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Will 'Associating' With the Copenhagen Climate Accord Help Developing Countries, or Sink Them?

Critics of the final Copenhagen deal say its emissions targets are too lenient. But cash-strapped countries aren't exactly in a great bargaining position.

This post originally appeared on SolveClimate.

A small but significant number of the world's poorest and most vulnerable countries have told the United Nations they want to "associate" with the Copenhagen Accord, the voluntary climate agreement that came out of last year's international summit.

So far, 14 of the 49 nations Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have signed up, according to documents published on the web site of the UN Framework for the Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

This, despite some observers' view that curbing warming at an increase of 2 degrees Celsius -- a goal of the accord -- would not be aggressive enough to prevent climate change from wiping some of these states off the map. All of the LDCs have pushed for a limit of 1.5 degrees as a safer target for their survival.

Sudanese ambassador Lumumba Di-Aping (photo), the chief negotiator of the 130-member G77 group of developing nations in Copenhagen, warned last month that associating with the accord would be a "huge injustice" for the world's poor.

"Those member states of G77 who may think this deal is acceptable are not actually acting in solidarity with the poorest,” Di-Aping said. They are signing on "at the cost of billions of their citizens."

"For a small island state, it's a total wipe out."

The Copenhagen Accord, hammered out by the U.S., China, India, Brazil and South Africa in the final hours of the two-week climate talks, couldn't gain the unanimous approval needed for adoption and was merely ' noted' by the 193 nations represented at the Copenhagen conference. Nations could choose to formally associate with the accord.

Originally, nations were given until Jan. 31 to associate with the document. UN climate chief Yvo de Boer has since referred to that deadline as "soft."

The UNFCCC has also said the accord's provisions do not carry legal force within future global warming negotiations.

Still, other analysts have urged poor nations to be cautious.

According to the South Centre, a Geneva–based intergovernmental think tank covering developing states, countries that associate with the accord could face legal consequences.

It would "not be wise" to unconditionally associate with the accord, the group wrote in a recent analysis.

"Association with the Copenhagen Accord in writing ... would essentially be a unilateral declaration on the part of the associating Party of its willingness to be bound — in both political and international law terms — to the provisions of the Copenhagen Accord."

"Its contents are imbalanced and in many ways have negative implications for developing countries," the group wrote.

For developing nation advocates, another critical omission in the accord is the lack of a science-based aggregate target for wealthy countries.

This is the "most outrageous outcome of the Copenhagen Accord," said Meena Raman, a legal adviser and researcher with the Third World Network, a Malaysia-based research and advocacy institution.

"With no aggregate target, we are doomed in terms of the emission of greenhouse gases."

The Copenhagen Accord asks nations instead to "pledge" national cuts based on what they are willing to deliver. According to new research by Ecofys, a consultancy specializing in energy, the depth of greenhouse gas cuts currently on the table leaves the world heading for global warming of over 3 degrees.

This is "completely unacceptable," Raman said.

Despite the accord's imperfections, countries including Lesotho, the head representative for the LDC bloc, have unconditionally signed on.

The main reason is money.

The accord commits the rich to deliver $30 billion in kick-start financing to the poorest nations during the years 2010-2012. However, there are few signs the funds are set to be unleashed, or that a mechanism through which the money would flow even exists.