The big news out of Copenhagen yesterday was the leak of an informal agreement drafted by the Danish government. The document aims for the scientifically recommended target of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, but has drawn widespread criticism for placing stricter emissions-reduction requirements on developing nations than on developed ones.
“The Danish Text,” as the Guardian—which first published the document—dubbed it, provoked many worrisome headlines in the media. The Sydney Morning Herald, to take but one example, carried three separate headlines announcing that the text had led to “disarray,” “sparked outrage,” and “thrown the summit into confusion.” It’s hard to tell because we aren’t there, but these headlines may have been somewhat sensationalistic. Most of the criticism appears to be coming from activists rather than other delegates, and evidence of real disarray is lacking. A headline in The Australian reported, “Poor nations threaten to walkout on Copenhagen deal,” but the article itself reveals that they did no such thing [Update: Politico reports that the chief negotiator for the G77 - a bloc of 130 developing nations - “stormed out” of climate talks on Friday, announcing his opinion that the negotiations were “not going well.”]:
Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, a Sudanese diplomat who speaks for the Group of 77 developing countries, said the draft was a “serious violation that threatens the success of the Copenhagen negotiating process.”
“The G77 members will not walk out of this negotiation at this late hour because we can’t afford a failure in Copenhagen,” he said. “However, we will not sign an unequitable deal. We can’t accept a deal that condemns 80 per cent of the world population to further suffering and injustice.”
Admirably following up on its initial scoop, the Guardian ran a concise, level-headed assessment of the text’s significance and the Danish delegation’s efforts to “patch things up after the leak”:
[T]he document dates back to November 27. It is as such already old news in terms of the now ongoing negotiations… Danish officials are trying their best to play down the significance of the paper in question.
However, the document does raise problems when it comes to the Danish hosts’ ability to remain neutral during the complicated and probably difficult process of getting the developing world to agree to an economic deal with the developed world. This is not the kind of publicity Rasmussen and his team have been looking for – far from it…
Now, before the real negotiations have actually begun, it would appear that the Danish government has been trying to establish some kind of underlying consensus among the big western players. This will not warm the delegates from the developing world to the already cold and wet experience of being in Copenhagen, and certainly not make Rasmussen’s already difficult task any easier.
The Danish hosts now need to come clean about their intentions.
More news outlets should be striving for reports like this, which provide important context and analysis while avoiding blanket statements about outrage and disarray. An interesting story from Bloomberg reported that the plan was never officially “on the table,” but that summit participants were concerned about negotiators working about outside the formal United Nations process. They may not have to wait long, however.
As Los Angeles Times reporter Jim Tankersley pointed out Tuesday, the leak signifies that “it’s time for the bargaining-table leaks to begin, as veterans of past climate summits will tell you.”
The other big story, which broke Tuesday before the leak of The Danish Text, was the U.N. World Meteorological Organization’s release of an analysis which found that the current decade is likely to be the warmest since instrumental record-keeping began in the 1850s. That auspicious announcement followed another one: the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) official declaration Monday that carbon dioxide endangers public health. The so-called endangerment finding clears the way for the agency to regulate around 13,600 major emitters across the United States, although its director, Lisa Jackson, and the Obama administration have made it clear they prefer that Congress pass legislation to address emissions.
The connections to the U.N. climate summit are, of course, clear. Reuters reported that the EPA’s ruling “sent a message to the world” that the United States is committed to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. The Wall Street Journal’s Ian Talley argued that it give the U.S. “leverage in its negotiations” at Copenhagen. But few if any articles have come out of Copenhagen analyzing the endangerment finding’s impact there. That may or may not change after Jackson’s speech at the summit today. [Update: Greenwire reports that Jackson told journalists Wednesday that the summit wasn’t the EPA’s “impetus” for the endangerment finding.]