Copenhagen delegates look to future for legally binding deal

The clear-up after the UN climate talks is under way in Copenhagen today but, in the wake of an agreement that fell short of expectations, many are already looking to next year in the hope of finally achieving a legally-binding deal.

Around the Danish capital, the climate change exhibitions are closing, the building-high banners urging action to tackle global warming are being taken down and the remaining delegates are leaving town.

A deal on climate was reached here in Copenhagen – after frantic negotiations between world leaders to avert the total failure that seemed likely at some points in the dying hours of the conference.

But even those who struck the Copenhagen Accord had to admit it was only the first step in tackling rising global temperatures.

The deal includes references to keeping temperature rises to no more than 2C and immediate funds and finance to the tune of 100 billion US dollars a year by 2020 for developing countries.

But it has no long-term global targets for emissions cuts or a timetable to turn the agreement into a legally-binding treaty – which Copenhagen itself was originally supposed to deliver.

Environmental campaigners have reacted with dismay to the lack of targets or timetable towards a legal agreement.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) called on all countries to build on the Copenhagen agreement and find “common ground” to deliver an equitable, comprehensive and legally-binding agreement by the end of 2010.

But Friends of the Earth executive director Andy Atkins said the accord, which undermined the UN climate negotiations process and did little to tackle global warming, should be “sent to the recycling bin”.

Leaders should negotiate a legally binding treaty within months, he urged.

Because of the fudge that allowed the accord to be accepted by the full conference of more than 190 countries involved in the UN talks and get the money flowing, despite adamant opposition from a handful of countries, nations have to sign up to support it.

Developing countries who want access to the “fast start” funding to help them tackle climate change immediately need to back the deal.

Under the agreement, rich countries and major developing economies will set out the action they plan to take to tackle climate change and will provide information to other nations on their progress.

Countries need to submit their pledges, which were known before the climate conference, by January 31, 2010 – although it is possible that the deadline could slip to allow the US actions to be backed by domestic legislation which it is hoped will be passed in America next year.

The document aims to limit temperature rises to 2C, beyond which scientists warn the world risks the worst impacts of climate change, which will require stronger action to reduce emissions than is currently on the table.

For example the EU is still sticking to 20% cuts on 1990 levels by 2020 and has not moved up to its stronger 30% pledge because other countries were not similarly ambitious in Copenhagen.

So there is likely to be horse trading between the EU and other countries before the deadline for putting in offers in a bid to get the most ambitious deal possible.

Negotiations through the UN process will have to continue next year in a bid to move towards a legally binding agreement – although reference to a legal instrument were removed.

And a number of other elements of an agreement such as funding for efforts to reduce deforestation – which was shelved at the end of the talks as leaders battled to get an overall deal – need to be sorted out.

So eyes are already turning to the next UN climate talks in Mexico city, which are due in the end of November next year but which former US vice president Al Gore has suggested could be moved to July.

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