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Review of Copenhagen

21 December 2009

(First posted on Labour List)

As Douglas Alexander wrote on this site a couple of months ago, climate change is the defining test of our era. 300 million people are already affected, and if nothing is done to avert it the impact is predicted to be catastrophic for billions of people.

The test then, from a development perspective, was whether the Copenhagen talks would deliver a deal that committed the world to staying below the 2°C mark needed to avert disaster, and whether enough money would be committed to help developing countries already affected to adapt. That test was not met.

Yes, it is an important first step that all countries have accepted the science and committed to keeping the globe below 2°C – but as many have already pointed out, it is not legally binding. China is getting a lot of the blame for this, and whilst some of the criticisms are justified, it cannot excuse the lack of ambition shown by President Obama. China may have recently pulled ahead of the US on total emissions, and India’s may be rising, but as John Prescott points out, an American emits almost 4 times as much carbon as a Chinese person. Both China & India have hundreds of millions of people still living in poverty and need space to grow to lift them out of it. Like many of us, I gotta a crush on Obama, and I want to believe those who say this summit has come too soon for him (with his climate bill yet to go through Congress). But the world can’t wait. American Democrats need to get their act together fast.

On aid for adaptation the news was certainly better, with our Prime Minister showing great leadership on the world stage again. The Copenhagen Accord will provide 30 billion dollars over the next three years to kick start emission reduction measures and help the poorest countries adapt to the impacts of climate change. It also committed developed countries to provide 100 billion dollars a year by 2020, a figure first put forward by Gordon Brown in June of this year.

The concern, however, is whether the rest of the developed countries will keep to that promise. The money pledged is an aspiration and not a commitment, and whilst this Labour Government has kept the promises it made in the Make Poverty History campaign of 2005, the rest of the G8 have not. Whilst we have said that no more than 10% of our existing aid budget will be spent on climate change adaptation, the rest of the countries have made no such commitment. Furthermore, not all of the money will be public, which as Oxfam point out, mean there is no guarantee it will be spent in the right way. And as most NGOs point out, 100 billion dollars is not even half the money that will be needed.

As almost everyone has acknowledged, on both 2°C and aid for adaptation, there is a considerable way to go before the politics matches the science. After years of wrangling, this deal is better than no deal at all, but only if we starting building on it fast.

Before finishing, I think it is important to state that for all the disappointment at Copenhagen, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband – who went for days without sleep – deserve our utmost respect for Britain’s role in these talks. Some have acknowledged that, with Oxfam’s Campaigns & Policy Director Phil Bloomer saying “Lets give credit when credit is due:  Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband have worked tirelessly this week”. Franny Armstrong of the 10:10 Campaign said the same in more colourful language: “He (Ed) has been working f**king hard…The UK’s got a really really great reputation, and everyone is saying they couldn’t have done any more”.

That praise needs to get back to their supporters. Just as with the Make Poverty History campaign in 2005, Britain’s leadership has been the result of a constructive relationship, between a Labour Government showing leadership and a noisy civil society pushing us to act. It is in civil society’s interest that they acknowledge that as they need to show their supporters that their actions made a difference. Clearly, it is also in our interest – we stand to gain electorally as if supporters, inspired by the leadership a Labour Government has shown – come (back) into and vote and mobilise for the Labour Party.

by David Taylor, Labour Campaign for International Development

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