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Key Countries Agreed to Copenhagen Accord to Address Global Warming

Jake Schmidt

Posted December 20, 2009

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In the late morning hours Saturday in Copenhagen, the overwhelming majority of countries adopted a new framework for addressing global warming.  This new agreement -- called the Copenhagen Accord (available here) -- was hammered out by 28 of the world’s key countries.  These countries represent over 80% of the world’s global warming pollution (both energy emissions and deforestation) and the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. 

This agreement was hammered out Friday evening by Heads of Government from key countries, including the US, China, India, Brazil, South Africa, UK, France, Australia, Germany, the EU, Japan, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Russia, Mexico, Spain, South Korea, Norway, the Maldives, Columbia, and Indonesia.  The Accord is now open for other countries to sign-up, but by our count the vote (at least in the open debate) was 188-5 for its adoption (as we noted here) as a handful of climate laggards were the only countries that voted against its adoption (as my colleague Heather Allen compiled here).

As NRDC’s President said in a statement:

“This agreement is not all we had hoped for. There's still more work to be done. But it strikes a credible blow against the single greatest environmental ill of our time. It gathers all nations around the common goal of ending this scourge that imperils us all. And it sets the stage for further action in the months ahead.  Now the Senate can take up clean energy and climate legislation in the certain knowledge that Americans won't act alone.”

From afar it is a little hard to figure out what exactly happened (and probably even for people that watched it first hand as “this was not your regular climate negotiations”).  My head is blurry from lack of sleep and the craziness of the last day, but here is what was accomplished (I’ll try to post more detailed pieces on each aspect later).

1.     Heads of Government from key Countries are engaged.  This meeting brought together 115 Heads of Government to discuss global warming.  And they weren’t just there for speeches, but to reach a deal.  In fact, they were doing more than that as a key sub-segment of leaders were actually negotiating with other leaders, arm twisting, and pushing for agreement. 

In my years of these negotiations I’ve never seen such a high-level commitment to the substance of action (usually when these leaders get together they just make speeches and leave).  World leaders -- most notably President Obama -- took over these negotiations and used everything in their power to push forward an agreement in Copenhagen (as you can read this coverage from the Washington Post about how Obama worked with and nudged the Chinese).  

2.     All major emitting countries will have to commit to take action and solidify them in the international agreement.  As I discussed (here and here), all major emitting countries will now have to internationally commit to specific efforts to reduce emissions.  And by the end of January 2010 those commitments will be brought forward and established officially in the Accord (in Appendix I and Appendix II). 

So you may be looking at the agreement as void of commitments to reduce emissions, but that will come in just over one month from now.  But by the end of January we’ll have commitments enshrined in the agreement at least the 28 key countries that drafted this agreement.  And as countries undertake greater action they will report them (as I discuss in point 3) and these actions will be inscribed in the Copenhagen Accord.  So we’ll effectively create a means for countries to undertake increasing commitments that are inscribed in the Accord and if done right we’ll create an ongoing negotiation on the stringency of those actions. 

So now the countries representing more than 80% of the world’s global warming pollution will commit domestically and internationally to take action to reduce their emissions.  That is a first and a very significant move (as my colleague also noted here).        

3.     We will have a system to regularly know whether or not countries are making progress towards their commitments.  This turned out to be one of the key sticking points going into the final days of the negotiations -- in particular between the US and China (as my colleagues discussed here, here, and here). 

And there was a very significant breakthrough on this front in Copenhagen.  Every two years developing countries will have to report national emissions inventories and emission reduction actions based upon internationally agreed guidelines.  Those emissions reduction actions:

“will be subject to their domestic measurement, reporting and verification the result of which will be reported through their national communications every two years…they will communicate information on the implementation of their actions through National Communications, with provisions for international consultations and analysis under clearly defined guidelines that will ensure that national sovereignty is respected.”

The reporting of emissions and actions every 2 years, as well as the international consultation under defined guidelines will both add greater transparency to developing country commitments.  

4.     We secured real commitments to finance for investing in efforts in developing countries to reduce deforestation emissions, and adapt to the impacts of global warming.  Countries agreed to support $30 billion over the next 3 years for these actions -- $3.5 billion of which is going to deforestation reductions.  And developed countries agreed to a goal of mobilizing jointly $100 billion per year by 2020 “in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation” (a proposal supported by Sec. Clinton in the final days of the negotiations which was a shot of adrenaline).

Not done yet, but the world built the foundation for a big step forward.  While some people seem to be focused on what is not agreed in the Copenhagen Accord, we have to separate our expectations for Copenhagen with what we need in the final agreement.  After all, we weren’t going to get a legally binding treaty out of Copenhagen as was recognized by key world leaders back in October (as I noted here). 

Going into Copenhagen, I stressed that there were six key elements to the international agreement (as I outlined here).  And on each of those fronts we made progress.  Are we done yet on these issues?  Of course not, we can and must do more on each element if we are going to truly address global warming.  Did we get all the details that we need on each element?  No, unfortunately for political reasons (e.g., lack of US Senate action) and due to the blocking of a small number of countries, the agreement reached in Copenhagen will have to be further fleshed out in the coming months (and years).  On some issues there is less work to do than on others, but on all we only finalized part of the details necessary.

But despite these caveats, this Accord was a very significant step in the world’s efforts to address global warming.  For the first time, all major economies, including China, India, Brazil, the United States, Russia, Japan, and the European Union, have made commitments to curb global warming pollution and report on their actions and emissions in a transparent fashion.


Sorry for the lateness in posting updates on the final outcome, but the final days were frantic, sleep deprived (I stayed awake through the night on Friday and into Saturday morning, and confusing inside the Bella Center (lots of Heads of Government meetings, leaders running around with camera crews following, etc).  So I’m just now getting around to finalizing a post as I leave Copenhagen on my way home (via London overnight due to snow blanketing the US east coast).

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Paul JoyDec 21 2009 08:18 PM

Contrary to points three and four above, there is still no significant anti-cheating provision within the Copenhagen accord. Countries will renage on their promises given the severe lack of incentives to push them in that direction. The Copenhagen Accord will most likely result in continued rising emissions globally, making adaptation a much more important area of reform in the months and years ahead.

This process also showed the limits of multi-laterial diplomacy. The UNFCC has been instrumental in bringing together scientists on the issue of climate change. But its framework, which requires the presence of 190 plus countries to agree to something, is simply not workable. We need a new institution, starting with a national carbon regime passed in the new year.

And finally, on China, contrary to what the China Daily that just came to my desk, did not play a 'constructive' role at the conference. Beijing, similar to Washington, has a large number of industrial special interests with little or no interest in reducing carbon emissions or carbon intensity. What policy or enforcement options does Beijing really have to enforce its own commitments? This isn't a money issue, its a governance issue. And if you don't believe me, just look at China's primary pollution issues (for which mitigating technology has been available for more than thirty years!).

Paul JoyDec 21 2009 08:20 PM

I mean points two and three, not three and four. The funding mechanism will most likely go forward and work to a limited degree. But it does depend on governance and transparancy, not just about money.

Brad ParsonsDec 22 2009 02:58 AM

You should state in your blog article that the 'accord' was not adopted. No "countries will have to commit to take action" on the 'accord's' provisions. By it's text and that countries only 'take note' and do not necessarily have to abide by it's provisions, this 'accord' is an ineffective document hasily negotiated and incompletely recorded. Face it, Copenhagen was an absolute failure. The whole 'climate change' debate is set to got through some dramatic changes in the coming months/year.

Brad Parsons
Sierra Club

Jake SchmidtDec 22 2009 08:45 AM


I'm not sure what "anti-cheating" rules you think can get agreed internationally. There are limits to what can realistically be achieved in that regard internationally (see for example nuclear non-proliferation).

However, what was just agreed was a system of regular reporting against internationally agreed guidelines and a periodic consultation on the results of that reporting. That means every 2 years a country has to go before the world and defend its progress (or lack of progress) towards its commitments. International peer pressure can be a powerful tool. But it isn't necessarily sufficient, which is why the US climate bills have provisions that require imported goods to be produced by meeting similar emissions standards as equivalent goods in the US. So there are tools both internationally and ultimately in US law to encourage good actors.

The reporting and review provisions were a huge step forward, so let’s not discount them.

Jake SchmidtDec 22 2009 08:59 AM


As I pointed out in my post there were actually a very small handful of countries that blocked consensus. These countries had no interest in making progress on global warming and in fact used everything in their power during the 2 weeks to slow, block, and distract progress. They are rogue players internationally.

In fact, one of them -- Sudan -- went so far as to say the most despicable thing I have ever heard in my years of the climate negotiations.

I watched the proceedings live in the room and the sentiment can be described generally as: supportive of the Accord, but wanting more. As my colleague documented there was actually a large number of countries that said so explicitly in powerful words:

But despite this general sentiment, we weren't able to get it adopted as a consensus decision. Since the UN runs on a consensus process, these handful (5 in total) countries blocked consensus so we had to find an alternative route to recognize the Accord. As we pointed out here:

But countries will be signaling whether or not they affiliate with the Accord in the coming months. And since the major emitters and a number of the most vulnerable had a hand in agreeing to the Accord, I think it will have a more solid basis than some think.

Of course we have our work cut out for us next year by turning the Accord into a stronger internationally agreement. Passing a Senate climate bill is critical to achieving that aim so let's get that done.

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