Negotiations at the United Nations (UN) Framework Convention on Climate Change, which ended in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Saturday, produced a nonbinding agreement that could cost the United States and other developed countries $100 billion in coming years but, according to some critics, will do little to affect global climate change.

The Copenhagen Accord — “a statement of intention, not a binding pledge to begin taking action on global warming,” according to the New York Times — calls for emissions to peak as early as possible in an effort to limit the increase in global temperature to two degrees Celsius, with developing countries providing $100 billion to help pay for the mitigation and adaptation actions of developing countries. Delegates rejected binding emissions targets and removed the 2010 deadline for a binding treaty to follow up the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, whose initial phase ends in 2012. The Kyoto treaty set caps of about 5% on industrialized nations’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 1990 levels.

In remarks in Copenhagen President Obama said the accord was “meaningful and unprecedented.”

“For the first time in history all major economies have come together to accept their responsibility to take action to confront the threat of climate change,” Obama said.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the $100 billion that developed countries pledged at Copenhagen is about half of the total amount that developing countries will need to invest in climate control by 2020.

With energy accounting for 84% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the IEA has analyzed what needs to be done to limit the long-term concentration of GHG in the atmosphere to 450 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 equivalent, in line with the two-degree Celsius increase in global temperature (see Daily GPI, Nov. 11). Unless new measures are taken, global energy-related CO2 emissions will reach 40 gigatons by 2030 (from 29 gigatons in 2007) and continue rising thereafter, whereas climate stabilization requires emissions to peak around 2020 and then decline.

“It would be foolish to be anything other than dispirited by the outcome” of the Copenhagen meetings because expectations had been allowed to rise too high, according to the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA). “In fact, from a business perspective, the major impact of the negotiations was always going to be in terms of market sentiment in response to general signals rather than a new set of legal requirements. Sentiment is important, but the hard facts — political and scientific — remain as they were, and while the responses of governments and the UN have once again disappointed, there are some elements in this latest attempt to grapple with the facts which do indicate some steps forward for the market to chew over,” IETA said.

According to IETA, existing and imminent carbon pricing schemes will see no increase in demand as a result of the Copenhagen outcome, and the development of new scaled-up private sector mechanisms made little or no progress at Copenhagen.

“Most developed countries emphasize the importance of markets, but their vision is not compelling enough to overcome the suspicions of the developing world,” said IETA CEO Henry Derwent. “Much work needs to be done to show the benefits that will come from tapping private-sector potential, and to move carbon pricing from a second-order investment issue to the center of the financial stage.”

On the positive side, the developed world “is beginning to put serious money on the table,” advanced developing countries put forward plans for ambitious mitigation efforts, and the world’s biggest polluters are lining up as key parties for future negotiations, IETA said. In addition, heads of state are engaged and negotiating. “This is no longer just an issue for environment ministers, or even environment and industry ministers. It has become recognized as one of the defining issues of our time for world leaders,” IETA said.

Exelon CEO John Rowe said he was pleased that the five major GHG-emitting countries — the United States, China, India, South Africa and Brazil — agreed at Copenhagen to limit their emissions. “We recognize that the Copenhagen Accord is only a first step, but the journey is long and we must begin,” Rowe said.

The accord “was a significant disappointment to environmental activists who aggressively pursued some kind of legally binding agreement this year,” according to Frank Maisano, a senior principal with Bracewell and Giuliani’s government affairs practice and blogger for SNL Energy. Environmentalists “savaged the plan as inadequate,” saying it created more questions than it answered and failed on the most basic levels, Maisano said.

But some environmental groups said they see promise in the Copenhagen Accord. “The deal is incomplete and we’re not done yet, but at long last all of the top polluters of the world, including the United States and China, are putting numbers on the table to cut pollution in a transparent way,” said Larry Schweiger, CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued an endangerment finding formally declaring that CO2 and other GHG emissions pose dangers to the public’s health and welfare, which lays the groundwork for the agency to begin formulating more stringent rules (see Daily GPI, Dec. 8). If Congress doesn’t enact climate change legislation, the EPA under the Supreme Court ruling in 2007 is “more than justified” in moving forward to promulgate rules regulating GHG emissions, according to Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), the chief architect of the Senate’s climate change legislation (see Daily GPI, Dec. 9). When they return in January, top House and Senate Republicans have said they will seek action on “disapproval resolutions” that are aimed at blocking EPA from regulating GHG emissions under the Clean Air Act (see Daily GPI, Dec. 22).

“The [EPA] is going to regulate greenhouse gas emissions whether there’s an international agreement or not,” said FLP Group CEO Lew Hay. “We think legislative action is far superior. So does the administration. The House of Representatives has already acted. Now we need the Senate to act.”

Earlier this month a blueprint for a climate change and energy bill that sponsors hope will gain the 60 votes necessary to pass the Senate in 2010 was released by three lawmakers. The proposal is a broad outline that was sent to President Obama as he departed for the conference in Copenhagen (see Daily GPI, Dec. 14).

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