targets”. [5]

Box 1

National Submissions regarding voluntary mitigation actions

Country Action Base Year Remarks
India Lower carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 20-25% by 2020. 2005
  • Does not include emissions from agriculture.
  • Domestic mitigation actions are voluntary in nature and will be implemented in accordance with the principles and provisions of the UNFCCC, in particular Article 4, paragraph 7.
  • Communication is made in accordance with the provisions of Articles 12, paragraph 1(b), Article 12 paragraph 4, and Article 10, paragraph 2(a).
China Lower  carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 40-45% by 2020;

Increase share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 15% by 2020; and

Increase forest coverage by 40 million hectares and forest stock volume by 1.3 billion cubic meters by 2020.

  • Autonomous domestic mitigation actions are voluntary in nature and will be implemented in accordance with the principles and provisions of the UNFCCC, in particular Article 4, paragraph 7.
  • Communication is made in accordance with the provisions of Article 12, paragraph 1(b), Article 12 paragraph 4, and Article 10, paragraph 2(a).
USA Emissions reductions by 2020 in the range of 17%. 2005
  • In conformity with anticipated U.S. energy and climate legislation, recognising that the final target will be reported to the Secretariat in light of enacted legislation.
  • The pathway set forth in pending legislation would entail a 30% reduction in 2025 and a 42% reduction in 2030, in line with the goal to reduce emissions to 83% by 2050.
EU 20% reduction in quantified economy-wide emissions by 2020. 1990
  • As part of global and comprehensive agreement for the period beyond 2012, the EU reiterates its conditional offer to move to a 30% reduction by 2020 compared to 1990 levels, provided that other developed countries commit themselves to comparable emission reductions and that developing countries contribute adequately according to their responsibilities and respective capabilities.

The associated challenge-of-the-moment is to ensure that the to-be-resumed negotiations are buoyed by the stated willingness of Parties to take voluntary mitigation actions, rather than being dragged down by the perceived inadequacy of the actions. These negotiations will need to address, and finalise, decisions on a range of issues. From India’s view point, agreement is essential on the following issues:

  • Amendments to the Kyoto Protocol
  • Structure of the carbon market, including the status of current CDM projects in the post-2012 regime
  • Guidelines for the international MRV process
  • Guidelines for the international consultation and analysis process for the national mitigation actions that are reported every two years to the UNFCCC through National Communications
  • Eligibility criteria for possible mitigation projects that could be listed in the registry for international support
  • Eligible activities for funding under the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund
  • Eligibility criteria for funding of forest management (“REDD plus”) projects
  • Actions to promote technology development and transfer, including IPR regime, and the network of innovation centres
  • Innovative mechanisms to promote adaptation

It is clear that reaching an agreement on these issues while simultaneously building, step-by-step, trust and confidence in the negotiation process would require time. The BASIC countries, at their Delhi meeting on 24th January, 2010, have therefore asked the Danish Presidency of the CoP to restart negotiations expeditiously, and no later than March 2010, and to ensure that at least five negotiating sessions are held before CoP-16 in Mexico City[6].

As has been mentioned earlier, the Copenhagen meeting has turned out to be a stopover in the longer journey to reach a global climate change agreement. It therefore represents both a glass half-full, as well as a glass half-empty. The actions that Parties take, and the mindset with which they approach the to-be-resumed negotiations, will determine whether the glass is filled up, or drained down. The actions and the mindset will obviously depend on national political and economic circumstances, and on the national leadership that is brought forward to address these political and economic questions. Unfortunately, it is impossible to guess these dynamics within any of the major countries involved, much less in between the negotiating countries. And so again, at Mexico City, we expect that the negotiations will head towards a down-to-the-wire finish.

[1] The decision to “note” the Copenhagen Accord, and the text of the Accord,  is available at

[2] Clarification is at

[3] Text of PM’s speech is at

[4] The US Climate Action Network tracks the reported submissions by various countries; these are tabulated and displayed at

[5] The Prime Minister’s address at the imagination of the 10th Delhi Sustainable Development Summit is at

[6] “Restart Climate Change Negotiations, India urges Denmark”, Hindu 2010, January 29, 2010.  Also at


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