COPENHAGEN:

U.N. chief declares accord 'significant achievement'

UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. secretary-general tried today to put a positive spin on a controversial accord that came out of climate change talks in Copenhagen last week.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon insisted that the Copenhagen Accord fulfills the parameters he had sought, even though the end result fell far short of even the most modest expectations voiced before the meeting.

"This was quite a significant achievement which we were able to make in Copenhagen," Ban told reporters. "We should be more proactive. We should be more forthcoming rather than critical."

Since taking office in January 2007, the U.N. chief has made it his goal to reach a substantive agreement that would lead to continuing global efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The efforts began with the Kyoto Protocol, which is set to terminate its first commitment period at the end of 2012.

In his first climate change conference in 2007, Ban had urged world leaders to draft a new legally binding instrument by the end of this month. The signing of a new, detailed treaty was supposed to occur last week in Denmark.

Ban drastically scaled back those expectations at the second U.N. climate change summit held here this past September. Rather than a legally binding treaty, Ban and his aides shifted to pressing for a "politically binding" treaty that would spell out how a legal instrument would be achieved. Ban also asked that nations commit themselves to finalizing everything by the end of 2010.

The Copenhagen outcome "fulfills in large part the benchmarks for success that I had laid down," said Ban, carefully adding that the terms do not meet "the scientific bottom line."

Instead, last week, national leaders refused to commit to any new deadline whatsoever. It is questionable that the Copenhagen Accord even fulfills the definition of an official U.N. agreement, as nations only opted to "take note" of the accord rather than formally adopt it.

The clean energy and climate industry information firm New Energy Finance graded the Copenhagen agreement a 2 out of a possible 10. The chairman of the negotiating bloc of developing nations told reporters the latest international climate change agreement is "the worst in history."

But Ban said the accord is a significant step forward and that he is still committed to achieving a follow-on to the Kyoto Protocol by the end of 2010.

"During the coming months, I will continue my work with world leaders to increase their level of ambition," Ban said. "I'm sure that in the course of our negotiation ... we will be able to build upon this Copenhagen Accord."

After the chaotic events of last week, climate change activists, carbon market players and even longtime U.N. observers and defenders are beginning to question whether the United Nations is even the proper forum to carry out negations for a new global warming treaty (ClimateWire, Dec. 21).

But top officials continue to insist that the United Nations is capable of hosting the process, even though the world body's requirement that all 193 member states reach consensus on the issue is seen as the most serious stumbling block.

Ban also supports keeping the process within the established U.N. framework, although he seems to acknowledge that serious changes are likely needed for any new treaty to stand a chance at becoming reality.

"We will consider how to streamline the negotiation process," Ban said. "All these lessons will be carefully reviewed today for a better result next year."