UPDATE: 'Flopenhagen' & the Small Islands

 The small island states that could slowly go underwater from climate change had mixed reactions to the weak international accord that came out of Copenhagen. The US-led political deal hammered out at the end by President Obama and the leaders of China, India, Brazil and South Africa fell far short of what the vulnerable islands and other developing countries had pushed for in terms of setting binding commitments to cutting greenhouse gas emissions and holding down global temperature rises.

 The leader of the world's lowest country, the Indian Ocean islands that comprise the Republic of Maldives, put on a brave face and said he would support the accord as a means to push for more ambitious climate change controls in the year ahead.

But other countries, such as the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, as well as a sprinkling of  Latin American and African countries, indicated they would not support the Copenhagen accord, which sets a goal of keeping global temperature rises to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The developing countries had urged a rise of no more than 1.5 degrees C. to keep seas from covering the low-lying islands or creating dangerous drought and other climate impacts in developing countries.

 Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed, who has fought hard since taking office for strong climate change restrictions, took to the floor of the conference's Bella Center in the early hours of Saturday to announce his decision. He was one of the last heads of state left in Copenhagen.  

I recently wrote about the plight of the Maldives and other island countries who have the most to lose by climate change. In a statement I received yesterday from one of Nasheed's aides, the Maldives President said:

  The world stood at the abyss last night but this morning we took a step back. We did our best to accommodate all parties. We tried to bridge the wide gulf between different countries. In the end we were able to reach a compromise. The Copenhagen Accord is a long way from perfect. But it is a step in the right direction. The science is clear. To save our country from climate change, we need an agreement that limits temperature rises to 1.5 degrees and reduces atmospheric carbon concentrations to 350 parts per million. While this accord does not deliver these targets there is room within the agreement to migrate toward 1.5 degrees and 350 parts per million, pending scientific assessments....I call on people around the world to continue to mobilize and impress upon their leaders the urgency of tackling the climate crisis and ensuring that this accord is significantly strengthened over the coming months and years.

 But Ian Fry, the chief delegate for tiny Tuvulu, vehemently denounced the political deal, as this BBC video shows. "It looks like we are being offered 30 pieces of silver to betray our people and our future," he said. "Our future is not for sale. I regret to inform you that Tuvalu cannot accept this document."

Discord erupted on the conference floor early Saturday as Fry and representatives from other developing countries such as Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba and the Sudan challenged the so-called accord before Nasheed rose to support it. In the end, most countries reluctantly agreed to "take note" or accept the weakened accord.

 So, as the 12-day Copenhagen drama ended Saturday, it was generally seen as even less than met the eye, basically a "Flopenhagen" as several blogs put it. Or as the head of Greenpeace International put it on day one of the conference in remarks to the Danish Prime Minister:  "We want Copenhagen to not be remembered as a 'Flopenhagen', we want a 'Hopenhagen.'" Now, the UN faces a daunting challenge to get climate change moving forward in 2010 toward more specific and binding international commitments, not the weak political promises that  Copenhagen produced. For the small island nations, Copenhagen was a step backward.






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Cristine Russell is a senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School of Government and the president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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