Copenhagen – Among the Rubble, Something Extraordinary

The results of Copenhagen are more substantial than you might think

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It seems as though the Copenhagen Accord, barely baptised, has already been dragged below the waves – a precursor to civilisation’s own destruction. Almost no-one has been prepared to praise the outcome of the two-week summit, and least of all, the politicians who contributed to it. I for one (and it seems I am pretty lonely), am confused by this. I can appreciate the frustration of those who were desperate to broker a deal (and particularly those with an election next year), but the political segment of the conference seemed like a great success to me.

From where I was watching, Copenhagen moves the world a good deal closer to a consensus and answers many of the more contentious questions about how the balance of responsibility will be adopted.

Mid-week, we were told that the key to a deal was financial support for developing countries – to help adapt to the inevitable environmental changes and to develop low-carbon economies. $100bn was the price put on Copenhagen and as a Western European whip-round could produce less than 10% of that figure all looked lost in a sea of hypocrisy and recriminations.

Then Hilary Clinton brought good news. In the words of John F. Kennedy, America would ‘pay any price, bear any burden’ to make the deal stick.

Unfortunately, Obama then went and put his proverbial foot in it. Transparency of emissions was essential, and inspections to that end could not be avoided. Of course, he was speaking to an important constituency that would not impose on America what other countries could get away with – the force that wrecked Kyoto over a decade ago. However, he infuriated China and in return was humiliated to find a lowly official was to meet him in place of the Chinese Premier.

American spokesmen could hardly conceal their delight at the way Obama marched into a meeting demanding to speak to President Wen – ‘well, he was on time’ – one said. Nonetheless, as a result, the projected cap on carbon emissions – 80% by 2050 – was left out of the Accord.

After that example of going one step forward only to jump back two, the summit collapsed into chaos. The cause was partially procedural. For a week and a half technical discussions had been conducted, only for a completely different class of politicians to arrive and tear up what had been agreed, until more drafts were floating in the Danish capital than snowflakes. The high-level diplomacy collapsed when the Prime Minister of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, leapt at his chance to push his motion reducing what had been agreed as the highest safe rise in the climate from two to one-and-a-half degrees Celsius.

Obiter dicta, I would love to hear what the left think of Hugo Chavez, who tried to play his disreputable part in ruining such an important cause.

Given the circumstances, it was remarkable that any agreement was made. But there was an agreement. The rich world has agreed that it will have to fork out for the process, and decided the benefits outweigh the costs. Tacitly, the numbers that a successful deal will ultimately be measured against have been floated and have even been the subject of approximate consensus. In a year’s time the world will return to the matter at hand. By then, the UN should have adopted a more sensible procedure. The opponents of a deal have ousted themselves, too late to achieve recognition (making China’s diplomacy look like statecraft) – and early enough to be pressured into falling into line.

The prospects for success are much brighter than you have been led to believe. As we desperately need reminding, few great political achievements have been concluded in so short a space of time – least of all those (like the abolition of slavery) that are comparable with this. Politicians (especially Barack ‘last President to reform health care’ Obama) should restrain from promising the world, even if they can’t help it.

A Classic New Labour Commotion

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In many ways, it is a classic New Labour public relations cock up – raised expectations, simplistic targets and demands for immediate success. Most critics will tell you that New Labour’s multi-nationalism has been a disaster. To those on the left, it simply ignored the UN in 2003. To those on the right, Labour has caved in at almost every European Summit it has attended.

The truth is much more complicated. New Labour has deployed a similar strategy in international affairs on more than one occasion, and the Copenhagen Summit bears a striking resemblance to the G8 Summit held in the middle of the Make Poverty History campaign in 2005.

On both occasions, Britain led the world on the terms of debate. In 2005; the Commission for Africa, of whose report 50/90 recommendations were implemented. In 2009; the Stern Report. On both occasions Labour stirred up national sentiment, then took a back seat to the more trustworthy celebrities and notables who we were to accept a hectoring from in place of the politicians.

As a force in multinational negotiations, it has been unquestionably significant. But the flip side is that it almost always results in the government achieving less than was promised. No one is convinced that by joining ‘the Wave’ Peter Mandelson and Ed Miliband are ordinary folk. They were disappointed that 2005 did not see a deal on agricultural subsidies and in 2009 if there is no legally-binding emissions target there is nothing to talk about. Perhaps the one bright point politically is that they have out-manoeuvred the formerly ‘green’ Conservative opposition.

But behind the scenes, Labour politicians have been able to punch above their weight as a result of their moral authority and technical ability. Copenhagen is an exceptional example.

Between them, Brown and Miliband were like a combination of the almost entirely incompatible Gladstone and Disraeli and the 1870s. Miliband was roused from the point of collapse to harangue the Sudanese Premier for his comparison of the Summit to the Holocaust, while Brown laid out the conditions of a deal and was elected to preside over the summit in place of the flaking Danish PM, Lars Lokke Rasmussen.

That combination held what was left of the Copenhagen Summit together. Next year, personnel could make a similar difference either way.

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