Copenhagen Climate Conference Collapses

Ronald Bailey's fifth and final dispatch from the Copenhagen climate conference

World leaders are abandoning the Bella Center like rats off a sinking ship after declaring that a deal has been reached at the Copenhagen climate change conference. Two years ago at the Bali climate conference, it was agreed that the signatories to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol would finalize a binding global treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the Copenhagen meeting. That goal was put aside even before the meeting here got started. In turn, the Copenhagen conference was supposed to resolve major issues like the mid-term reduction commitments by developed countries, how to monitor those commitments, and how to fund adaptation and mitigation in poor countries. Now those goals have been put off to the indefinite future.

Although the detailed language is not yet available, the broad outlines are apparently these:

(1)   The agreement sets a target of no more than two degrees Celsius for the increase in global temperatures.

(2)   The agreement sets the goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2050 with the developed countries cutting their emissions by 80 percent.

(3)   Going into the Copenhagen conference, the goal was to adopt a binding treaty by next meeting in Mexico City in 2010. That goal has been dropped and no date set for a future deal.

(4)   With regard to transparency—the big sticking point between China and the U.S.—countries are supposed to provide information tracking their efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but the guidelines for monitoring those activities are to be negotiated later.  

Ignore the spin that the politicians try to put on it: In any meaningful sense, the Copenhagen climate conference collapsed.

Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is available from Prometheus Books. This column first appeared at

Ronald Bailey is Science Correspondent