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Copenhagen Accord - Where to Now?

There are mixed views about whether the Copenhagen Accord was an important and significant international step toward tackling climate change, or simply a political agreement struck by a handful of countries when it appeared the “two track process” had stalled indefinitely.  

While the Copenhagen Accord doesn’t create any legally binding obligations for Australia or the international community, it does set out a set of principles for future climate negotiations before the next meeting in Mexico in November 2010.  

What was the two track process?  

Under the two track process, there was one track of negotiations seeking to reach a binding extension to the Kyoto Protocol.  This would require developed nations to make further binding commitments to limit emissions during a second commitment period.   

However, the US did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol and was seeking as an alternative a longer term agreement, which included developing countries such as China, to limit emissions.  

Following Copenhagen, it remains uncertain what will happen to the Kyoto Protocol.  However, the Accord indicates a leaning toward a new longer term agreement involving developed and developing nations.  

What did the Copenhagen Accord deliver?  

The Copenhagen Accord comprises just 12 paragraphs and is a statement of intent to pursue further negotiations toward a binding agreement.  

Some of the key statements in the Copenhagen Accord are:  

  • a recognition that action should be taken to keep global warming to within 2 degrees to avoid dangerous climate change  
  • an agreement that deep cuts are required to meet this objective and the need to co-operate so that global emissions peak as quickly as possible
  • a recognition that peaking of greenhouse gas emissions may take longer in developing countries  
  • a requirement for developed countries (Annex I Parties) to submit to the UN economy-wide emissions targets for 2020 by 31 January 2010  
  • developing nations (non-Annex I Parties) will submit to the UN by 31 January 2010 mitigation actions to slow growth in their carbon emissions.  These do not need to be specific emission reduction targets. 
  • establishment of a  Copenhagen Green Climate Fund with US$100 billion per annum by 2020 the use of measurable, reportable and verifiable mechanisms for determining compliance by countries  

The Copenhagen Accord is not legally binding and doesn’t apply to all parties to the Convention.  Most nations represented at the convention merely took note of the Accord.  

However, there were some positive developments from Copenhagen.  It is the first time that the two biggest emitters, the United States and China, have committed to action.   

There is general support among governments on an objective of holding carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to concentrations that provide reasonable prospects of holding temperature increase within 2 degrees.  This was not thought possible by the UK Stern Report only 2 years ago.  

There is also wide support among developed countries for assisting developing countries in the areas of mitigation and adaptation.  

Where to for Australia?  

In practical terms, the next step is for the Australian Government to submit quantified economy wide emission targets to the UN by 31 January 2010.   

One of the big questions for Australia is what will happen to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS).  The Australian Government has indicated it will re-introduce the CPRS to Federal Parliament in February, but given the current political climate it is difficult to see it being passed into legislation.  

Please contact Lynne Grant or Geoff Green on 03 8319 1866 or at or for further information.

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