Monday, 21 December 2009
Europeans and Americans see Copenhagen through different eyes
The Copenhagen Accord, finalised after hours of intensive negotiations, theoretically recognises a goal of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius, but contains no targets to achieve that. There are no specific emission reduction actions by developing countries and no specific commitments on long term financing for mitigation and adaptation efforts. Not only is it non-binding, the agreement wasn’t even adopted by all UN countries. Instead it has just been 'noted', which means that countries recognise its existence but don’t necessarily agree with it.
European NGOs and governments were united in their condemnation of the Copenhagen climate summit’s result this weekend, which failed to include any kind of binding agreement and was only able to muster an optional “accord”. Though the language the political leaders were using was obviously more diplomatic than that being used by the climate activists (Greenpeace’s director called Copenhagen a “crime scene”), the basic message is still the same: the summit failed. Swedish prime minister Frederik Reinfeldt, still holding the EU presidency, said the agreement, “will not solve the climate pressures, the climate threat to mankind.” Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said, "The level of ambition is not what we were hoping for." The British leadership has been railing against the Chinese all weekend, pointing the finger of blame squarely in their court. Brown said that they were, "clinging to their version of what an international organisation should not do,” and British environment minister Ed Milliband delivered the extraordinary charge today that the Chinese hijacked the summit. If there is a mainstream European publication that did not use the word ‘failure’ today to describe the summit, I am not aware of it.
So the consensus in Europe is clear. But my colleague who was with some American journalists in the wee hours of Saturday morning said they were approaching the summit’s result from a very different perspective. Though she and the other European journalists regarded the result as a failure, the American journalists said this result was as much as could have been expected. It was, she noted, as if the European and American press pools had attended two different conferences. But really, it’s probably down to the fact that their expectations going into it were so different.
The American press reaction this morning reflects those sentiments. Though no one is heralding this outcome as a wild success, they’re calling it “a good starting point” and a roadmap. Politically, they point out that the accord allows Obama to tell sceptics in the US senate that China is on board as well (one of the biggest concerns is that the US should not sign on to any reduction commitment that its up-and-coming superpower rival does not.).
Even the difference in reaction between the European and American NGOs is stark. My colleage points out that when she navigated to the web site for the National Resources Defense Council, one of the leading conservation groups in the US, she finds a press release calling the agreement “a vital first step” on the way to “real action against global warming, real cuts in carbon pollution, real American jobs at home.” Contrast with Friends of the Earth Europe’s reaction, whose web site says that on Saturday “rich countries have condemned millions of the world’s poorest people to hunfer, suffering and loss of life…we are disgusted.”
poll conducted in October. Republican commentators in the US, including those on the country’s most-watched news network Fox News, not only don’t believe in climate change – they actually suggest it’s a conspiracy whose objective is to lower American standards of living. China is in the midst of the fastest industrialisation process in human history, and while its government believes in the dangers of climate change, they are unwilling to consider solutions to it that could slow their growth.
With these very different perspectives in mind, it’s not hard to see why American journalists would be impressed that any agreement could be worked out at all. Even if it is a non-binding, vague ‘statement of intent’.