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No Meaningful Agreement In Copenhagen. No Surprise

by Larry Susskind
December 2009

From Larry Susskind's blog on the Consensus Building Approach

Larry Susskind
Let's see if we can grasp the so-called agreement reached in Copenhagan.

1. Many of the Developed Countries (the North) have promised to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as much as they (comfortably) can in the future. These are not binding commitments; just promises to make a best effort. And, they are all over the place in terms of the cuts they represent compared to past and present CO2 emission levels. A number of Developing Countries (the South, including China) have now promised to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Again, nothing binding and wildly inconsistent targets and timetables. And, even if you add up all the promises, you won't come close to getting the world on track to stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions at a (350 - 450 ppm) level by 2050 sufficient to forestall the worst effects of climate change over the rest of the century and beyond.

2. The The North has promised to come up with $30 billion over the next three years to help the South "fight" climate change. It's not clear, though, how this money will be used or where it will come from. Presumably, some of it will be used to reduce CO2 emissions (although it is not clear what the best way to do that is or how such efforts should be prioritized). Some of it will have to be used to help countries adapt to sea level rise, increased storm intensity, periods of draught, adverse effects on biodiversity, and other disasters. (Which forms of adaptation should be pursued, are not clear.) Also, it is not obvious how this money will be administered or who will get it (presumably a disproportionate share should go to the poorest countries in Africa). The North says it will try to raise $100 billion by 2020, but, again, it is not clear where the money will come from, how it will be administered, or who will get it. Finally, these are just informal promises, not binding commitments.

3. There was almost a new forest agreement, but at the end it got dropped. In Kyoto, the question of how to define and protect "sinks" (i.e., forests and oceans that absorb CO2) was not addressed. In Copenhagan, the leaders agreed that halting deforestation is "crucial." Funds to pay countries, like Brazil, to conserve their forests are now supposed to be forthcoming. Note that rich nations like this idea because they want to count the funds they donate for this purpose toward "carbon credits" (thereby reducing the CO2 reductions they have to make in their own countries). It is not yet clear, though, how this system of carbon credits and forest preservation would work.

4. As with all global treaty negotiations, there was a lot of uneasiness when the topic of monitoring and enforcement came up. No country can really force another to do what it doesn't want to do -- even if it has signed a treaty. Countries are sovereign. Most global agreements require countries to report regularly. But, in this case, if the reports don't seem accurate, all the Climate Change Secretariat can do is ask for more information or clarification. It can't double-check the data that countries submit or take independent measurements of its own. The South agreed for the first time, however, to report domestic CO2 emissions on a regular basis. There was some language discussed regarding "provisions for international consultation and analysis." That's as close as we'll get to verification. Some observers had hoped that a new global panel of experts might have access to all monitoring equipment, data and technical specialists in each country so that suspect reports could be verified, but that didn't happen.

5. The so-called "Statement on Temperature" agreed to in Copenhagen says that the nations agreed that any global increase in future temperature should be kept to under two degrees Celsius. Since the new agreements specifies no targets, timetables, enforcement mechanisms, provisions for technology sharing between the North and the South, or ways of enhancing capacity building, it's hard to take such a statement seriously. Saying it should be done, but not saying how, is tantamount to saying nothing.

6. None of the promises made in Copenhagan are binding. Maybe, in the next year or two, a formal Protocol will be drafted that explains how implementation of these various commitments is supposed to happen. Until then, though, we'll be operating under the Rio Climate Change Convention and the Kyoto Protocol.

What happens when the Kyoto agreement runs out in 2012? It appears that we will have no binding targets in place to bring global greenhouse gas emissions to a level (450 ppm? by 2050) needed to forestall dangerous temperature increases. We certainly won't have the level of cooperation between North and South required to tackle the climate change problem over the long haul. Many countries in the South resent the way they were (once again) left out of the last minute wheeling and dealing in Copenhagan. And, tossing money at them, no matter how many billions, without ever agreeing in principal that the North is responsible for the climate change mess we are currently in, just puts off the day we can achieve the global collaboration required to address the problem effectively. Small island nations face total destruction. The numbers of international refugees that will have to move from low-lying coastal areas devasted by meterological events is sure to increase markedly. Unfortunately, nothing will be done to jump-start Southern efforts to achieve more sustainable patterns of development. In short, after Copenhagen, the climate change problem will continue to get worse at an even faster clip.

What should have been done and what can still be done to turn this situation around? First, we need to alter the system of global treaty drafting. Each region of the world should bring together governmental and non-governmental interests on a specific multi-year timetable to produce a draft global treaty that takes account of its needs and sort out its responsibilities for achieving proportionate greenhouse gas mitigation efforts sufficient to reach the required 450 ppm goal by 2050. Two or three countries in each region should immediately mobilize such efforts. Using a common template -- developed by the Climate Change Secretariat which still has a 160+-country mandate -- each regional caucus should spell out ten year incremental reduction targets sufficient to meet the 450 ppm goal by 2050, explicit strategies that countries can use to meet these targets if they have to, the cost implications of meeting such targets (netting out the costs of not meeting them as well), ways reasonable data reporting and verification responsibilities might be met, institutional capacity building requirements, financial forecasts likely to have an impact on implementation, and possible financial or in-kind contributions each country needs or could provide). This needs to be done in eight to ten regions of the world. Each regional "caucus" should draft its suggested version of a new global agreement to meet greenhouse gas reduction requirements responsibly and designate five members from its caucus to participate in a global treaty-making council with responsibility for reconciling the differences among the proposed regional drafts. The Global Congress would have to be mediated by an international panel of skilled facilitators acceptable to all the regions. A Congress of 40 - 50 regional representatives would need a year or more to prepare a meaningful treaty the takes account the differences among all the regional drafts. The final version of the treaty would then be sent to each national legislative body to ratify (not at another Copenhagan-style type fracus). When a minimum of 2/3 of the countries in each region ratifies it, and a minimum of 2/3 of the regions ratify it, it would come into force. If 2/3 of the countries in 2/3 of the regions ratified the treaty, those 130 countries would be in a position to take action (under a range of trade and other treaty regimes) to pressure any and all hold out countries to ratify the new Climate Change treaty. If a county won't sign the new treaty, they ought not be eligible to participate in international trade regimes. If they don't sign, they ought not be eligible for assistance from any multinational banks. Since all the same countries are part of all these regimes, the climate change treaty signers would have sufficient numbers (and through the process I am describing) sufficient legitimacy, to make this happen.

Let's get to work.


Lawrence Susskind was born in New York City in 1947. He graduated from Columbia University in 1968 with a B.A. in English Literature and Sociology. He received his Masters of City Planning from MIT in 1970 and his Ph.D. in Urban Planning from MIT in 1973. 

Professor Susskind joined the faculty of the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planningin 1971. He served first as Associate Head and then as Head of that Department from 1974 through 1982. He was appointed full professor in 1986 and Ford Professor of Urban & Environmental Planning in 1995. As head of the Environmental Policy Group in the School of Architecture and Planning at MIT, he currently teaches four courses (Negotiation and Dispute Resolution in the Public Sector (11.255), International Environmental Negotiation (11.364) taught jointly with the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Multi-party Negotiation (11.257) taught jointly with Harvard Law School, and Use of Joint Fact-Finding in Science-Intensive Policy Disputes (11.941)), oversees a research budget of approximately $250,000 annually, and supervises more than a dozen masters and doctoral dissertations a year.

From 1982-1985, Professor Susskind served as the first Executive Director of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School-- an inter-university consortium for the improvement of theory and practice in the field of dispute resolution. He currently holds an appointment at Harvard as Vice-Chair for Instruction, and Director of the Public Disputes Program at Harvard Law School. Professor Susskind is responsible for an extensive series of action-research projects, the training of senior executives, and serves on the Editorial Board of Negotiation Journal and as head of the Clearinghouse at the Program on Negotiation. He has developed more than fifty simulations (distributed by the Clearinghouse at the Program on Negotiation) that are used to teach negotiation, dispute resolution, and consensus building throughout the world. 

Professor Susskind is one of the country's most experienced public and environmental dispute mediators and a leading figure in the dispute resolution field. He has mediated more than fifty complex disputes related to the siting of controversial facilities, the setting of public health and safety standards, the formulation and implementation of development plans and projects, and conflicts among racial and ethnic groups -- serving on occasion as a special court-appointed master.


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