One of the biggest COP15 disappointments is that the Copenhagen Accord is not legally binding. This is widely acknowledged by world leaders and has led many to conclude that the negotiations failed. Though it is not an ideal outcome, and the UNFCCC process appears to be less effective/inclusive than it could be, it does hold us over until the next COP with some important guidelines (that admittedly, were not very contentious in the first place): we need to keep the global temperature increase under 2 degrees Celsius, developed countries are more responsible for putting carbon into the air and have more resources to reduce emissions so they must have more stringent GHG reduction goals, and rich countries have to give poorer countries money to get them through the worst of climate change. Developed countries can submit their emissions reductions pledges to the UNFCCC to be included as an appendix of the Copenhagen Accord (a nice little reference section… it would be funny if it weren’t so disappointing) and developing countries can submit pledges if they want to or they can announce them later on via ‘national communications’.
What’s nice is that Obama has promised that even though the Copenhagen Accord is not legally binding, the US will push on towards our emissions reductions target. Thanks Obama (only very small tinge of sarcasm here)!! Well, we know that not only are we capable of meeting our miserable 4% GHG emissions reductions by 2020 (from 1990 levels) but, as Alison mentions below, we can do more. We can (theoretically) become leaders in clean energy and green technology without waiting for other countries to join. This is more in line with Friedman’s ‘Earth Race’ market-based, competition-driven strategy as opposed to the consensus-driven, cumbersome UNFCCC process (US-centrically referred to by Friedman as the ‘Earth Day’ strategy).
It remains to be seen whether in actuality the US can pull ahead of other countries in the race to gain the largest share of the green market and if these kinds of efforts will result in economic benefits for the US. Will other countries with a head-start (e.g. Germany, China, Spain…) simply be able to do it better? The bottom line is we need to invest, invest, invest public and private funds if we want to become competitive. Important players include US citizens who have worked abroad in leading clean energy countries, gaining experience in growing, competitive green markets and environmentally-conscious governments (e.g. everyone in my program, the Transatlantic Renewable Energy Fellowship!!) who bring this expertise back to the US.
International exchange on this issue is key, but also kind of goes against the whole idea of promoting competition in order to spur green economic development… I’ll leave this conundrum to another post.