Opinion: Why the prospects of a global deal on climate change have improved since the Copenhagen failure

Greenpeace protesters during the 2009 COP 15 conference in Copenhagen. Photo credit: Greenpeace / Aslund via Flickr.

By Anders Lorenzen

This year, there is increased hope that, for the first time ever, the world will agree a global deal on climate change at COP 21 in Paris; a deal signed and ratified by all of the 192 UN members.


The last time there were such high hopes for a global deal was in 2009, at the COP15 summit in Copenhagen. Despite the attendance of high profile world leaders from Barack Obama to Gordon Brown to Angela Merkel however, this summit was a miserable failure. One of the main reasons was lack of clarity about how much the Western world should contribute to emission cuts in relation to the developing world. The latter argued fiercely that their emission cuts should be voluntary and the developed world’s should be legally binding. After prolonged negotiations, China and the US reached an impenetrable stalemate and the talks collapsed.


Alot has changed since 2009. China has overtaken US as the world’s largest CO2 emitter, declared war on air pollution and started a clean energy revolution; they are now the world’s largest investor in clean energy. Furthermore, China has agreed a significant bilateral climate agreement with the US containing a total domestic emission cap by 2030 and the US has pledged to cut their emissions by 26-28% by 2025. This is significant as it is the first time China has agreed a timeframe for its ‘peak’ emissions.


Obama too has made tackling climate change one of his mainstream policies during his second term in office. Domestically he has unveiled emission caps for all new and existing power plants, doubled fuel efficiency standards and doubled renewable energy capacity. Abroad he has made climate change a key agenda point in foreign policy discussions. Aside from China, he has forged climate change related partnerships with India and Indonesia. Its notable that since the US has upped its ambition levels, other countries have begun doing the same.  


Obstacles do however still exist. There is still a big question mark over how ambitious fossil fuel dependent economies such as Canada, Russia and Australia will be in Paris and their participation is key. Additionally, there is still a feeling among developing countries that they are not being listened to and the agenda is still being set by the West. They would like to see far higher commitments from the West.


Therefore, it is my view that the question is not whether a global deal will be signed, I’m convinced it will, but whether the deal will be ambitious enough to limit a temperature increase to two degrees Celsius. The likelihood is that it will not, however we should remain steadfast that a deal is better than no deal, even if it must improve incrementally year on year. Ultimately it is vital is that a global deal is done. This would send a strong signal that the world is ready to deal with the dangerous threat of climate change.

Related news:

World’s two largest CO2 emitters appear to show ambition at New York climate summit, while the UK stands still


Lima climate talks begin as countries eye building momentum

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