Education International
Education International

Copenhagen: A small step forward, but much remains to be done

published 21 December 2009 updated 21 December 2009

The controversial Copenhagen Accord, ratified early in the hours of 19 December, is the least that the international community could have agreed in order to recognise and begin to avert the worst expected consequences of global warming.

After two decades of scientific study and two years of negotiations, reaction around the world was critical of the weak nature of the deal approved by most of the 194 countries at the COP 15 Climate Change Summit.

“Given the urgency of the need to act on climate change, teachers and education activists hoped for a stronger, more binding, deal that would actually turn the tide against climate change,” said Fred van Leeuwen, General Secretary of EI. “Unfortunately that was not possible and we have much more work yet to do.”

Acknowledging the widespread disappointement, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon noted that the commitments were backed up by $30 billion of pledges for short-term adaptation and mitigation measures for poorer countries, and further commitments to raise $100 billion annually by 2020.

“The Copenhagen Accord may not be everything that everyone hoped for, but [it] is a beginning, an essential beginning,” Ban said.

Going into the summit, trade unionists and other activists representing all sectors and all continents agreed that the highest priority was to achieve a fair, ambitious and binding commitment on crucial reductions of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2015, one which would contain provisions to ensure a just transition to a sustainable economy based on decent, green jobs.

And indeed, the labour movement did have some success in the negotiations. Sharan Burrows, President of the ITUC, and other union leaders welcomed the support expressed by negotiators for a “just transition” to a low carbon future, based on decent work and good quality job creation.

The accord attempts to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celcius, the level scientists say is essential to avert catastrophic consequences due to extreme weather events from floods to droughts, increased famine and disease, massive forced migration and the consequent civil unrest and social injustice.

A deep rift between the promises made by developed countries, which have emitted 80% of the carbon dioxide now in the atmospthere, and the needs and expectations of developing nations, which will suffer the most severe consequences of global warming, were behind the failure to achieve a legally-binding agreement.

Greenpeace called Copenhagen “an historic failure that will live in infamy.” The chair of the G77 Group of 130 developing countries, said: “[This] is asking Africa to sign a suicide pact … in order to maintain the economic dependence of a few countries.” Friends of the Earth said that the deal “condemns millions of the world's poorest people to hunger, suffering and loss of life.”

EI urged its affiliates to speak out strongly for urgent action at the international level to conclude a firm deal that would prevent climate catastrophe. “Teachers everywhere are urging their governments to take the strongest action possible to preserve planet Earth and to leave a healthy climate for our students and children,” van Leeuwen said.