The Common Good

High Drama and Delicate Negotiations in Copenhagen

Yesterday was a day of high drama where Africa walked out, suspended talks, and then later in the day returned after the Danish facilitators took on some of their concerns. A large crowd of civil society supporters cheered their confrontation with the West, and made it clear they stood in solidarity with Africa.

Behind this high drama, side events in the program continued. I attended a faith-based seminar called "Renew the Face of the Earth" and was overjoyed to see a totally packed hall. The church bells ringing throughout Copenhagen and throughout the world yesterday transmitted the prayers offered in many churches for moral leadership.

Christians and people of other faiths are here in large numbers. And they share a common spiritual value that decries the greed and lack of limits that have despoiled creation. This is not a "back-to-the-Garden-of-Eden" mantra that seeks to undo industrialisation, as people of faith also embrace a future low-carbon, growing economy with new jobs and opportunities.

For those of faith there is a spiritual dimension that recognises that our profligate use of energy and water has not led to greater happiness, and even less, to the Kingdom of God.

Copenhagen is the chance to repent by changing the direction and walking together as a global community in a new way that includes the poor.

But they are not the only ones with energy and hope.

There are 8,000 government delegates, from 194 nations, all of whom have to agree on everything for a successful UN outcome -- thus the extraordinary complexity of these negotiations.

This is matched by the energy of 20,000 representatives from civil society who are watching, protesting, and urging a pro-planet and pro-poor deal.

What if all of this energy of those who want to save the planet -- and those who have the decision-making in their hands -- were harnessed? The miracle that we need channeling this optimism might materialise.

So where do we stand as we begin the final week of this two-year process?

The best estimates are that there are now 15% cumulative reductions of GHG by 2020 from the West on the table. Almost every nation agrees that there need to be cuts of 25% minimum and up to 40% by 2020 to avoid two degrees warming and the disaster that portends. Of course the question is this: How will we know whether countries are seriously cutting their emissions without an agreed international standard? Yet China has not agreed to monitoring, reporting, and verification of their carbon emission cuts that the West sees as non-negotiable for a deal. And today we hit a bump in the road toward an outcome that advances the two parallel tracks -- the Kyoto Protocol (KP) and the new Copenhagen agreement -- as both meetings were suspended.

China understandably wants the Kyoto Protocol extended in order to ratchet up the legal compliance of those western countries that have signed it, and therefore preserves the gains.

The West says what is the point of keeping the KP, as we know the U.S., which did not sign up, will not come into any Copenhagen political deal if China isn't fully part of it.

This gulf, though gaping, can be bridged.

Copenhagen must face this week the question of whether it can be the meeting point of both streams -- resulting in a second commitment period under the KP with its legally binding nature, and a new agreement that includes the U.S. and China.

This should not be beyond the 113 national leaders who arrive at the talks this week. It is a dead end to argue for either KP, or a fresh Copenhagen deal including the U.S. We need both.

The political capital -- will and skills -- to fuse these two is the challenge for a deal that saves the planet and protects the poor.

Tim Costello is the CEO of World Vision Australia.

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