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

Copenhagen Leadership Tally?

COPENHAGEN - Good news in Hopenhagen yesterday was the bold and binding proposal tabled by a group of small island countries in a last minute scrum against the backdrop of youth activists who had turned up to show support for what is deemed the only ambitious and equitable proposition to date. AOSIS, as they are known, is led by the Grenadian Chairwoman Dessima Williams, who is at once graceful and retainsresilience in a land of diplomacy often dominated by men who are used to having their ways.

The proposal calls for the survival of the Kyoto Protocol and the adoption of the "1.5C to stay alive": the survival agenda that has served as a rallying cry for the progressive left. It calls for ambitious levels of funding to help affected countries adapt to the crisis they already encounter, while allowing them to mitigate other impending impacts.

Citing the 2004 hurricane in Grenada that destroyed over 200 percent of her country's GDP, Ambassador Williams argued that AOSIS would not do anything to compromise the outcomes that it seeks: legal outcome with substance and equal measure emission cuts bound by financing. The 43 member states of AOSIS are responsible for 1 percent of world emissions, comprise 1 percent of the world population, and amount to 1 percent of world GDP. Needless to say, shepherding the proposal along the labyrinthine structures of the UN, as a marginalized negotiating bloc, will be a commendable feat in itself.

The news of small island states' feat, however, was soon overshadowed by a decision made in the neighbouring European capital, Brussels. Just last Friday, European Union leaders, after much squabble - willingly or against their will, the photos do not tell - agreed to a $10 billion financing aid deal. The $10 billion, planned to be paid over the next 3 years, is also expected to help accelerate the climate negotiations that have been continuing at a painstaking pace.

While $10 billion is no petty cash, against the developing world's need of a $600 billion for remedying climate-related disasters, the sum is woefully inadequate. As one Chinese delegate bitterly muttered, it is enough to buy "coffee" (presumably in downtown Copenhagen), or enough to buy "coffins" as this reporter misheard.

It is even below the "$30 billion in the course of 3 years" rhetoric that United Nations Climate Chief Yvo de Boer has been advocating be put towards a so called "quick start fund" initiative.

Project Catalyst - a year long initiative by the European Climate Foundation and Climate Works to accelerate response time on climate change - estimates a $100 billion need by 2020 to sufficiently support sustainable growth in developing countries.

Climate Action Network - an umbrella group of environmental NGOs - points out that
$10 billion is: half of what Goldman Sachs employees received on bonus last fiscal year, and 3 percent of EU's military spendings. Many activists have been questioning the current paradigm that is willing to bail out financial institutions in times of banking trouble, but remain hesitant in setting aside monetary capital for the environment.

Yet however meager, it is in the narrow corridors between the ambitious and what the current economic paradigm can afford, that matters most. It is within this limited space of agency that treaties are signed, conventions born, and texts drafted.

One such draft emerged from the plenary sessions late yesterday afternoon. Meant to serve as a starting point for the ministerial sessions that begins this weekend, the text was presented by Michael Zammit Cutajar, Chair of one of the two working groups that the climate talks are divided into. COP15 is divided into the Convention track and the Kyoto Protocol track, and Cutajar is responsible for the track that manages the overall continuing of the framework, while the other track is specifically designed to ensure the survival of Kyoto.

In its infancy, the draft maintains potentials for growth. It calls for mid-term targets by 2020, and suggests a sliding scale of responsibilities for developed and developing countries. The last point is a significant departure from the existing Kyoto Protocol, which only identifies emissions reduction targets for developed countries and not the developing.

Despite attempts at equitable language, members of the NGO community have voiced concern that pursuing a text outside the Kyoto track will effectively kill the Protocol, the only existing environment treaty to date, due to expire in 2012. The fact that the text mentions 1.5C, billing a 2C target as extremely ambitious (synonymous with the word "impossible" in the land of UN negotiations) is a cause for concern.

There are further signs of discord. Li Junhua, Deputy Director-General of Foreign Affairs for the People's Republic of China, called for the founding of a mitigation and adaptation fund for developing countries. He went on to mention that this was a matter already settled in the Convention, and that it was now time to deliver. Li further proceeded to chide the developed countries for their inactions:

They cannot postpone things any longer. The first commitment period [for the Kyoto Protocol] is almost over. They tend to talk about long term targets, but if you cannot deliver on short or midterm, the long term does not matter. In 2050 (the time line suggested for long term targets), most of us will not be here anymore. It is hypocritical to do this.

Ambassador Lumumba Stanislaus-Kaw Di-Aping, head of the G77 negotiating bloc, also called for bold commitments for the developed countries to cut emissions by 52 percent by 2017, and by over 100 percent by 2050.

In direct contrast to these urgent call to action, US Climate Envoy Todd Stern commented that anything coming out of Copenhagen will not be subject to ratification. When asked about the AOSIS proposal, he mentioned that the 1.5C agenda was all but a distraction to a world coming together around 2C. It is understandable that the Obama Administration does not wish to repeat the mistakes of Clinton's. To Washington, Kyoto represents a promise made in a moment of passion that has caused more headache than they care to admit.

Yet, America's lack of ambition so far is worrisome, as the meetings continue well past nightfall (though perhaps this is not saying much, given the sun sets in Copenhagen at 3 p.m.). Many are pinning hopes on Obama, who was just in Oslo early this week to pick up his Nobel Peace Prize, that he will, in Copenhagen, earn, what he has already won in Oslo.