There is of course an ongoing, bitter debate about the Copenhagen Accord, about what it is and what, in the end, it will finally mean. Briefly, it comes to this: Does the Accord’s “pledge and review” architecture open a new way forward, one that can succeed even given the sorry state of America’s climate politics and, for that matter, American democracy? Or does it rather invite us into a future in which the rich and the responsible escape their proper obligations, and by so doing condemn the poor and the innocent, and eventually the rest of us as well, to the suffering and violence of extreme global warming?
The final resolution of this debate will take time, and, it seems, a great deal of acrimony. But one matter, at least, is already clear. The Accord’s “pledges” are entirely inadequate to the goal of avoiding “dangerous climate change.” This is a matter of broad consensus among the analysts, who have published a variety of cogent commentaries on the Copenhagen pledges. But a recent article in Nature, straightforwardly named Copenhagen Accord Pledges are Paltry, is the most notable of the quantitative analyses, and the one among them that’s actually required reading.
The reason for this is that while other analyses (for example those of the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Resources Institute) broadly agree the the Copenhagen pledges are more or less compatible with a 50/50 chance of holding the 2°C line, the Nature piece digs deeper, and takes the “loopholes” by which Annex 1 countries are seeking to evade their obligations into explicit account, and reaches darker conclusions. It concludes, in particular, that contrary to “coin flip odds,” the Accord’s current pledges, in the context of the evasiveness and duplicity of existing rich world negotiating practices (the loopholes), puts the 2°C target into “dire peril.”
Interestingly, this peril is leading to a certain clarity, a certain alliance of perspectives. The analysts behind the Nature report have not always agreed with those at Geneva’s South Center, but that doesn’t stop its director, Martin Khor, from praising its forthright conclusions. Which is a point I mention only because it is a sign of the times. The severity of our predicament is now clear, and we who will admit it, despite our differences, are already standing together.