The Copenhagen Accord paves the way for developed ountries to emit at a rate above 1990 levels when the science calls for deep cuts below this. It could turn out to be the worst of all outcomes. The accord provides for a very low level of action on voluntary emission reductions, while its existence may block effective negotiation to a better outcome.

Much depends on what status is ultimately applied to an accord that is simply “noted” by the UNFCCC and not actually adopted by its parties. However if the accord framework is left to rest as the generally accepted position, then eyes will turn to the emission reduction targets it invites each country to nominate by 31 January 2009.

On face value, the targets so far pledged by developed countries amount to an 11% to 19% reduction on 1990 levels. Yet these 2020 targets are pledged relative to accounting rules that significantly reduce the net level of emission reductions.

The rules now in force contain loopholes sufficient to allow the pledges to deliver emissions in excess of 1990 levels if significantly utilised. If the cuts assumed to result from the pledges are adjusted to account for the loopholes available, there is the potential for a net rise in emissions of 2% to 8% above 1990 levels when the low and high end of the ranges are compared.

This compares to the IPCC estimate that cuts of 25% to 40% below 1990 levels are required to be on track for limiting the temperature rise to 2 degrees C. That range is however based on modelling that does not allow for slow feedback effects and recent observations in the field suggest these are faster acting than previously thought. Thus the IPCC range understates what is required to avoid dangerous climate change.

Copenhagen raised hope that world leaders would move quickly to an ambitious, fair and binding agreement. The accord demonstrates how far developed nations are from such a set of arrangements. The question now is whether they move beyond the accord or the politics of addressing climate change moves to new modes.


Read the full analysis: Loopholes Negate Pledges for Emission Reductions