- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Scholars' Views Vary on Copenhagen Successes

Belfer Center participants in the 2009 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (UNFCCC) agreed that while the summit did not produce the treaty most wanted, it did make some significant progress. They disagree, however, on how much. Professors JeffreyFrankel, Kelly Sims Gallagher, and Robert Stavins, all members of the Belfer Center Board of Directors, offer their takeaways from the event.

Jeffrey Frankel (James W. Harpel Professor of Capital Formation and Growth, Harvard Kennedy School)

The Copenhagen negotiations were doomed to fail because the positions of the parties were so far apart, particularly the United States versus developing countries. Matters were exacerbated by procedural chaos, in a way suggesting that important progress can only be made through small meetings of big countries. This principlewas illustrated by the lone bit of genuine progress at Copenhagen: the last-minute agreement between President Obama and a handful of other large emitters who have not yet accepted quantitative targets to move in that direction. The biggest question is whether the U.S. and major developing countries will be able, perhaps in G-20 meetings this year, to agree on specific numerical emission targets. I still believe that my formulas-based approach is the way to do this. http://www.rff.org /Publications/WPC/Pages/A-Pragmatic-Global-Climate-Policy-Architecture.aspx

Kelly Sims Gallagher (Associate Professor of Energy and Environmental Policy, The Fletcher School, Tufts University; Senior Associate, Belfer Center)

The Copenhagen Accord is no substitute for a real-deal treaty, but world leaders became personally acquainted with the tough issues, directly and seriously negotiating for the first time. In his hours in the Bella Center, President Obama quickly identified the core elements of the package-emission reductions, financing, and verification-but because the Senate still has not passed a bill, Obama could not put finance on the table, nor could he beflexible about emission reduction targets or press the Chinese to do more. Everyone seemed surprised by Chinese reluctance to jump on board, but to put it plainly, what was in it for the Chinese? The U.S. needs to integrate across issues like trade and security to secure a lasting deal with China. Premier Wen and President Obama need to directly talk again, and soon, before frustrations harden into intransigence.

Robert Stavins (Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government, Harvard Kennedy School; Director, Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements)

Going into Copenhagen, the challenge was great, because of fundamental economic and political realities. But at the final hour, the leaders of a small number of key countries-led by President Obama-worked to identify a politically feasible path forward. Their roadmap , despite its flaws, offers a possible foundation for progress.

The Copenhagen Accord commits each nation to abide by its domestic climate commitments, whether those are in the form of laws and regulations or multi-year development plans. Unlike Kyoto, this accord establishes a framework for involving key, rapidly growing developing countries, and giving attention to the long-term path of emissions.Whether the next step should be under the auspices of the UNFCCC or a smaller deliberative body is an important question and one on which we are focusing in the Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements. http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/project/56/

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Scholars' Views Vary on Copenhagen Successes.” Belfer Center Newsletter (Spring 2010).


Jeffrey Frankel

Kelly Sims Gallagher

Robert N. Stavins