The Post-Copenhagen Climate Movement, thoughts from a youth delegate…
Thursday January 14th 2010, 10:38 PM
Filed under: Uncategorized

McGill student Andrew Cuddy (U3 arts & science; political theory and earth-systems science) attended the Copenhagen climate negotiations as a member of the Canadian Youth Delegation in December 2009, and was one of the policy directors for the youth delegation. He has previously interned with Sierra Club Canada and the Pembina Institute, and someday hopes to take graduate studies in ecological economics. Andrew now shares some of his thoughts on his experiences at the climate negotiations in Copenhagen, focusing on some of the substantive issues within the negotiations.

Andrew Cuddy during the COP15 negotiations, in plenary

Andrew Cuddy during the COP15 negotiations, in plenary

Halfway throughout the second week of Copenhagen, I was befallen with a sense of utter despair upon realizing that the negotiations were about to end in failure. I was fortunately able to find hope in those last few days was by focusing on 2010, and the prospect that it would be the year in which the climate movement secures a Fair, Ambitious, and Legally Binding (FAB) post-2012 deal.

The Future of the Negotiations:

(1) The emissions reduction commitments of countries for 2020 must be increased. The UN has projected that the pledges currently on the table will lead to 3°C of warming.[i] Developed countries’ pledges do not even meet (even when potential ‘loopholes’ are ignored) the lower-end of the IPCC’s recommended range of 25-40% below 1990 levels, while developing countries’ pledges almost meet the upper-end of the IPCC’s recommended range of 15-30% below business-as-usual.[ii]

(2) The US must pass domestic climate legislation; all else depends on it. Many hope that the Copenhagen Accord will prod the US Senate to pass climate legislation, while others fear that moderate democrats will be more focused about their November midterms and thus be unwilling to take any political risks.

(3) China must be convinced that it has nothing to fear from a FAB deal. China had any global emissions reduction target removed from the Copenhagen Accord and refused international verification of its commitments. China must be convinced that the former will not result in it being called to take on deeper pledges in years to come and that the latter will not infringe on its ‘sovereignty’.

(4) The UNFCCC must continue to be the site of the negotiations. Some have suggested that Copenhagen reveals the failure of the UNFCCC consensus-based process that allows a few countries (e.g. Sudan and Saudi Arabia) to block progress. Instead, that handful of countries that account for 85% of emissions should negotiate in a forum such as the G8/G20, as the argument goes. Unfortunately, if the most vulnerable (small islands and Africa) are not at the table, then it is unlikely that the Big Emitters will be motivated to reach a FAB deal. Going forward the UNFCCC must choose countries to host the COP that are more adept (Mexico perhaps?) at bridging the North-South divide than Denmark was.

They are––of course––also a host of unresolved debates that the movement must grapple with.

- What should the legal architecture of the post-2012 regime look like? Should the weak Copenhagen Accord simply be discarded with all efforts focusing on the official negotiating texts? If not, will the Kyoto Protocol survive?

- Should environmentalists continue to use messaging that despite being ‘accurate’ and/or ‘justified’ does not resonate with much of the public (e.g. financing as climate “debt”)?

- Will the movement continue to be divided between those who believe that truly radical political/socio-economic change is required to get the reductions science demands and those who believe that reforms will be sufficient and/or are all we can get?

The State of Play in Canada:

Most of the public now realizes that Canada’s stance on climate change is harming our cherished international reputation.[iii] Unfortunately, Harper/Prentice’s main argument that Canada must–– out of economic necessity––“harmonize” with the US on climate policy and thus cannot increase our 2020 emissions reduction target of 3% below 1990 still resonates with many moderates.

Two counter-messages are necessary.

(1) Canada is already “failing to follow” the US.

(i)      The US Congress is currently considering legislation that will not only meet but exceed their 2020 target[iv]; Canada continually delays releasing the details of its plan and leaked cabinet documents obtained suggest that Canada does not even intend to meet its target.[v]

(ii)    The US invested 14 times more per capita in renewable energy than Canada over the past year[vi] and Canada has become the only G-7 country without a national-level program to support renewable energy.[vii]

(iii)    The US legislation is clear that it does not consider oil and gas as an Emissions-Intensive, Trade Exposed sector and will not give special treatment to the Tar Sands.[viii] Prentice has stated that Canada is considering special treatment by way of far lower targets for the Tar Sands––Canada’s fastest growing source of emissions.[ix]

Canada recieving a Fossil award

Canada recieving a Fossil award

(2) Canada can and must do more than the US.

A recent economic modeling report by the Pembina Institute found that Canada could reach the more ambitious 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 target while still growing its economy 23% from now to 2020, in contrast to 25% under Canada’s current target.[x] This being even if the US did not also raise its ambition. There are also dire economic costs if the global effort does not limit warming to 2°C, such a loss in global GDP of 5-20% and over $200 billion of Canadian assets that at risk.[xi]

But taking action on climate change is more than an economic issue. Canada currently has one of the highest levels of per capita emissions in the world, taking up more than its fair share of atmospheric space. Climate change will negatively impact those with the least responsibility for the problem, developing countries and future generations. Acting out of sync with the US on climate change is––like with so many other issues–­–a moral imperative.

With the failure of Copenhagen abroad and an intransigent government at home, 2010 will likely prove to be the toughest year the Canadian climate movement has faced to date.

[i] Oxfam International: Climate Shame, Get Back to the Table, 2009.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Macleans: ‘Suddenly the World Hates Canada’, 2009.


[v] Climate Action Network Canada: Fact Sheet: Leaked Canadian Cabinet Documents, 2009.

[vi] Pembina Institute: Backgrounder: Canada vs. U.S. Investments in Renewables and Energy Efficiency, 2009.


[viii] Climate Action Network Canada: Fact Sheet: Leaked Canadian Cabinet Documents, 2009.

[ix] Climate Action Network Canada: Fact Sheet: Leaked Canadian Cabinet Documents, 2009.

[x] Pembina Institute: Climate Leadership – Energy Prosperity, 2009.

[xi] Nicholas Stern: The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, 2006; WWF-Germany and Allianz Group: Major Tipping Points in the Earth’s Climate System and Consequences for the Insurance Sector, 2009.

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