Guest Article #37

Moving Beyond Copenhagen – A Small Island State's Perspective

Tuvalu came to Copenhagen with the aim of “sealing the deal.” Six months earlier we had tabled proposals for a new protocol and amendments to the Kyoto Protocol. With hindsight, some may say this was naive of us. Nevertheless we were hopeful that over 110 Heads of States, that had promised to come to Copenhagen, could create the political space for a legal deal.

High expectations of a substantial outcome were quickly dashed when the Danish Government pre-empted the Conference of Parties by introducing its draft “Copenhagen Accord.” This document basically said that there would be no agreement in Copenhagen – a tragic and, some may say, diplomatically foolish start to such a significant meeting.

Perhaps the Danes were merely reflecting the intransigence of the US. It was very evident that President Obama had nothing to bring to the negotiating table. Without the US on board to a legally binding outcome, it was very evident that large emitting countries were not going to stand up and agree to take significant emission reductions commitments or actions.

We must move beyond the US impasse. Diplomatic efforts must be applied to the Obama Administration to encourage it to assert its executive power and commit to emissions reduction commitments based on international standards. Otherwise the rest of the world has no option but to isolate the US. Applying trade-related measures to discriminate against embedded emissions in US products could be one option.

There are other significant issues that need to be resolved. The first is the future of the Kyoto Protocol. Its abandonment by virtually all Annex I Parties is perplexing and illogical. It is difficult to imagine that carbon markets will continue beyond 2012 without an international legal framework. Piecemeal, regional or bilateral trading schemes, with competing standards, are not likely to deliver real emissions reductions or give confidence to the market.

Extraordinarily, the EU appears to be claiming a concern over the potential carry-over of Russian and Ukraine “hot air” as its reasons for trashing the Kyoto Protocol. This is a brutal act of overkill. To regain the trust that was lost in Copenhagen, we must reinvigorate the negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol. This will, in turn, create the necessary good will to advance negotiations under the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA). It is important that we return to the two tracks.

Within the context of LCA discussions, adaptation to the impacts of climate change must be given greater prominence. The Copenhagen Accord took us backwards to pre-Bali Action Plan days with the reintroduction of language linking adaptation to the impact of response measures. Hopefully we can disentangle this mess and develop innovative means to address the real adaptation issues. An international insurance mechanism must be high on this agenda.

While reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) may appear to be one of the success stories of 2009, we are already starting to witness the emergence of “creative” accounting techniques to inflate potential market windfalls from avoiding deforestation. “Creative” accounting may line the pockets of some ambitious entrepreneurs but it will not stop deforestation. We need strong elements that resolve emissions displacement, governance, human rights issues, demand-side measures and permanence.

Clearly, the level of ambition of emission reduction targets must be elevated dramatically. Low ambition pledges and using a two degree Celsius benchmark is foolhardy and an abrogation of the principle of State responsibility. It is likely to spell the end for low-lying nations and populations. For this, and many other reasons, the Copenhagen Accord should not be the basis for ongoing negotiations. While a number of countries have been coerced into the money deal embodied in the Accord, it is not a healthy approach to international action on climate change.

Finally, we must properly engage civil society in policy development. The huge disconnect between the aspirations of civil society and the low ambitions of many governments were very evident in Copenhagen. The UNFCCC in collaboration with other UN agencies should convene a series of regional dialogues that would include governments, business and civil society organizations. This could be done in face-to-face dialogues or through electronic means. We owe it to our future generations to use all our human resources to find innovative and realistic solutions to climate change. Tuvalu's future depends on it.