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What did the Copenhagen climate summit achieve?

21 December 09 12:29

By Tom Brookes and Tim Nuthall
The European Climate Foundation


The great German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said "from chaos comes order".

It is difficult to foresee the order that may result from the chaos of the Copenhagen climate change conference (COP15), but as the dust settles, traces of a path forward are becoming visible.

The outcome - a decision to "take note of" an accord drawn up by a core group of heads of state on Friday evening - is far from the legally binding treaty which some had expected and for which many hoped.

However, this does not change the fact that the Copenhagen conference was a unique moment in history.

What Copenhagen changed:

What it did not change:

The accord does refer to the target of limiting global warming to 2C above pre-industrial temperatures, as well as the need for quantified action by both developed and developing countries - but it's unclear how the target will be achieved.

The deal at COP15, as it stands, leaves the world on a pathway for temperature rises of 3C and above.


It remains to be seen whether committed targets on emissions, which are due to be made at the end of January, will make a difference. There will also be a review of progress in 2015 which may offer the opportunity to adjust any targets in light of the science.

Many hoped the COP15 would lead to legally mandated co-ordinated international action, but it appears that the outcome will be intergovernmental policy co-ordination with a focus on the implementation of national strategies. The move to green growth is no longer in doubt, but the details, actions and time frame remain unclear at best.

Will a new world order result from the chaos? The jury is out.

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