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Copenhagen climate pact –10 Years On & ‘little has really changed’

By Paul Homewood

It’s the tenth anniversary of the Copenhagen Climate Accord, so let’s reflect on how things have progressed since.


First, what the summit was supposedly all about, carbon dioxide emissions:

BP Energy Review

These have increased by 26% in the last ten years, and show no sign of peaking.

Meanwhile, renewable has barely made a dent in primary energy consumption, with its share increasing to only 4% last year. The increase in fossil fuel usage has fourfold that of renewables.

Climate Aid

Although Copenhagen was widely regarded as a failure at the time, one of the big hopes was that it would kickstart a programme of climate aid. According to the BBC:

The deal promises to deliver $30bn (£18.5bn) of aid for developing nations over the next three years. It outlines a goal of providing $100bn a year by 2020 to help poor countries cope with the impacts of climate change.

The accord says the rich countries will jointly mobilise the $100bn, drawing on a variety of sources: “public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance.”

Most of the time since Copenhagen seems to have been spent debating what qualifies as aid. Developed countries want to include pretty much everything in it, even commercial loans which have to be repaid at interest.

Understandably, the poorer countries thought they were being promised new money, over and above existing aid, that did not have to be repaid.

The Paris Agreement, of course, kicked the whole issue down the road, by refusing to set any legally binding targets.

As far as the UK is concerned, climate aid will total £5.8bn for the period 2016/17 to 2020/21. However, as BEIS makes clear, this money comes from within the existing overseas aid budget.

While it is true this budget has increased since 2009, this is because of the decision to link aid to GDP. So this extra money would have been spent on aid regardless. The £5.8bn for climate aid has simply been diverted from other parts of the aid budget, where it may have been more usefully spent.

More significantly, given that ODA will only increase in line with GDP in future, there will be further meaningful increases in climate aid, unless it is taken from other aid schemes.

I have seen little evidence of any significant amounts of new money on a global basis, nor any sign that this will hit $100bn a year by 2020.

Legal Status

One of the big “disappointments” at the time was the lack of anything legally binding within the Copenhagen Accord.

Hopes were expressed that this would quickly be put right, but nothing has really changed since.

Apart from a few administrative matters, the Paris Agreement was specifically non binding. As far as emission reductions go, Paris only obliges developed countries to “pursue domestic mitigation measures” with the aim of achieving promised reductions. There is no penalty for countries who don’t meet targets or “pursue mitigation measures”.

For developing countries, the Paris Agreement is even weaker:

“to move over time towards economy-wide emission reduction or limitation targets in the light of different national circumstances”.

As already noted, Paris does not add to the Copenhagen Accord as far as climate aid is concerned.  It merely rolls the Copenhagen pledge up to 2025, at which stage a new goal will be set.

Again, there is nothing legally binding about the pledged aid, nor any definition of how it should be calculated.


Essentially the political divide remains between developed and developing countries, but particularly between the West and China/India. Little changed in this respect between Copenhagen and Paris.

On the one hand, the US and EU have wanted a legally binding, global climate change agreement with emission reduction commitments from all countries. (Of course, Trump’s election has muddied the water somewhat!)

On the other, China and India are adamant they should retain their “developing country” status, allowing to them to carry on increasing emissions for as long as they want.

Poorer countries meantime are only really interested in the money, which they believe has not been given yet.


In short, in the ten years since Copenhagen, little has really changed:

  • Emissions continue to climb, and look likely to carry on doing so.
  • Transition to a renewable energy world is painfully slow, and not even keeping up with rising energy demand.
  • Promises of $100bn a year in climate aid remain pie in the sky
  • There is no prospect of a treaty which binds all countries to specific emission reductions.
  • Above all, there is absolutely no possibility that global emissions will reduce fast enough and far enough to the levels demanded by climate scientists.

The Copenhagen Accord dashed the hopes of those who believed it would begin the fightback against global warming. Yet we appear to be no further forward now.