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Leaked Danish post-mortem of Copenhagen fiasco

Published in SUNS #6918 dated 5 May 2010

Geneva, 4 May (Meena Raman) — The Danish media have last week made
public a confidential memorandum from the Danish Prime Minister’s
office dated 6 January 2010 entitled “COP15: analysis, perspective and
strategy”, which provided the Danish perspective on the Copenhagen
Conference and the events leading up to the production of the
controversial Copenhagen Accord.

The Accord was not adopted by the 15th meeting of the Conference of
Parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate
Change (UNFCCC) but was only taken note of, as it was criticised by
several countries as stemming from a non-transparent and undemocratic
process, involving only 26 countries in a secret meeting.

News of the memorandum was published in a Danish newspaper, Politiken,
on 28 April and details of the memorandum were leaked to the media on
29 April. An English translation of the leaked memorandum was made
available to the Third World Network.

A key point in the leaked memorandum was that in order to get a new
legally binding climate agreement in Copenhagen, it was for the United
States, “an absolute prerequisite for entering into an international
agreement that China participated on similar terms, which specifically
was expressed as a requirement for symmetry in the degree of
obligation – though obviously not in what China actually undertakes.”

The memorandum revealed that Denmark initiated an approach of a
“single agreement” which would include commitments by both developed
and developing countries and which would jettison the “Kyoto global

The memorandum also claimed that there was a “rift” within the United
Nations, between the Secretary-General and his people (which went
along with the Danish approach of a single global agreement) and the
UNFCCC secretariat, which was more sympathetic to a “Kyoto Protocol
universe” in which developing countries do not take specific

It also revealed that Europe had tried to form an alliance with some
developing countries but this was overtaken by the United States and
China, which formed their own agreement to their interests and which
were pleased with the result. The memorandum lamented that finally in
the last hours “Europe appeared to be the big losers.”

A senior developing-country diplomat with many years of experience in
the UNFCCC negotiations and who read the memorandum said privately
that the memorandum reveals the arrogance of the Danish as organisers
of the Copenhagen Conference, who are impervious to their own failings
and duplicity. (See more details of the diplomat’s comment at the end
of the article.)

The memorandum stated that it was clear even before the Copenhagen
conference that there were “lines of fracture” between the developing
countries who wanted the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol where
developed countries take on concrete commitments and developing
countries contribute on a voluntary basis, and a “global political
agreement” in which “a new global framework” which included
commitments for developing countries would be established in Copenhagen.

“Even before the conference it became clear that the lines of fracture
between the Kyoto Global Outlook’, where only the industrialized
countries take on concrete commitments and BASIC contribute on a
voluntary basis, and “a global political agreement-world outlook” in
which there would be established a new global framework in Copenhagen
which included commitments also for developing economies, went across
not only the groups of countries, but also institutionally within
individual countries and organizations. The industrialized countries,
which despite differences in ambition and emphases basically shared
the perception that a new global agreement must rest on sets of
obligations that also would include the developing economies,” said
the memorandum.

(The BASIC countries refer to Brazil, South Africa, India and China).

Reflecting the US view, according to the memorandum, for the Danish
Presidency, the agreement in Copenhagen was to “include all countries
in a political commitment that created a degree of symmetry of the
commitment level, while respecting the differentiation of specific
commitments. A complex of agreements of this nature would also (be)
better than a Kyoto model (to) be able to absorb the very different
climate initiatives of various countries and groups”.

In early 2009, “it became clear that there was no basis to aim at
concluding a new legally binding climate agreement,” said the

“Although the new US administration had declared its intention to sit
at the forefront of negotiations on global climate, it was after the
financial crisis also clear that the new US climate legislation had
little chance to be finally adopted before COP15, and that such
legislation under no circumstances would open the possibility of (the)
US taking up a legal regime that was built around (the) Kyoto Protocol.”

“Japan announced with strength not to participate in a second
commitment period under Kyoto, unless (the) US did the same,” said the

“China and India, during MEF (Major Economies Forum) process in 2008,
ruled out that they would undertake legal obligations in a new climate
agreement. For these countries – as for most developing countries –
the basic model was still (the) Kyoto (Protocol) with legal
obligations for developed countries, supplemented by an agreement
under the Convention’, which first caught the US into comparable legal
obligations’, and formed the framework for major developing economies’
voluntary contributions.”

“It was thus clear that there could be reached one – or more – legally
binding agreement (s) covering the world’s largest emitters, and that
the two-degree target, therefore, could only be maintained if the
strategy began to be directed towards a global agreement,” said the

According to the memorandum, “the [Danish] Prime Minister launched the idea of one agreement – two purposes’ at the International Parliamentary Conference at Copenhagen, on 24 October 2009 and he pursued through the following weeks this strategy through intensive contacts with colleagues.”

“In the months leading up to COP15, all the major players thus
signalled that they could support a global agreement based on the
fundamental principles that the [Danish] Prime Minister presented on
24th October. Building support for a political agreement with
immediate operational effect was further consolidated when
representatives from 20 countries at the sherpa meeting in Copenhagen
weeks before the conference discussed a first Danish draft for such an
agreement. Although all commented constructively on the Danish draft,
the meeting also sent a clear warning that there was no unity
concerning the basis for the negotiations at COP15,” said the

“The danger signals applied basically to the Kyoto Protocol’s future,
acting as a proxy for the more fundamental questions about the extent
to which the major developing economies’ contribution to reducing
emissions should be seen as an international obligation. It has with
increasing strength been the view of the US and gradually also that of
Japan and Europe that China in particular and other BASIC countries
had to provide a degree of commitment at national (mitigation) efforts
in return for obligations from the developed countries on extensive
absolute reductions in both the short and longer term,” added the

Reflecting on the BASIC countries, the memorandum states that “in each
of these countries you can foreshadow the contours of – at least – two
schools’: One that sticks hard to the industrialized countries’
historical responsibility and believes any genuine commitment for
developing economies constitute an effective limitation of their
future growth opportunities, and thus the beginnings of a freeze of
the existing global inequality. And another that sees a political
climate agreement with balanced obligations as the beginning of a
codification of a new economic world order within which the major
developing economies take their rightful places’ as a sort of
collective superpower with China in front, even if it involves a
degree of commitment. Both schools accept the need for extensive
national efforts and enhanced international cooperation to tackle
global warming. The difference lies in whether the international
cooperation should include commitments for major developing economies.”

The memorandum also alluded to differences of views between the UN
Secretary-General who “backed” the Danish position and the UNFCCC
Secretariat over the future of the Kyoto Protocol.

“It was a major complicating factor in the final stages of preparation

process that conflicting signals emanated from the key players and
also that (the) UN as an organization obviously was torn between the
Secretary General and his people, who actively backed up behind the
Danish debate line, and the UNFCCC Secretariat that probably accepted
the idea of a political agreement’, but explicitly saw it as a part of
the Kyoto universe’ within which developing countries do not undertake
specific commitments. This rift opened a dangerous flank for Denmark
as chairman country – which was further exposed by the fact that there
wasn’t built the necessary trust relationship between the UNFCCC
Secretariat’s leadership and the Danish COP-delegation,” said the

According to the memorandum, throughout the entire Copenhagen
conference, it was “clear to the key players that the only possible
positive outcome would be a political agreement that reflected the
fundamental premises that had been put forward by the COP Presidency.

“What was not clear was whether an agreement could be made at all
(regarding) the level of ambition and of the commitments of developing
economies, including the issue of transparency.

“It may still be assumed that all four BASIC countries wanted an
agreement, and that they agreed on the ambition level of 2 degrees (on
limiting the temperature to 2 degrees Celsius). It must also be
assumed that the lowest common denominator between them promised that
this objective could not be translated into concrete targets and its
implicit division of the future carbon budget. It was not a priori
obvious how far the BASIC countries would move towards concrete
formulations,” said the memorandum.

According to the memorandum, “it became clear that especially the
BASIC countries were extremely aware of the danger that a de facto
alliance would be created between the developed countries and the most
vulnerable developing countries with starting point in the high
European and Japanese ambitions, and with US encouragement from the

“That built a pressure in particular on China to go further in the
direction of concrete commitments and higher level of ambition. This
threat was even more pronounced as such a development would drive a
wedge between the four BASIC countries. India, South Africa and Brazil
are well aware that the developed countries’ historical
responsibilities very well over the next decade can be surpassed by
China and that they if anyone have a vital interest in a build-up of
China’s climate efforts,” it added.

“Such a build-up is even less acceptable for China in a situation
where (the) US could not announce final pledges (regarding its
mitigation target). China’s strategic response was already before the
conference to actively forge the alliance between the big four (the
BASIC), and throughout the conference to maintain this unity and
connect it to a further developing agenda’ which insists on the Kyoto
model that could shield the BASIC countries from taking blows from
industrialized countries,” stated the memorandum.

“The first warning about how hard this line would be came with the
leakage of the Danish negotiating text on the second day,” said the
memorandum. (The Danish negotiating text was leaked to the Guardian
newspaper which published it in detail. At that time, according to the
Danish media, Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen denied that the
document was a draft text for a final document).

“The harm of the leakage was not the text itself, which was already
known to all major players, but the accompanying spin, which produced
the text as reflecting a deliberate attempt by the COP Presidency to
load the responsibility for future climate responses on the developing

“Thus also the myth of an impending coup’ was launched and the tone
was struck that continued throughout the conference until the last
day, which effectively halted the Presidency’s ability to produce an
ambitious politically balanced text which (if any) could gather wide
support among the players who wanted a broad agreement – and thus
could expose those who did not,” said the memorandum.

According to the memorandum, when US President Barrack Obama arrived
on 18 December (the last day of the conference), he was briefed that
an agreement could hardly be achieved. The US President was said to
give “renewed impetus to the negotiations.”

The Danish Presidency decided “to continue negotiations in the narrow
group, even though it compromised the conduct of the summit itself,”
said the memorandum.

“For (President) Obama, it was imperative to bring an agreement back
home that committed China and which contained a Chinese grant of
transparency,” it revealed.

This was needed to keep “the hope of a US climate legislation, and
hence a meaningful global climate agreement. In this sense, the
(European) desire for concrete targets was of secondary importance,
which Obama made clear to the European leaders after he had traded the
50/50 goal (global emission reductions by 50% by 2050 based on 1990
levels) with Chinese formulation on transparency,” said the memorandum

“For Europeans, this made it a bitterer pill to swallow when Obama was
selling this as a great victory to the press, even before the final
text negotiations were completed. In this very tense political
atmosphere after the arrival of Heads of State and government leaders,
all the underlying political conflicts and tensions were activated,
while China and other BASIC countries on the one side worked to get
Copenhagen Accord though in a pared down form that was compatible with
their pre-established red lines, and on the other side, turned sharply
to avoid an alliance to materialize at the last minute between the
vulnerable developing countries and the ambitious developed
countries,” said the memorandum.

In describing the G77 in the negotiations, the memorandum said that
“one should not underestimate the BASIC countries’ difficulties in
controlling the global UN instrument through the G77, which is hardly
to be seen as a finely tuned organ that plays by the organist’s score,
but rather as a percussion lesson in a music school where the music
teacher tries to set and keep pace, but where many [individuals]
strike large and small beats, that only in the whole (and even then
not always) follow a certain rhythm.”

“While the political interest concentrated on negotiations on the
Copenhagen Accord, the continuing negotiations in the two official
negotiating tracks got stuck, so they officially ended with two brief
procedural decisions which continue the mandate for negotiations under
the Convention and Kyoto without specific reference to new legal
instruments,” said the memorandum.

Referring to the Copenhagen Accord, the memorandum said that “the
outcome of political negotiations was, as is well known, an agreement,
which as a result of the negotiation process and uncontrollable
obstructive forces despite active and/or passive support from most
countries, could not be formally adopted after the political leaders
had left the city.”

(Several developing countries including Tuvalu, Venezuela, Bolivia,
Nicaragua and Sudan had objected to the adoption of the Copenhagen
Accord due to its production through an undemocratic and
non-transparent “super-green room” process.)

The memorandum said that “the US left COP15 with an agreement that
despite the muddy course largely is optimal in the current situation.
Obama was not isolated or forced to make promises that will harm his
chances of getting the necessary legislation through Congress. The
small but despite all, real progress concerning transparency and thus
China’s degree of commitment was the main goal for the US and the
agreement is expected overall to enhance the possibility of getting
the climate legislation adopted.

“For the US, it is a modest price – if not a direct benefit – that the
2 degree target is not translated into concrete reduction figures and
that a potentially fierce debate about burden-sharing has been
postponed until probably after the adoption of legislation in the
spring. All in all a good result which greatly increases the chance
that the US actually will join in a new agreement system. The US was
for the same reason very positive with regards to Denmark’s handling
of the chairman’s role and the course of the negotiations,” said the

“Also, China has reason to be pleased. The agreement reflects broadly
the Chinese views and an acceptable degree of detail. Concessions to
the US on transparency are after all marginal and the fundamental
distinction between developed and developing countries is maintained
with the two Appendixes. Throughout the process, the BASIC countries
kept together and they avoided an alliance between ambitious
developing and industrialized countries,” it added.

According to the memorandum, “the BASIC countries are to some extent
victims of their own strategy, which sought to make Kyoto synonymous
with powerful, real commitments to both (emission) reductions and
financing. They are aware that the Kyoto regime hardly can be saved
but remain uncertain about what will replace it. It is characteristic
that India officially considers it a victory that the agreement does
not point to a legally binding form, while South Africa regrets the

“The Island States, the Africans and the least developed countries are
generally satisfied with the agreement, not because it reflects the
optimum for them, but because it contains large positive potentials,
both financially and in terms of reductions,” it added further.

“These countries are for the same reason, positive towards the Danish
Presidency, but politically cautious because none of them can afford a
conflict with any of the BASIC countries. They will therefore seek to
promote the Copenhagen Accord as much as possible without getting on a
collision course with BASIC countries. They have sympathy for the
Danish efforts, not least what concerns obligations for developing
countries, but they lack political strength to openly support them,”
said the memorandum.

“Japan and Australia are generally satisfied, because Copenhagen has
been a first step towards that new global regime they both perceive as
the only possible way forward.

“There is little doubt that the stated support for Denmark from both
Japan and Australia also is linked to the fact that the two countries
were themselves happy that it was Denmark and not any of them who had
to go to battle to break with the Kyoto thinking’,” it added.

“Finally, Europe in the last hours appeared to be the big losers. The
EU had to watch both the level of detail and their chances to place
responsibility evaporate as the US and the BASIC countries got
together. For the major European countries, it was a brutal awakening
to a new bipolar’ world order where US interests are matched by
China’s, loosely backed by other large developing economies who in the
crucial moment chose the Chinese rather than the European way. All
European efforts to build alliances with both large and small
developing countries were in the playoffs overtaken by the more
straightforward safeguarding of interests by China and the US,” said
the memorandum.

In defining the Danish strategy for 2010, the memorandum states that
“Denmark must in close interaction with Mexico seek to contribute to
organize international cooperation on climate change through 2010 in
the most appropriate way to obtain the strongest and fastest possible
concretization and operationalization of the Copenhagen Accord.”

The memorandum has drawn sharp reactions from some developing-country
diplomats involved in the climate negotiations. A senior diplomat who
was involved in the Copenhagen Conference and in the two-year process
leading up to it said privately: “I see that the arrogance of the
Danes remains intact. They seem impervious to their own failings,
duplicity, attempts to cause divisions among UNFCCC members, and their
unbelievable incompetence in handling the whole process in general.”

“It also is dismal that, no matter how many grains of what may be
perceived as accurate interpretation of intent are contained in the
document, nowhere is there a trace of concern for climate change, for
equity, or for humanity.”

“There is just contempt for poor countries, which can be bought or
manipulated as puppets. Is there some kind of self-analysis here?
None, and the reference to the need for transparency is dismissed as
some odd concept. I find the whole thing thoroughly disgusting,” said
the senior diplomat. +

05/19/2010 – 10:43


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