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Understanding the Copenhagen Accord


On the morning of Friday December 18, 2009, President Obama and other heads of state arrived in Copenhagen for the scheduled final day of the UN Climate Change Conference.  After two weeks of work, negotiators had reached minor agreements on some items, but were still far from consensus on the most difficult issues.


Download Copenhagen Accord, "taken note" by UNFCCC on December 19, 2009


President Obama and other heads of state negotiated intensely over the next 13 hours to reach a global agreement on climate change that would make a difference in cooling the planet and heating up the global economy. At 10:30 pm President Obama announced that an agreement had been reached.

In describing the Copenhagen Accord, the president said, “Today we've made a meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough here in Copenhagen. We've come a long way, but we have much further to go.”

The provisions of the accord call for the U.S. and 185 other nations to reduce emissions, invest in clean energy technology and practices, and help people adapt to the effects of climate change. The accord also, for the first time, acknowledges that staying below 2 degrees Celsius may not be sufficient and includes a review in 2015 of the need to potentially aim for staying below 1.5 degrees Celsius, or an atmospheric C02 concentration of 350 ppm.

The Copenhagen Accord is comprised of twelve sections with varying levels of details and two adjoining appendixes.  The following is a listing of the six most critical aspects of the Accord:

1. Reducing Emissions Below 2 Degrees

States that the parties “shall” enhance their cooperative actions to combat climate change while recognizing the scientific view that an increase in global temperatures should be kept below 2 degrees Celsius.

The 2-degree goal had previously been agreed to by G8 leaders in Italy in July 2009. At that time G8 leaders said to meet that goal they would cut their greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, though they left the baseline year vague—“1990 or more recent years”.

2.  Deadline for Submitting Emissions Commitments

All parties to the Copenhagen Accord will submit their respective emission reduction goals by the January 31st 2010 deadline. These figures will then be catalogued by the two appendices attached to the agreement.

  • Annex I Parties will submit an emission reduction target for 2020 using a base year of their choosing.
  • Non-Annex I parties will submit plans for detailing their actions to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. These countries will communicate their actions, including a national inventory report, every two years. Mitigation actions by non-Annex I countries without international support will be subject to “domestic measurement, reporting and verification.” Emissions reductions actions undertaken with international support will require “international consultations and analysis” under clear guidelines that respect sovereignty.


President Barack Obama meets with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao during a bilateral at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, December 18, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

3. Verifying Emissions Reductions

Verification of the actions of that parties use to reduce their emissions has been a critical issue in the UNFCCC negotiations. During the Copenhagen Summit, U.S. negotiators insisting that they could not support a global deal without clear provisions for the monitoring, verification, and reporting of the actions of developing countries. During the long day of talks between President Obama and other heads of state, developing countries eventually agreed to report their actions through a system of “international consultations and analysis.”

4. Commitment to Short and Long-Term Finance

With details left to be determined, the Copenhagen Accord provides both short and long-term finance that is “scaled up, new and additional, predictable…as well as improved access.”  The funding shall be provided to developing countries for forest conservation, adaptation, technology development and transfer, and capacity building.

  • Short-Term Finance: Developed countries commit to a figure “approaching” $30 billion for the period of 2010 through 2012 with a balanced allocation between adaptation and mitigation. Adaptation funding will be targeted to the most vulnerable developing countries.
  • Long-Term Finance: Developed countries also “commit to a goal of mobilizing jointly $100 billion dollars by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries.” This funding will come from a “wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance.” A significant portion of the long-term funding will be directed through the “Copenhagen Green Climate Fund” which was established by the accord, but lacks substantial details.

5.  Scientific Assessment

The Copenhagen Accord builds in a scientific assessment of its emissions reductions in 2015. The assessment includes considering whether to strengthen the long-term global goal of limiting the average rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The reference to 1.5 degrees is an acknowledgement of the latest climate science that call for keeping atmospheric C02 concentrations at or below 350 ppm, or roughly 10 percent below current C02 levels.

6.   Continued Negotiations Under the UNFCCC

The Copenhagen Accord makes many references to the continuing role of the UNFCCC.  Financial governance, emissions reporting and monitoring, scientific review and some form of implementation will continue to take place under the authority of the Conference of Parties.  In addition, many of the details left to be resolved on issues such as deforestation and adaptation will likely be resumed in 2010 intercessional meetings.

Making the Copenhagen Accord Operational

Hours after President Obama and other heads of state negotiated the agreement, two Ad Hoc Working Groups adopted parallel decisions to “take note” of the Copenhagen Accord. As described by UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer, the term “is a way of recognizing that something is there, but not going so far as to associate yourself with it.” The action operationalized the accord, said the UNFCCC secretariat, and made it possible for parties to sign on to the accord prior to the deadline of January 31, 2010.


Copenhagen Unfinished Business: The LCA Draft Negotiating Text

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COP15 In Pictures

Thanks to J. Carl Ganter of Circle of Blue for producing and sharing these pictures.

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