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?
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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?
I 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?
Since 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!