The Copenhagen Accord is weak and will not pressure countries to do more on climate change. There were too many competing national interests and not enough leadership to push for a real deal. Obama came too late and had too little to offer; China never conceded its bottom line, which was the refusal to agree to binding target of emission reduction. Everyone that mattered at all politically was too concerned about the political and economic risks of doing the right thing. For example, Obama was concerned about Congress not passing ambitious target; Wen Jiabao did not want China's hands tied with regard to economic growth. They both did their part to align other countries with their own lack of ambitions.
Now that I, along with all the major or minor media outlets and blogosphere, have done our part of laying blame on the various culprits, it's important to remind ourselves that no one country can single-handedly wreck any deal without some collective willfulness for compliance. Take a look at Kyoto and what we find is that half of the countries that signed the protocol are now projected to fail the target. Al Gore flew in to Kyoto and forced a deal, knowing that Congress would not have ratified it. Whatever good or bad deal COP15 could have been or is, it simply would not have been enforced without independent pressure and effective monitoring by a strong civil society on the ground.
That brings us to another key player at Copenhagen: the environmental movement. There were clear and vast divisions between the solutions being debated and put forward at the Bella Center versus those at Klima Forum, the People's Summit: Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-REDD Program) was good at COP15 and bad at the People's Summit; Carbon Capture and Sequestration was good at COP15 and bad at the People's Summit; Some NGOs inside the Bella Center were pushing for any deal that's better than no deal, but NGO groups at the People's Summit were quick to denounce the entire process and the loudest chant was "System Change, not Climate Change", so on and so forth.
The vast differences between countries and within the environmental movement are telling as to how COP15 failed to result in a binding agreement. But where do we go from here now that we all succeeded in not agreeing to do what we don't want to do?
At the Klima Forum debrief by activists who more or less spent the two weeks in Copenhagen organizing protests and/or participating in them, we were able to agree to one positive outcome: the grassroots movement that has been galvanized. Despite the disappointing result of COP15, this was the largest gathering of global leaders and activists for the purpose of addressing climate change. Now that we have relative consensus on how bad the situation is and what need to be done, the rest lies in political commitment and domestic policies to be implemented on the ground in each respective country. Our attention now and our resources should not be devoted to what could be agreed upon in Mexico City during COP16, but what needs to happen before and after that.
Going forward, Obama will not have more to offer in Mexico City without Congress being ready to agree on the necessary targets and China will not commit to more accountability and transparency without hearing directly from the Chinese people that they prefer a clean future rather than dirty jobs now. Be it the shutting down of dirty coal power plants or the phasing out of fossil fuel, the system change needs to be happening on the ground. That's why Pacific Environment has a California Program focusing on fighting fossil fuel and a China Program focusing on supporting and empowering a Chinese, homegrown environmental movement, all for the purpose of creating lasting improvements to the environment on the ground. As the only NGO that presented at the People's Climate Summit about Chinese civil society's hopes and actions for climate solutions, we have much work to be done to elevate Chinese people's voices and presence in the climate debates.