The head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat brushed off concerns on Wednesday that nations are dodging a Jan. 31 deadline to "associate" with the Copenhagen Accord and declare their emissions curbs.
"I don't expect that everyone is going to meet the deadline," Yvo de Boer told reporters in his first press conference since the close of the Copenhagen climate summit in December.
The deadline is "soft," he said, adding, "there’s nothing deadly about it. If you fail to meet it, then you can still associate with the accord afterward."
The comments are the strongest indication yet that the UN is attempting to downplay the force of the Copenhagen Accord, the non-binding, barebones deal crafted by the United States and the BASIC nations (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) in the final hours of the two-week talks.
While the accord is not a legal treaty — it was merely 'noted' by the Conference of the Parties — it does contain language that sets target dates for countries that agree to associate with it.
The document explicitly calls for rich nations to quantify their 2020 emissions-reduction targets to the secretariat by the end of January.
De Boer said Wednesday that the deadline is nothing more than "an opportunity" for nations to make progress.
"By the 31st of January, countries have the opportunity to do three things," he said. "They have the opportunity to indicate if they want to be associated with the accord or not. Secondly, they have the opportunity, in the case of industrialized countries, to indicate what targets they intend to take upon themselves. And thirdly, if they are developing nations, they have the opportunity to indicate what action they intend to take to combat climate change."
Countries can agree to one or more of these things by the end of January, "but they can also indicate them later," he said. Even if they do stick to the deadline, "they will not be bound to the action which they submit to the secretariat. It will be an indication of their intent."
So far, just nine out of the 193 UN member nations have agreed to the accord — Australia, France, Canada, Turkey, Singapore, Papua New Guinea, Serbia, Ghana and the Maldives. The BASIC countries will meet on Jan. 24 to discuss their commitments. The White House has remained wishy-washy over whether the U.S. will formally associate.
When asked if the lack of support around the deal will undermine the UN climate process, de Boer said,
"We should be careful not to make the accord more than it is."
De Boer said the agreement was simply a "political letter of intent" — a "tool" that should be used to "reinvigorate the negotiations," which is not to say it is inconsequential, he suggested. The accord aims for a 2 degree Celsius temperature rise limit for the first time and defines short and long-term finance to implement climate change action in poor nations.
But de Boer made it clear, the basis for the next round of negotiations will not be the Copenhagen Accord but the texts that emerged from the twin tracks of the formal UN negotiations — the Kyoto track and the non-Kyoto track for the nations that did not ratify the 1997 protocol, namely the United States.
Legally Binding Deal in Mexico?
The next round of climate talks will take place in Bonn, Germany, at the end of May, with the summit in Mexico in December capping off the year.
De Boer said that whether the outcome of Mexico "or later" is a legally binding treaty "remains to be seen." For that to happen, "many" countries feel more meetings will be needed in 2010.
For now, the legal form of a new global climate regime is up in the air.
Mexico could result in one legally binding treaty for all, as the rich nations want, or it could result in the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol alongside a new mechanism that would cover the United States and the emerging nations, a position being pushed by the G-77 group of developing nations.
It is the same issue countries faced at the start of the Copenhagen process in 2009 and failed to resolve.
The difference, de Boer said, is that "the window of opportunity that we have to come to grips on this issue is closing faster than it was before."