How has climate politics changed since Copenhagen?

Ahead of next week's climate summit, chinadialogue asked six women activists what has changed since the 2009 Copenhagen conference

chinadialogue invited viewpoints from six women activists and scholars ahead of the UN Climate Summit in New York on 23 September

Jennifer Morgan, World Resources Institute

Compared to the situation before Copenhagen, experience with the low-carbon economy has grown. For example, the rapid adoption of renewable energy has fundamentally shifted what was considered feasible just five years ago. Solar manufacturing costs have plummeted 80% and wind power has never been more affordable. China has set aggressive renewable-energy targets for 2015, 2017 and 2020. More and more American utilities are finding that wind and solar offer the cheapest way to add additional generating capacity. And nearly 100 developing countries now have renewable-energy policies in place. At the same time, about 40 national and over 20 sub-national governments have a price on carbon pollution.

In addition, new partnerships and voices are reshaping the politics of climate change. Middle income countries like Chile, Indonesia, Vietnam and Costa Rica have stepped on the stage calling for new low-carbon development pathways. This new cast of characters will play a leading role in shaping the negotiations leading up to the Paris climate talks in December 2015.

Bai Yunwen, Greenovation Hub

Since 2009 I’ve noticed a marked jump in bilateral cooperation. Previously countries worked mainly under the UN framework and the Kyoto Protocol, but after Copenhagen agreements between two countries have increased significantly. For example, we have the US-China Joint Statement on Climate Change and the UK-China Joint Statement on Climate Change. A China-Russia joint statement has also said that “both parties will adhere firmly to the principles and aims of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and are willing to strengthen international cooperation and make joint contributions in the effort to deal with climate change.”

Before 2008, only the EU was motivated to negotiate. But later the EU, the US and China all started to take on commitments. You can see this in the way the US has moved from its passive role under the Kyoto Protocol to become a more active force, and in how China now takes climate negotiations more seriously.

We have also seen a more detailed differentiation of responsibilities. The emerging economies of China, India and Brazil have been separated out from the developing nations and have taken on commitments according to their economic ability and level of greenhouse-gas emissions.

Wang Binbin, Oxfam

The 2009 Copenhagen climate change talks prioritised mitigation. Adaptation to climate change wasn’t taken seriously enough. The Chinese government, due to lack of experience, passively accepted emissions cuts, ignoring the impact of climate change on the poor. At the Durban conference in 2011 it was proposed that mitigation and adaptation should be given equal status. The Chinese government has also made adaptation a matter of national strategy.

But adaptation involves hard-to-quantify difficulties, and it remains unclear how to proceed at the technical level.

Although developed nations have not elaborated on how much money they will provide and the green climate fund remains an empty promise, developing nations are starting to shift their focus from how much funding the developed world will transfer. The emphasis is more on how to acquire other funding sources and how to manage, allocate and spend those funds. China is also working on mitigation funds.

Jiang Nanqing, UNEP China

The EU has set tough targets and taken positive steps to cut emissions. The Chinese government is under pressure from the EU and other parts of the international community, and also needs to take urgent action on domestic environmental issues. Under the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities we can see the Chinese government dividing the targets set during climate-change negotiations across the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the transportation sector.

Each sector is starting to define its own tasks under these overarching targets – for example by establishing carbon markets. This shows that after the 2009 talks the Chinese government started to take real action and live up to its responsibilities.

Fatema Rajabali, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex

Policy and action on climate change in Africa has gained momentum, resulting in useful regional alliances, initiatives and learning. But the urgency of the agricultural challenge has also become clearer: the latest IPCC report highlights how climate change is impacting farming and food security, in turn aggravating already worrying levels of global hunger and undernutrition. 

Given that agriculture in Africa employs 65% of the labour force and accounts for 30-40% of Africa’s total GDP, it is unsettling that there is no Africa-wide agreement on how to address climate-change impacts.  

The soon-to-be launched Global Alliance on Climate Smart Agriculture, the recent US-Africa Summit on agriculture and Clim-dev’s conference “Africa can feed Africa now” have all contributed to a growing drive in the region. But African governments need to think carefully about how to make the process as effective as possible.  

For starters, regional African bodies like the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), need a shared understanding of "climate-smart agriculture", which aims to increase food security and resilience while cutting greenhouse-gas emissions. Meanwhile, ministries within and across nations should start to engage with one another, recognising that agricultural challenges are multi-sectoral and increasingly have transboundary implications. Current evidence on climate-smart agriculture needs to be made more accessible to decision-makers, while impacts across society – from public health and nutrition to trade and technology – need careful examination. 

The process of becoming more resilient to climate change goes well beyond national leaders turning up to a summit. African governments and regional bodies must get their acts together.

Hina Lotia, LEAD Pakistan

Over the last few years, I have seen tough negotiations happen, and truckloads of money and expertise promised by the emitting countries. But when it comes to the brass-tacks, the political economy takes root and everything is conveniently forgotten. 

In addition to Official Development Assistance, the developed nations had pledged US$30 billion for 2010-2012 for vulnerable countries, particularly for Least Developed Countries, and long term climate finance amounting to US$100 billion per year by 2020 for developing countries, of which Pakistan is one. This money has still to see the light of the day, and there are questions about the transparency of the mechanism for disbursement.  

With low emissions, this may not be of concern to Pakistan, but I find that over the years the Kyoto Protocol (KP) has lost quite a bit of its thunder thanks to the emerging economies joining the United States, with the latter stubbornly refusing to sign the pact and commit to reducing emissions. 

Of significance to Pakistan is that while conversation on "adaptation" has been taking place for some years, another chapter termed as "loss and damage" has taken root. What happens when countries who adapt still continue to suffer due to slow onset of climate change like sea intrusion and desertification? Do we know how to assess and measure these losses?