Copenhagen in a Nutshell

by Daniel Farber

December 23, 2009

 [cross-posted from Legal Planet]

Rob Stavins has a good, concise overview of the session and the outcome on the Belfer Center website.  Not as negative as some other observers, he highlights the extraordinary procecess that resulted in the Copenhagen Accord:

It is virtually unprecedented in international negotiations for heads of government (or heads of state) to be directly engaged in, let alone lead, negotiations, but that is what transpired in Copenhagen. Although the outcome is less than many people had hoped for, and is less than some people may have expected when the Copenhagen conference commenced, it is surely better – much better – than what most people anticipated just three days earlier, when the talks were hopelessly deadlocked.

Overall, he sees Copenhagen as a constructive move forward:

The climate change policy process is best viewed as a marathon, not a sprint. The Copenhagen Accord – depending upon details yet to be worked out – could well turn out to be a sound foundation for a Portfolio of Domestic Commitments, which could be an effective bridge to a longer-term arrangement among the countries of the world. We may look back upon Copenhagen as an important moment – both because global leaders took the reins of the procedures and brought the negotiations to a fruitful conclusion, and because the foundation was laid for a broad-based coalition of the willing to address effectively the threat of global climate change. Only time will tell.

I am no expert on foreign affairs, but it seems unlikely to me that continuing with the U.N. negotiating process is going to be fruitful.  It worked (up to a point) at Kyoto, because nothing was asked of the developing countries.  Even than, the agreement wasn’t able to obtain U.S. agreement.  If you think of the key players as Japan, the EU, the US, and the four BRIC countries; Kyoto was only able to get three of the seven to commit to any action.

My guess is that the last-minute negotiations at Copenhagen were a harbinger of the future, which will be driven by agreement between the key players — the Great Powers of the coming era.


P.S.  Another interesting perspective on Copenhagen can be found here.


Copenhagen was what it had to be, what it could only be. A gathering of emissaries from the 64 corners of the earth. a Chinese diplomat said, “You're having dinner, you've invited us to dessert, and you expect us to pay the entire bill." As I've said elsewhere, this metaphor is not apt. It's more realistic to say "We're in in an opium den. We're stoned out of our minds. We're one toke from a fatal overdose. And China is banging on the door trying to get in while there's some dope left to smoke - and they want to mainline it into the carotid artery."
— Larry Furman
We ask for your email address so that we may follow up with you, ask you to clarify your comment in some way, or perhaps alert you to someone else's response. Only the name you supply and your comment will be displayed on the site to the public. Our blog is a forum for the exchange of ideas, and we hope to foster intelligent, interesting and respectful discussion. We do not apply an ideological screen, however, we reserve the right to remove blog posts we deem inappropriate for any reason, but particularly for language that we deem to be in the nature of a personal attack or otherwise offensive. If we remove a comment you've posted, and you want to know why, ask us ( and we will tell you. If you see a post you regard as offensive, please let us know.

Also from Daniel Farber

Daniel A. Farber is the Sho Sato Professor of Law and Director of the California Center for Environmental Law and Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.

'National Security' Coal Bailout Collapses

Farber | Oct 17, 2018 | Energy

Progressive Regulatory Reform

Farber | Oct 08, 2018 | Regulatory Policy

The Case for Co-Benefits

Farber | Sep 27, 2018 | Regulatory Policy

The Jobs and Regulation Issue Revisited

Farber | Sep 25, 2018 | Regulatory Policy

From Surviving to Thriving -- FEMA and Disaster Resilience

Farber | Sep 10, 2018 | Climate Change

The Center for Progressive Reform

455 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #150-513
Washington, DC 20001

© Center for Progressive Reform, 2015