The Copenhagen meeting has produced an agreement, though it’s more of an “agreement to agree” than a concrete deal. Most of the specifics have been left for later. That’s problematic of course, but not as bad as an agreement on specifics that are too weak to achieving anything. The deal (draft text here has several important elements
* A warming target of 2 degrees
* Commitment by the developed countries to spend $30 billion over 2010-12 and aim for $100 billion a year by 2020 in assistance to developing countries with a particular focus on preventing deforestation
* A technology transfer mechanism
Of these, the most significant is probably the deal on deforestation, which has actual money (or at least commitments) attached. Assuming this happens, it’s an outcome more significant than that of any international conference in the last decade at least. And technology transfer is important in a number of ways, particularly as a countervailing force against the pressure for ever-stronger intellectual property protections.
I’m a bit surprised, in that I thought the payments to developing countries would be one of the hardest issues of all, whereas the biggest single sticking point seems to have been China’s objections to transparent monitoring – the kind of silly national sovereignty stuff that is par for the course at these meetings but usually gets smoothed over and traded away by the end.
The 2 degree target has been controversial, with lots of countries calling for a 1.5 degree target. But it’s important to remember that only a couple of years ago, the Stern Review was focusing on a 550 ppm stabilization target, which would most likely be associated with long-term warming of 3 degrees. If we can get agreement now on a 2 degree/450 ppm target, there’s a reasonable chance, given technological progress, of bringing concentrations back down to 350 ppm or even to pre-industrial levels (about 280 ppm) by 2100 and that trajectory would have a fair chance of avoiding any sustained period of temperatures more than 1.5 degrees above 1900 levels. Even that trajectory implies significant environmental damage, but it minimises the risk of large-scale climatic catastrophes.
The next step is for Obama to push Waxman-Markey through the US Senate. I’m confident he can do this, given sufficient Administration pressure on the Senate (including, if necessary, the threat of ending the minority right to filibuster legislation with 40 votes). And, given that he has put his credibility on the line, I’m at least reasonably confident that he will do it.
Looking at the Australian implications, I imagine the Opposition will say that there was no need to pass the ETS before Copenhagen. That would have helped them if they had elected, say, Joe Hockey as leader, and settled on a position of deferring, but ultimately supporting the ETS. But it’s hard to see that it will do Abbott any good – sooner or later, he has to come up with an alternative to the ETS, and no remotely affordable alternative is on offer.
The big disappointment is that the longer timetable will give Rudd the option of going for a double dissolution in the second half of 2010, based on the abortive deal with Turnbull.