Climate Deal Flop Reveals Leadership Crisis

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

The failure of world leaders in Copenhagen to come to terms with the climate crisis is provoking anger and disappointment. My colleague at YES! Magazine, Brooke Jarvis, reports on the climate deal and some early responses:

Even those who brokered it acknowledge that the deal on the table at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen is too weak to stop catastrophic climate change.

The deal, brokered between the U.S., China, South Africa, India, and Brazil, has not yet been accepted by the 192 nations represented in Copenhagen, many of which have decried it. 

The deal sets no definite target for greenhouse gas reductions. A goal of reducing global carbon dioxide emissions by 80 percent by 2050, present in earlier drafts, was removed. All references to keeping temperature increases below 1.5 degrees Celsius -- a key demand of vulnerable countries, including African nations and small island states -- were also dropped.

It calls for (but does not commit rich nations to) $30 billion over the next two years, followed by $100 billion per year after 2020, to assist poor nations with the costs of adaptation and mitigation.

Though some are defending the agreement as a first step, many others, particularly residents of the Global South and climate activists, say that the precedent set by the agreement is a dangerous one.

Early reactions

Kumi Naidoo, leader of Greenpeace International and TckTckTck:

Not fair, not ambitious and not legally binding. The job of world leaders is not done. Today they failed to avert catastrophic climate change...

We have seen a year of crises, but today it is clear that the biggest one facing humanity is a leadership crisis.

During the year a number of developing countries showed a willingness to accept their share of the burden to avert climate chaos. But in the end, the blame for failure mostly lies with the rich industrialized world, countries which have the largest historic responsibility for causing the problem. In particular, the US failed to take any real leadership and dragged the talks down.

Climate science says we have only a few years left to halt the rise in emissions before making the kind of rapid reductions that would give us the best chance of avoiding dangerous climate change. We cannot change that science, so instead we will have to change the politics -- and we may well have to change the politicians.

This is not over, people everywhere demanded a real deal before the Summit began and they are still demanding it. We can still save hundreds of millions of people from the devastation of a warming world, but it has just become a whole lot harder.

Civil society, the bulk of which was locked out of the final days of this Climate Summit, now needs to redouble its efforts. Each and every one of us must hold our leaders to account. We must take the struggle to avert climate catastrophe into every level of politics, local, regional, national and international. We also need to take it into the board room and onto the high streets. We can either work for a fundamental change in our society or we can suffer the consequences of one.

Pablo Solon, Bolivia's ambassador to the U.N.:

This is completely unacceptable. How can it be that 25 to 30 nations cook up an agreement that excludes the majority of more than 190 nations. We have been negotiating for months on one of the gravest crises of our age, and yet our voice counts for nothing? If this is how world agreements will now be agreed, then it makes a nonsense of the U.N. and multilateralism.

The agreement talks of setting targets that limit warming to 2 degrees. The leaders of the rich countries should come to Bolivia to see what global warming is already doing to our country. We have droughts, disappearing glaciers and water shortages. Imagine this scaled up three times. We cannot accept an agreement that condemns half of humanity.

Lumumba Di-Aping, chief negotiator for the G77 group of 130
developing countries:

This deal will definitely result in massive devastation in Africa and small island states. It has the lowest level of ambition you can imagine. It's nothing short of climate change skepticism in action.

It locks countries into a cycle of poverty for ever. Obama has eliminated any difference between him and Bush.

Bill Mckibben, founder of

[President Obama] blew up the United Nations. The idea that there's a world community that means something has disappeared tonight. The clear point is, you poor nations can spout off all you want on questions like human rights or the role of women or fighting polio or handling refugees. But when you get too close to the center of things that count--the fossil fuel that's at the center of our economy--you can forget about it. We're not interested. You're a bother, and when you sink beneath the waves we don't want to hear much about it... What exactly is the point of the U.N. now?

He [also] formed a league of super-polluters, and would-be super-polluters. China, the U.S., and India don't want anyone controlling their use of coal in any meaningful way. It is a coalition of foxes who will together govern the henhouse. It is no accident that the targets are weak to nonexistent.

Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity:

We all know what we must do to solve global warming, but even the architects of this deal acknowledge that it does not take those necessary steps. Merely acknowledging the weaknesses of the deal, as President Obama has done, does not excuse its failings. If this is the best we can do, it is not nearly good enough. We stand at the precipice of climatic tipping points beyond which a climate crash will be out of our control. We cannot make truly meaningful and historic steps with the United States pledging to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by only 3 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. The science demands far more.

The people of the United States voted for President Obama based on his promise of change and hope. But the only change today's agreement brings is a greater risk of dangerous climate change. And the only hope that flows from Copenhagen stems not from the president's hollow pronouncements but from the birth of a diverse global movement demanding real solutions and climate justice -- demands made with a collective voice growing loud enough that in short order politicians will no longer be able to ignore it.

YES! Online Editor Brooke Jarvis wrote this report as part of YES! Magazine's coverage of Copenhagen. YES! is a national media organization that reports on powerful ideas and practical action that are building a more just and sustainable world.