Copenhagen Accord on Climate Change Collapsing?

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Copenhagen Accord image

The nonbinding Copenhagen Accord was hastily cobbled together at President Barack Obama's insistence as the United Nations' Copenhagen climate change conference whimpered to its end in December. Under the Accord, countries are supposed to make their commitments to cut greenhouse gases official by January 31. It now appears that most countries will miss that deadline. As the New York Times reports:

Facing a Jan. 31 deadline, major countries have yet to submit their plans for reducing emissions of climate-altering gases, one of the major provisions of the agreement, according to Yvo de Boer, the Dutch official who is executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which organized the climate meeting.

Fewer than two dozen countries have even submitted letters saying they agree to the terms of the three-page accord. And there has been virtually no progress on spelling out the terms of nearly $30 billion in short-term financial assistance promised to those countries expected to be hardest hit by climate change. Still unresolved are such basic questions as who will donate how much, where the money will go and who will oversee the spending.

De Boer also declared that the United Nations would hold the U.S. to Obama's pledge to reduce the country's greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below its 2005 level. Another New York Times story reports:

The United Nations will hold President Obama to his promise that the United States will reduce carbon emissions even if the Senate cannot pass climate legislation, U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer said this morning.

In his first public comments since the Copenhagen climate summit last month that produced a nonbinding promise from major-emitting countries to cut greenhouse gases, de Boer noted that Obama vowed the United States will slash carbon about 17 percent below 2005 levels in the coming decade.

Yesterday's special election in Massachusetts, in which a Republican won the Senate seat formerly held by the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy since 1962, calls into question Congress' ability to pass a cap-and-trade bill, but it does not alter the U.S. commitment, de Boer said. He also noted that the administration has options other than legislation, like taking regulatory action through U.S. EPA.

"Whatever route is taken, the president of the United States committed to a 17 percent emissions reduction in Copenhagen," de Boer said. "The president of the United States committed to more ambitious emissions reductions for 2030 and 2050. And it is those statements to which the international community will hold the government of the United States accountable." …

"I don't think that any political development in the United States means turning back nine years of political development on the climate change agenda," de Boer said. "The change of one state from one party to another is not going to cause a landslide in the politics of the United States on the question of climate change."

According to the Times, the U.S. chief climate negotiator Todd Stern asserts that the Obama administration "fully intend[s] to enshrine in the accord" its pledge to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent. Enshrine away! Back in 1998, the Clinton administration signed the Kyoto Protocol under which the U.S. would have been obligated to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 2012 to 7 percent below its 1990 level. But even as the U.S. signed the Kyoto Protocol, then-Vice-President Al Gore noted:

Signing the Protocol, while an important step forward, imposes no obligations on the United States.

Although the Obama administration may wish it otherwise, the same thing essentially holds true for any pledges it makes under the Copenhagen Accord.