Minute by minute updates from the Copenhagen climate summit provide a perspective that is both distorted and unhelpful. Watching the negotiations at COP-15 is like watching the Dow Jones at the beginning of a recession. Daily gyrations mean nothing. You have to take the long view.
Certainly momentum matters. President Obama, and other leaders in Copenhagen, has built some momentum for compromises on a climate change agreement. Recent commitments from the U.S., China, India and Brazil have produced both excitement and expectation.
The close of negotiations today is where the irresistible force of hope and expectation run smack into the immovable object of political reality and bureaucratic inertia. There was never going to be a binding political document satisfactory to 193 countries coming out of Copenhagen. That fantasy was abandoned long ago. However, what has happened over the last two weeks has been a productive use of time.
Negotiators have come to some understanding about the size of target reductions for green house gas (GHG) emissions. Calculations about the base year – whether its 1990 or 2005 – are becoming simply a matter of mathematics not politics. Most importantly, there is a clearer picture of how much money may be available for an adaptation fund for developing countries to help wean them off carbon in the same manner as developed countries. This is more than one could have expected as little as three months ago.
What ultimately matters at the COP-15 is continuing progress not a treaty. Given the present commitments from large carbon emitters and the attention that world leaders have focused on climate change, there is evidence that countries are far closer to concluding a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocols than they have ever been.