The next UN Climate Change Conference will be held in Paris in late November 2015. World leaders will be gathering and, if all goes according to plan, will achieve a legally binding and ambitious agreement on emissions targets. Yet hopes have been dashed in the past.

Most infamously, the climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009 is widely considered a failure. Despite (or perhaps because of) sky-high expectations and the attendance of heads of government, the summit quickly descended into disarray, with negotiators failing to agree to an agreement legally binding on all nations. So, what can the Paris negotiators learn from Copenhagen?

On the road to Paris 2015, Debating Europe, in partnership with Friends of Europe, will be inviting policymakers and experts to respond to YOUR questions on climate change as part of a series of debates.

Do you need some of the facts about global greenhouse gas emissions and climate change? We’ve collected some of the data together in the infographic below (click for a bigger image):


We had a comment sent in by one of our readers, Peter, calling the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit a “disaster of confusion”. He thought negotiators should avoid a repeat of Copenhagen at all costs.

To get a reaction to Peter, we recently spoke to Connie Hedegaard, former European Commissioner for Climate Action (2010-2014), and former Danish Minister for Climate and Energy. In her position as Minister for Climate, Hedegaard hosted the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen on behalf of Denmark. What lessons did she draw from the experience, and how can the Paris negotiators avoid the pitfalls of 2009?

hedegaard-speaksI think one very important lesson is that, despite all the nice talk and the good intentions and fine declarations, the reality was that too many leaders came empty-handed to Copenhagen.

However, while in 2009 China and the US could not agree to do anything substantial, that is not the case ahead of Paris, because last November President Obama and President Xi Jinping announced that the world’s two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases will start reducing their emissions and keep them down. So, I think that is something that has changed dramatically since Copenhagen.

The other thing we should be aware of is that the technical discussions and negotiations moved forward at too slow a pace ahead of Copenhagen. Time is extremely limited. Negotiators waited until they came to the COP to start really negotiating and making compromises. It is extremely important that this doesn’t happen at Paris.

To get another perspective, we also spoke to Alina Averchenkova, Co-Head of Policy at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. What would she say to Peter?

AverchenkovaSince the Copenhagen summit, the UN Climate Change Secretariat and the host governments which run climate summits have learned the importance of engaging a wide range of countries as early as possible. So, I know France has been consulting extensively with governments in the run-up to Paris.

The second thing is having realistic expectations. My personal view is that the Copenhagen conference was actually less of a failure than was portrayed in the media, because for the first time we had heads of government actually coming together and agreeing on a set of political objectives and voluntary targets to reduce emissions. It’s true that they couldn’t then achieve consensus between all UN countries, yet we still achieved a lot of progress.

Also, between Copenhagen and today we’ve actually had new science coming out, and we have seen more climate impacts. So, we have greater international awareness about the urgency of the issue.

Finally, countries have already been putting forward emissions pledges and reporting on what planning processes, institutions, legislation, and so on, they have already put in place or are planning to implement on climate change. So, as of today, we have over 120 pledges submitted and we’re still in October. So, this is much earlier than Copenhagen and countries are much better prepared. Ultimately, that’s another reason why Paris has a very good chance to succeed.

How can the Paris climate conference avoid the disaster of Copenhagen? What will happen if the Paris negotiations fail? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

18 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    EU reform- proactive

    Without reading the details- how much energy, pollution & money wasted could one save if all Utopians and sensible folks could be brought together through video conferencing and other technological advancements- instead choosing the most expensive way to & overnight stays in Paris? I seems- business us usual- again? Spot any difference- or?

    • avatar
      Paul X

      I addition, just think of the environmental benefits of having a single location for the European parliament instead all the pollution generated by them shifting the whole circus between Brussels and Strasbourg…oh, I forgot, the EU elite will never lower themselves to lead by example…do as I say, not what I do is the EU rule

    • avatar
      EU reform- proactive

      Yes Paul, a serious hint for all green mink, manure & backpackers: Maxim’s on Rue Royale, Paris- a really calming & charming place- not to be missed! “Ambiance”

      What THEY probably don’t know yet: Wind and solar power simply can’t meet the energy needs of nations like India & China. The US is leading this massive drive. In last year’s “climate change accord” with China, nuclear energy was the big winner. This pact requires China to add 1,000 gig watts of zero-carbon energy- that requires a total of ~1,000 new nuclear reactors. 70 new reactors are under construction, 183 are being planned & 343 are under proposal. Putin is a one-man uranium cartel- he owns 50% of the global uranium stockpile and controls 45% of the global supply!

      Just relax, enjoy sightseeing in Paris & the Maxim- while the real world adapts!

    • avatar
      EU reform- proactive

      Paul- did you mention EU parliaments? No EU parliaments! No special Chambre séparées’. All deliberations run from our sovereign home parliaments between the enlightened, the willing, the happy & advanced- same technologies! Hope the political unemployment fund is strong & kind enough!

  2. avatar
    Jan Kunnas

    I argue that there were two main reasons for the failure of the climate negotiations in Copenhagen 2009:

    1. the question of historical responsibility, the carbon debt of developed countries.
    2. a “wait and see what the others do attitude.”

    Here are my suggestions how to overcome both of these obstacles.

    1) Developing countries are righteously pointing to the main reason for a warming climate: historical greenhouse gas emissions of developed countries. Settling this carbon debt would take away this excuse not to participate in a climate treaty. Considering the mutual indebtedness, developed countries carbon debts vs. developing countries conventional monetary debts, developing countries joining a global climate treaty should get their debt canceled. This would pave the way for all other proposals in the contest by solving old grudges.

    2) The viewpoint, that individual countries can’t make anything happen alone, is fatal, faulty and futile modesty. If anything general can be learnt from history that is the power of example. Unilateral measures to curb climate change could provide an example for later comers to follow.Their eagerness will increase when they realize the competitive advantage the necessary clean energy revolution will bring first movers.

    Further information:

  3. avatar
    Bob Picard

    Take the topoc serious! Being f****g aware what will happen if there’s no CHANGE!
    And taking care of the people that will live in 200 years on our beautiful planet! Thinking on a global level! Punishing big companies really hard, and if certain companies do not care about laws, make them to state companies!

  4. avatar
    Shaun Lalihatu

    You kbow what we can do?
    We don’t. Because all the clinate models from back in the day were false, there is no rise in temperature, carbon dioxide is plant food and it’s not the thing that makes the dog wag it’s tail.

  5. avatar
    catherine benning

    Although the planet is facing climate changes we are not being told the truth by any of those in power.

    The changes cannot be reversed by anything they are pretending to us is as a result of our population or the abuse of the eco system by corporation. It may slow it down a little bit, but, the pace of change will eventaully be so rapid it will be a matter of months not even years before our entire system is no longer functioning as it does now.

  6. avatar
    Antonio Jose Pecurto Pecurto

    Chemical environmental pollution disasters land and contaminated water and consequently demage to the environment we live in a global society does not resolve the social and economic environmental problems we deal with the consequences at the end Happy Sustainability 2015 in Paris

  7. avatar
    eusebio manuel vestias pecurto

    The Show scientists show reality as we all know the global political system are diforced from reality sustainability in this global context the planet earth and its ecosystems and people Happy Sustainability

  8. avatar
    Enric Mestres Girbal

    The same group of “bon vivants” spending our money in useless summits…EARTH is a lively planet, nature changes, Atlantida disapeared…

  9. avatar

    So lets say the agreement is reached. It does not mean that all climate related problems will end tomorrow or in the next 50 years. While this may be regarded as an achievement, the monitoring, putting agreements into action by individual countries etc. is another concern. Leaders must walk the talk. Much of the solution lies within each nation to fix their own national environmental crisis if leaders want the future generation to enjoy a cleaner safer environment and a livable planet earth.

  10. avatar
    Shrithija rai

    Even if all the developed countries fulfills the agreement signed in the Paris summit and cuts down it’s emissions by 40-50 % then also there will be a rise of 2°C global temperature.. Much more efforts are ought to be taken if we want to save our future and stop the catastrophic events coming..

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