Analyses | 12 November 2009

Comprehending Copenhagen: a guide to the international climate change negotiations

Comprehending Copenhagen by Dr Greg Picker and Fergus Green examines the 2009 climate negotiations in Copenhagen and sets out the key issues they believed would define the negotiations. The authors highlight the conflicting positions taken by developing and developed countries and paint a picture of the complex array of issues that await resolution before a comprehensive climate change mitigation agreement can be reached.

  • Fergus Green
  • Greg Picker

Comprehending Copenhagen by Dr Greg Picker and Fergus Green examines the 2009 climate negotiations in Copenhagen and sets out the key issues they believed would define the negotiations. The authors highlight the conflicting positions taken by developing and developed countries and paint a picture of the complex array of issues that await resolution before a comprehensive climate change mitigation agreement can be reached.

  • Fergus Green
  • Greg Picker
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Key Findings

  • The key dispute to be resolved is over the relative burden of emissions cuts to be shouldered by developing and developed countries.
  • An effective compromise is needed, including financial and technological assistance to developing countries to promote cleaner economic growth.
  • The agenda is defined by a host of complex issues which it will be difficult to resolve at Copenhagen.

Executive Summary

How will the 2009 climate negotiations in Copenhagen impact upon Australia and the world? What are the key fault lines to be explored and debated at the summit? In this Lowy Institute paper Dr Greg Picker and Fergus Green outline the key issues on the agenda at Copenhagen and chart recent developments inside and outside the negotiating room and their implications for Australia. These key issues include goals, commitments and targets, the creation of which is the primary concern of the international climate regime. This paper explores the debate between developed and developing countries over emissions reduction targets and the factors that are hindering these negotiations. Not only do the parties to the negotiations disagree over the appropriate size of emissions reduction commitments, but, according to Picker and Green, there is also widespread disagreement over issues affecting the quality and extent of the of the abatement activity implied in any particular target. The authors also point to disagreement between developed countries over how to share among themselves the burden of reducing developed world emissions and highlight the role of domestic political factors in shaping any country’s negotiating position. Finally, the paper outlines possible outcomes of the negotiations and how they might impact upon Australia and the world.

‘Perhaps the most intractable dispute in the international climate change talks concerns the balance of responsibility between developed and major developing countries for reducing emissions’.