A Note on Copenhagen's Successful Failure

There was success -- but maybe not in the way some had expected.

ByABC News
December 31, 2009, 7:39 PM

Dec. 31, 2009 — -- We like simple labels, often for good reason -- they're practical and, properly vetted, can spur proper action.

But putting a simple single label on the momentous Copenhagen climate summit is proving complicated. Was it a success? A failure?

Judging from a range of articles and conversations, it was both -- and also a classic case of apples and oranges ... arriving in separate crates a month apart.

Copenhagen's basic "failure" was announced and reported one month before its Dec. 7 opening. Its successes have been increasingly apparent since the summit closed on Dec. 19.

And unlike a sporting event, it cannot be simply called a win, loss or tie. Not yet, anyway. We'll probably know, say scientists, within a few decades: Either humanity won, meaning it succeeded in preventing global climate catastrophe -- or it didn't.

At the end of the preliminary negotiations in Barcelona, Nov. 2-6, officials told the press that the major parties had agreed they would not, after all, try for "legally binding" global greenhouse emissions targets at the Copenhagen summit a month later.

Rather, we were told, the world's nations would try to achieve some sort of a "political deal" leaving the emissions caps for the next meeting of the COP -- Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change -- six or 12 months later.

Most post-Copenhagen articles and reports that speak of "the failure" are referring to this predetermined failure to achieve final emissions caps, which had been hoped for in the two years of preparatory negotiations leading up to November's Barcelona meeting.

Going into the Copenhagen summit, that "failure" was already "old news."