COP15 -- What Really Happened

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Amazing disinformation about Copenhagen everywhere in the media!

This is the final report from my friend Bill Liao, who has been reporting on COP15 "from the inside" for the last two weeks as a Small Island States Delegate

Before I get into the "bad news" portion of this dispatch, know this to be true: you and I in concerted effort can always make a difference, even in such huge matters as climate change. Governments must follow concerned citizens when there are enough of us who insist that we make a difference. Plant a tree, give trees, and understand the interaction of forests and trees with the entire ecosystem of our fragile planet.

I humbly beg you to take direct action! Meet the technical negotiators for your countries, or better yet, become a party as I have done. Bring the urgency inside, as it is possible to get into COP16 and not just as an NGO... you can get in as a party and create real change! Find out the names of all the technical negotiators from your country's delegation and get into communication with them: they are real people and many have been at this for 15 years or more. However, please do not distract them or get in their way as it is hard enough already; instead support them, encourage them and even join them.

Above all, please realize that the UN and world governments are not going to fix the problem, so please assist us to plant trees now! If we can use permaculture techniques to reforest 20 of the 39 million square kilometers of degraded land we have on Earth by 2020, the extra cloud cover these trees generate will halt global warming in 2023 long enough for politics, technology and the economy to catch up.

Being an official Party representing St. Kitts and Nevis in the COP15 meetings, I sat bewildered as -- after nearly two weeks of patient diplomacy -- all the agreements we were working on got sidelined by a document that a small group of 30 nations, led by the US president, inserted into the agenda, and then suggested we had one hour to review and approve. What was even weirder is that I was also online getting notes from people around the world who had read that a successful accord had been reached, and that the US president had brokered it. This was apparently based on a press conference that was held by the US president during the proceedings, before any document had been submitted to the COP.

What was submitted finally as the document referred to as the Draft Copenhagen Accord is indeed deeply flawed, in particular in the area of the funding it purports to provide. It is carefully worded to provide up to to $30 billion in quickstart funding by 2012 and then nothing at all for 8 years until 2020, when the amount that made headlines -- $100 billion -- comes into effect, by which time it will be too late to accomplish anything meaningful.

Not only did this last minute effort distract the whole conference from any chance of making real decisions, the draft accord itself never became an actual decision, as there was no consensus to adopt it. (All COP decisions require either consensus or unanimous agreement of all parties before they become official decisions.)

The draft accord was put up first as a decision and knocked back almost immediately, especially given the way it was incompetently introduced by the Danish COP President who, while tired, should have known better then to ask for a show of hands in the UN.

Then, at 3:00 a.m., we gave up three crucial last hours before closing to have the draft accord put up again as an INF (information) document, and again it was knocked back -- this time with Sudan making some very embarrassing and inappropriate references to the Holocaust to add to the annoyance in the room.

Still, they kept trying to force the draft in and wasted more time -- so then we see the document as a MISC (miscellaneous) entry into the proceedings and again it was knocked out. Finally at 9:00 am, after working for 36 hours straight, a COP Decision was given Consensus and we could get on with the rest of the work. The decision was to "Take Note" of the proposed Draft Copenhagen Accord. Here's how it officially appears:

Decision -/CP.15: The Conference of the Parties, Takes Note of the Copenhagen Accord of 18 December 2009

Gals and guys, this is about the least recognition the UN can give any document. Forget the contents of the accord, which might as well not exist as far as the COP process is concerned. In other words, a more total failure you could not ask for excepting a mass walk-out.

Not only did this waste the time of a truly unprecedented number of world leaders, it sought to undermine the ways in which the UN and the COP work. Of course the UN / COP process will continue at COP16 next year, even though little progress has been made in the last 15 years. I'm no apologist for the UN, but I do think it's important to keep trying to make this work.

Still, the principles of transparency (yes, all decisions are public; there is even a good search engine on the site) and bottom-up consensus building are, as I have witnessed them, nothing short of amazing. Face it: if you were trying to get 192 countries to agree on something as important as this, how long would it take you to get the job done and how would you do it better?

That a room can be filled with world leaders (many of whom do not personally get along) and come to any decisions at all is somehow miraculous to me. Yet, in my opinion, what happened on the last day of COP15 has actually set the process back a year. My hope now is that, at the midyear conference in Bonn, things will be steered in the right direction. Perhaps Bonn will attract less world leaders, press and media attention, and -- without the spotlight and the grandstanding that goes with it -- real changes can be made.