Thursday, December 24, 2009

Copenhagen Accord Politically Significant but Not Legally Binding
(Last-minute agreement targets temperature rise, financing, deforestation)  
By Cheryl Pellerin
Science Writer
Washington ? After 12 days of tense negotiations that were plagued by walkouts and accompanied by protests outside in the wintry streets of Copenhagen, delegates from nearly 200 nations at the U.N. Climate Change Conference came to a hard-won initial agreement called the Copenhagen Accord to cap global temperature rise by committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"For the first time in history," President Obama said after arriving back in Washington on December 19, "all of the world's major economies have come together to accept their responsibility to take action to confront the threat of climate change."
The accord - finalized in the early hours of December 19 ( ) in a stuffy room at the Bella Center by Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy of France, Angela Merkel of Germany, Gordon Brown of the United Kingdom, Felipe Calderón of Mexico and 20 other national leaders - recognizes the scientific view that limiting an increase in global temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) is necessary to avoid the worst effects of a changing climate system.
"We now have a Copenhagen Accord which contains a number of very significant elements," an exhausted-looking Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said at the closing press briefing. He called it "an impressive accord," but added that it was "not an accord that is legally binding."
Many delegates hoped the result of this 15th Conference of the Parties (COP-15) to the UNFCCC would be an ambitious and binding agreement on specific national actions to try to avoid the most disastrous effects of climate change. What emerged from informal negotiations among major economies and representatives of regional groups was a first step toward a potentially stronger agreement to be negotiated during COP-16, to be held in Mexico in the final months of 2010. A two-week negotiating session in Bonn, Germany, scheduled for May 31 to June 11, will precede COP-16.
"After extremely difficult and complex negotiations, this important breakthrough lays the foundation for international action in the years to come," Obama said.
The closing COP session lasted 13 hours, during which many voiced concerns about the accord and the relatively closed process that led to its formulation. Later, during informal negotiations presided over by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the parties agreed to adopt a COP decision in which the COP took note of the Copenhagen Accord rather than formally adopt it as the outcome of COP-15 negotiations.
The accord seeks to limit global temperature rise by allowing developed countries to make deep but unspecified cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and by setting global and national emissions peaks "as soon as possible," with a longer deadline for developing countries.
Developed countries will provide "adequate, predictable and sustainable financial resources, technology and capacity building" to help developing countries adapt to a changing climate, the accord says. Developed countries promised $30 billion to developing countries between 2010 and 2012 and $100 billion a year by 2020 in long-term financing to fight and adapt to climate change. National contribution amounts were not specified.
The accord says industrialized countries will commit to implementing, individually or together, specific economywide emission targets beginning in 2020. The countries must list these targets by January 31, 2010.
Some developing countries, including the major emerging economies, agreed to report every two years on their efforts to limit greenhouse gases. They will list their voluntary pledges by January 31, 2010. A registry will be created in which countries can list mitigation projects for which they seek support. Industrialized nations will list in the registry available technology, financing and support for training and education. Supported mitigation actions will be subject to international measurement, reporting and verification.
The Copenhagen Accord confirms the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol and the UNFCCC. Because pledges listed by developed and developing countries may not be enough to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, leaders called for a review of the accord to be completed by 2015. The review will consider the long-term goal needed to limit global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius ? a goal promoted by many developing countries and small island nations.
On December 16 in Copenhagen, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the United States, Australia, France, Japan, Norway and the United Kingdom agreed to dedicate $3.5 billion as initial funding to slow, halt and eventually reverse deforestation in developing countries.
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, deforestation ? mainly the conversion of forests to agricultural land ? occurred at about 13 million hectares a year between 1990 and 2005. Deforestation results in the immediate release of the carbon dioxide (CO2) stored in the trees, both from burning and from the decay of organic matter. In its 2007 Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that reducing or preventing deforestation is the mitigation option with the largest and most immediate impact on the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.
The funds will be used by the U.N. collaborative program on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) in developing countries for the years 2010-2012. The U.S. contribution will be $1 billion during the next three years. The funds will be available to countries that develop ambitious REDD plans for their forests.
The U.S. State Department¸ the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. Forest Service are starting to work with developing countries around the world to determine how REDD can be implemented. Emissions will be reduced by improving carbon inventories, establishing payment systems for ecosystem services, and helping forests adapt to a changing climate.
In Copenhagen De Boer said: "We now have a package to work with and begin immediate action. However, we need to be clear that it is a letter of intent and is not precise about what needs to be done in legal terms. So the challenge is now to turn what we have agreed [to] politically in Copenhagen into something real, measurable and verifiable."

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