Certainly the Copenhagen Climate Change conference failed to deliver a global agreement on how the world could reduce emissions beyond 2012; progress was painfully slow and convoluted. The conference appeared to be hijacked by process and points of order. If not for the commitment and intervention from world leaders we might still be faced with various editions of pages of bracketed (i.e. disputed) text, rather than the coherent political statement that is now the Copenhagen Accord.

Many are questioning the effective implementation of the actual process and its ability to reach a crucial agreement.

Did the conference set the bar too high? Were the goals, timetable and procedures set out in Bali in 2007 too optimistic or even unrealistic given the reality of the politics of national governments? Has the sheer weight and complexity of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process itself become a barrier to the agreement?

Comparisons are being made with the Doha Trade talks. Almost ten years of these talks have failed to reach a global free trade agreement: how can climate change be solved using a similar process? These questions certainly need addressing but whether they will be addressed remains to be seen.

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In the meantime, the process of reaching a legally binding agreement that will map out how the world will achieve peak global emissions by 2020, will continue throughout 2010.

The Copenhagen Accord

The creation of The Copenhagen Accord at the conference did not create legal obligations for participating countries (like the Kyoto Protocol) but it does contain a number of important elements.

Speaking about the Copenhagen outcome, United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon said “We have sealed the deal. This Accord cannot be everything that everyone hoped for, but it is an essential beginning.”

For the first time, and with strong leadership from developed countries including the USA, The Copenhagen Accord has stated that global average temperature increase must be kept at two degrees. This will be reviewed in 2015 to address the very deep concern held by many countries that a two-degree temperature increase will commit them to devastation.

The Accord has invited countries to pledge the targets to which each was prepared to make a commitment. The UNFCCC has now received submissions outlining intentions to cut and limit greenhouse gases by 2020 from 55 countries that together account for 78 per cent of global emissions from energy use.

Developing countries have indicated their own Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions and developed countries have agreed to provide $100 billion per year by 2020; a significant portion of which will flow to the Copenhagen Climate Fund to assist developing countries with mitigation and adaptation, technology development and transfer and capacity building.

A technology mechanism has also been established to accelerate the development and transfer of technology.

Getting down to business

Away from the exhausting process of international climate negotiations and the theatrics of environmental campaigners, Y business groups – including the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders’ Group on Climate Change – held forums in parallel to the Copenhagen Climate Change conference.

These forums eagerly worked toward and hoped for an agreement that would establish a clear legal framework and, in turn, create incentives for green investment. Market-based mechanisms that price carbon were identified as key planks of the framework.

Notably more progressive than at the Bali 2007 Climate Conference, business participants in these forums acknowledged that regulation creates markets for low emission technology, products, and services. They admitted that while they may take an inherently conservative approach to regulation, regarding it as burdensome and unnecessary, they very clearly stated that the absence of regulation is in fact causing significant uncertainty.

Business was also surprisingly candid in acknowledging the high level of distrust harboured against the sector by environmental campaigners; and how this hindered progress in the development of market-based measures to underpin solutions to climate change.

Yvo de Boer, Secretary General of the UNFCCC challenged business to be much more articulate about exactly what can be done to achieve emissions reduction and improve living standards. He called on businesses to sell their message to the bureaucrats who are responsible for negotiating the global agreement, and are predominantly inclined toward being sympathetic to the environmental arguments.

“We now have a package to work with and begin immediate action. However, we need to be clear that it is a letter of intent and is not precise about what needs to be done in legal terms. So the challenge is now to turn what we have agreed politically in Copenhagen into something real, measurable and verifiable,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said.

While they may be thought of as pariahs in the climate change fraternity, a joint presentation from leading representatives of the World Steel Association, International Aluminium Institute and Cement Sustainability Initiative revealed how these three industries that produce the core products vital for infrastructure development, are recognising their very important role in addressing climate change – driven as much by consumer demand as regulation.

Waking up to new opportunities

Business is also waking up to the fact that developing countries offer considerable opportunities for market growth provided the right regulatory frameworks and financial assistance packages can be implemented. Business will make up 90 per cent of the growth in global energy demand, and are already presenting exciting opportunities for clean energy and energy efficiency.

Specifically, pitt&sherry’s view is that climate change and sustainability initiatives within the commercial world are here to stay and perceptions of an unsuccessful Copenhagen conference will not, and should not, detract from this.

Climate change regulation will help to advance progressive companies who are implementing green strategies; as will other initiatives from the conference.

Dominique La Fontaine is Principal Consultant – Climate Change Strategy with pitt&sherry. She was the inaugural CEO of the Clean Energy Council, and also played a key role in the establishment of the Global Wind Energy Council as a member of the Executive. She has participated in the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate and represented the clean energy industry at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bali. Ms La Fontaine was also a founding member of the International Business Council for Sustainable Energy.