Copenhagen Accord recycles old climate commitments, leaving the world heading for catastrophic climate change

Press release - January 31, 2010
With the passing of the Copenhagen Accord's 31 January deadline for its supporters to submit their pledges to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the absence of strengthened commitments has failed to meet the Accord's stated objective of taking action to limit global warming to under 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F), a critical threshold for avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

The 31 January deadline was the most immediate 'action point' in the non-binding Accord drawn up during last December's UN Copenhagen climate summit. It proved to have no impact on influencing major emitting nations to improve upon emission reduction commitments they had already made prior to the summit. Together these commitments would mean an average global temperature increase of more than 3 degrees C (5.4 degree F), compared to pre-industrial times, setting the world on a path towards catastrophic climate change.(2)

As summarised in a new Greenpeace briefing that examines the implications of current emissions pledges, warming of even half this level would have devastating social, environmental and economic impacts.(3)

"Supporters of the Accord have failed to make emissions pledges which are strong enough to avert dangerous climate change," said Bernhard Obermayr, of Greenpeace. "The Accord's 31 January deadline was no more than a cynical PR exercise allowing governments to recycle existing pledges and dress them up as effective action. It is the start of the Copenhagen 'greenwash'. The Accord is no substitute for the fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty demanded by millions of people who are concerned about climate change or are being affected by its impacts."

Existing industrialised country targets amount to only an 11-19% reduction in their emissions. The effect of proposed forestry credits mean effective cuts in emissions from fossil fuel use would be lower still.

To stay well below the critical warming threshold of 2 degrees C beyond which there may be irreversible large-scale impacts on the environment requires far greater commitment by all countries. 

Industrialised nations must cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels and developing countries need to reduce their projected growth in emissions by 15-30%, both by 2020. The industrialised world also needs to provide developing countries with new and additional funding of at least USD 140 billion annually to support clean energy and other mitigation activities, forest protection and adaptation. All of which must be enshrined in a legally binding agreement.

In stark contrast to the lack of tough new emissions reduction pledges by the rich industrialised world, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, one of the lowest-lying Pacific island nations, says it will cut its own emissions by 40% by 2020 - precisely the action required from industrialised countries. The Marshall Islands lies only 2 metres above sea level and is in danger of being wiped off the map. The industrialised world has been shamed for its inaction by one of the most vulnerable nations on the planet.

The Copenhagen Accord is no more than a weak political declaration. Having not delivered on its 31 January deadline for effective emissions pledges, this raises the question as to whether its other ambitions, such as realising fast-track funding by 2012 and multibillion dollar long-term support for developing and vulnerable nations, will suffer the same fate.

"Today is the day for an obituary about the Copenhagen Accord's objective of protecting the climate," said Bernhard Obermayr. "Greenpeace remains insistent that a fair, ambitious and legally binding deal can be concluded later this year, in Mexico. But we are dismayed that the UN's top climate official and the Danish environment minister, acting as president of the UN process, are so early in the year downplaying the chances. This risks being a self-fulfilling prophecy. We urge the UN to redouble its efforts to conclude the treaty the world so desperately needs. We call on the government of Mexico to continue playing an increasingly prominent and positive role to ensure this is achieved."

Other contacts: Bernhard Obermayr, GreenpeaceHead of the Climate and Energy Campaign, Greenpeace Central and Eastern EuropeTel: +43 664 490 4986E-mail:
Greenpeace International Press DeskTel: +31 20 718 2470E-mail:

Notes: (1) Copenhagen Accord, FCCC/CP/2009/L.7, 18 December 2009. http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2009/cop15/eng/l07.pdf(2) Preliminary Assessment of pledges made by Annex 1 Parties and voluntary actions and policy goals announced by a number of Non-Annex 1 Parties. 15 December 2009. (Note: the final two pages of this document are tables of governments' pre-Copenhagen emissions commitments). http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/unfccc-secretariat-pledges-ass(3) The Third Degree, briefing document, Greenpeace International, 1 February 2010. http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/the-third-degree

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