Environment

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.

Advocates say fears are running high that if the poor nations do not associate, they will sacrifice the funds, though they have no proof this would be the case.

"I don't think there is a need to rush to join this accord," said Raman. But, she added, "that fear needs to be allayed."

As evidence of the confusion surrounding the accord, Erik Høeg, the UN deputy permanent representative for Denmark, host country of the talks, said he is not in a position to say if countries that are not signed up can benefit from the billions.

"This is an accord that countries are still looking at how exactly the various notions should be interpreted," Høeg said.

Martin Khor, head of the South Centre, said the document implies that only with association can countries qualify for money, but this defies previous commitments under the UNFCCC, he said.

"The [existing UN climate] convention says that if you're preparing your reports, your inventories, your national communications, the developed countries will pay you the full costs of your preparation," Khor said. "And if you are taking adaptation and mitigation actions, you will be paid for the full agreed incremental cost of your action.

"It doesn't say 'only if you sign an accord'."

Yes, But...

A few of the 14 LDCs who signed on made their associations subject to conditions, or at least offered suggestions for improvement.

Providing a glimpse of the battle lines between rich and poor over the features of a new emissions deal, nearly all of these countries said the global temperature rise must be kept below 1.5 degrees to prevent extreme sea level rise. Many expressed concerns over the fate of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, whose very existence beyond the next climate meeting in Mexico in December is seen as under threat.

For instance, in its submission, Nepal called the Copenhagen Accord "one step forward" on the path toward a legal treaty that delivers dollars, technology and capacity building to poor nations, but pleaded for the survival of the Kyoto Protocol.

Likewise, Sierra Leone, which called itself "one of the most vulnerable LDCs," said in its submission that the accord is "an effort to advance the objectives and principles" contained in Kyoto but "must not" replace it.

UN officials continue to affirm that Kyoto is here to stay, despite a belief by poor nations that the Copenhagen deal lays the foundation for its imminent end.

"I haven't heard a single member state discussing [the Copenhagen Accord] as a new protocol or a new mechanism," said Robert Orr, the UN assistant secretary-general for policy coordination and strategic planning. And that, he added, is a "healthy thing."

For its part, Yemen, a least-developed state now at the head of the G77, has not associated with the accord.

In accepting its election to the G77 chair on Jan. 22, Abubakr A. AL-Qirbim, Yemen's minister for foreign affairs, called climate change "one of the greatest challenges of modern times."

In a veiled swipe at the Copenhagen Accord, AL-Qirbim said that at the next big climate meeting, the G77 "will be able to achieve what was not achieved in Copenhagen" based on the "the principle of 'common but differentiated responsibilities' that was embodied in the Framework Convention on Climate Change — the only available structure to deal with this challenge."

Yemen did not attend the recent meeting of the environment ministers of China, India, South Africa and Brazil, the BASIC bloc, convened to discuss the accord, though it had been invited.

82 Nations Associate

In total, 82 of 193 UN nations have formally associated with the Copenhagen pact so far, according to UNFCCC documents.

That number covers the 27 nations of the European Union. Other wealthy nations that have signed on include the U.S., Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Lichtenstein and Norway.

Forty-six of the countries associating are developing or least-developed states. States in the BASIC bloc, comprised of the G77’s largest economies and biggest polluters, have all presented national mitigation plans, but China and India have not associated; South Africa and Brazil have signed up.

Orr called for a "wait and see" approach for understanding how governments interpret the accord.

The accord was "advertised" and "should be understood" as a "political understanding among key parties," he said. "Let's wait and see what the association process yields."

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