Copenhagen Accord Update

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Under the Copenhagen Accord hammered out at the last minute at the Fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP-15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, nations that accept the accord were supposed to submit their pledges to cut or limit their greenhouse emissions by January 31. According to the UNFCCC press release 55 countries accounting for around 78 percent of emissions have made some sort of submissions. The press release offers this bit of cheerleading:

?This represents an important invigoration of the UN climate change talks under the two tracks of Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol,? said Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC.

?The commitment to confront climate change at the highest level is beyond doubt. These pledges have been formally communicated to the UNFCCC. Greater ambition is required to meet the scale of the challenge. But I see these pledges as clear signals of willingness to move negotiations towards a successful conclusion,? he said.

Invigoration? Perhaps, but most of the reduction or limitation pledges are conditional. For example, among the industrialized nations Australia unconditionally agrees to reduce its emissions by 5 percent below its 2000 levels by 2020, but will agree to go to a 25 percent cut only "if the world agrees to an ambitious global deal capable of stabilising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at 450 ppm CO2-equivalent or lower." Similarly, the European Union commits to a 20 percent reduction in its emissions below 1990 levels by 2020 and will agree to a 30 percent cut "provided that other developed countries commit themselves to comparable emission reductions and that developing countries contribute adequately according to their responsibilities and respective capabilities." Japan will commit to cutting its emissions by 25 percent below its 1990 levels by 2020 "premised on the establishment of a fair and effective international framework in which all major economies participate and on agreement by those economies on ambitious targets." Russia pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent below its 1990 levels by 2020. Currently, due to its post-Soviet industrial collapse Russian emissions are about 34 percent below 1990s levels. And the United States has agreed to cut its emissions by 17 percent below its 2005 levels if the Obama administration can get Congress to go along with the proposal.

Developing countries, including big emitters such as China, Brazil, South Africa, and India submitted their voluntary emissions control pledges. For example, China "will endeavor" to cut its carbon intensity (the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per dollar of GDP) by 40 to 45 percent by 2020. Under that scenario China's actual emissions could almost double. Similarly, India promises to "endeavour to reduce the emissions intensity of its GOP by 20-25 percent  by 2020 in comparison to the 2005 level." South Africa promises to take action to reduce its emissions 34 percent below the business-as-usual projection, noting that "the extent to which this action will be implemented depends on the provision of financial resources, the transfer of technology and capacity building support from developed countries." South Africa adds that this aid from developed countries depends on finalizing an ambitious treaty when COP-16 meets in Mexico this coming December.

So what's next? Reuters reports:

South Korea's climate change ambassador Raekwon Chung said that U.S. legislation was now vital.

"Every other country in the world is watching the U.S. … If (U.S. climate change legislation) does not happen this year, what will be the impact on the negotiations? I think the impact would be quite serious," he said.

However, it is hard to see how Congress can be persuaded to pass legislation cutting U.S. greenhouse emissions if China and other developing nations will not agree to international auditing of their greenhouse gas control pledges.