Copenhagen: Key Issues, Challenges and Summit Outcome

By: Tiffany Richmond


After two weeks of discussions between 192 countries and 110 world leaders, the United Nations Climate Change conference comes to a conclusion, the Copenhagen Accord. Veering close to a farcical collapse, political protests and slower than expected negotiations, Copenhagen was a far cry from participant’s high hopes of concluding the conference with a legally binding agreement.


Greenhouse Gas Emissions
It’s been stated before; greenhouse gas emissions are a major cause for global warming. Both developed and developing countries need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent or more by 2020 to avoid serious climate damage1.

Climate Aid for Poorer Nations
Developing countries need assistance financially to make a positive impact against global warming. Developed countries have committed to providing some sort of sourcing to developing countries. It’s important to consider that this sourcing be long term and come from stable revenue sources.

Forest Issues
Developing countries are encouraged to preserve forestation by implementing a mechanism called REDD-plus (developing nations are compensated to engage in deforestation). Discussed in negotiations leading to the Kyoto Protocol and again in 2007 during United Nation’s conference in Bali, deforestation remains a controversial subject with many loose ends that must to be defined before any forward progress can be made.

Monitoring of Pledges
Developed countries’ greenhouse gas emission targets will be monitored to ensure actions are taken against their stated commitments. If developed countries do not live up to their committed obligations they could face potential sanctions. Developing countries will not face penalties however; developed countries motion for international verification levels across all nations.

Legal Framework
For tangible changes to exist, developed and developing countries must commit to legal obligations against reducing greenhouse gas emissions. An international treaty is the only hope for such commitment.


China vs. United States
High tension between the United States and China rose throughout the 14 day conference. United States and China account for some 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions and have the potential to make the largest impact on global warming; that is only if they can they can get past their disagreements over climate policy.

China expects developed countries, like the United States, to take the lead and offer greenhouse gas emission reductions that would surpass those of industrialized countries, like China. Meanwhile, the United States expects China — now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases — to agree to some limits on its carbon dioxide emissions, which doubled from 1996 to 20062.

Turning into a blaming war, China and the United States pointed fingers at one another and played the he said she said game. Despite differences, China and the United States must come to some sort of agreement between emission targets and transparency. Being the world’s two largest emitters, they will shape the international playing field for fighting climate change.

Rich vs. Poor Countries
A chasm between rich countries and poor counties surrounding financial aid brought negotiations to a halt the second week of the summit. Poor countries feel they are less equipped to manage climate change and demand rich countries to develop more radical greenhouse gas emissions targets. Poor countries insist that rich countries provide greater financial aid then the 10 billion (USD) (for three years) originally discussed and note the need for millions more after that.

Slow Negotiations
Two weeks to summarize years of negotiations is just not enough time. Both world leaders and United Nations organizers recognized the pace of discussions was not fast enough for a successful treaty to be agreed upon. The next 12 months leading up to COP16 in Mexico City will be more important than ever. Countries must attempt to fill in the details of the Copenhagen Accord before December 2010 if there is any hope to replace the Kyoto Protocol with a new treaty in 2012.


The Copenhagen Accord, a four page declaration laying out the road map for tracking global warming. The Accord was drafted the last day of the conference by China, South Africa, India, Brazil and the United States. The Accord calls for action to hold mean warming of the Earth’s surface at no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This target is 0.5 degree Celsius higher than original documents and does not outline any strategy on how to achieve such a desirable goal.

The Accord outlines financing options for developing countries for climate mitigation and adaption. Financial support includes 30 billion (USD) from 2010 to 2012 and scaling up to 100 billion (USD) by 2020. It states that a significant portion of this funding will flow through a Copenhagen Green Climate Fund.

The agreement also set ups a forestry deal, encouraging mechanisms such as REDD-plus, reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, to reduce deforestation in return for cash funds. However, does not inform where such a cash flow might come from.

The Accord ends with commitment from 31 counties (Annex I Parties) to submit economy-wide emission reduction goals by January 31st, 2010. Developed countries must submit specific targets and dates, while developing countries are only to list targeted actions.


COP1, held in Berlin in 1995, was the beginning of climate negotiations between nation leaders. Now, fourteen years later, and the climax of two years of negotiations, COP15 ultimately ends with no legally binding treaty, no set targets and no actionable items.

Evidence shows that 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, Arctic ice-caps are melting and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a forecast of potential future havoc3.

Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone.

Overcoming climate change will take a triumph of optimism over pessimism and vision over short-sightedness with hope that world leaders overcome their political combats and commit to an international binding treaty.

1 “United Nations.” Copenhagen was more than accord. United Nations Climate Change Conference, 13 January 2010.
2 “Orville Schell.” The Challenges of Copenhagen: Bridging the US- China Divide. Environment 360, 13 January 2010.
3 “Editorial.” Copenhagen climate change conference: ‘fourteen days to seal history’s judgment of this generation. The Guardian, 14 January 2010.

Tiffany Richmond is an enthusiast marketing guru and is responsible for online marketing strategies at Energy Advantage Inc.

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