It was naive to expect that a high-profile climate change summit at Copenhagen would have resulted in any quantifiable and binding emission reduction targets for two simple reasons. The costs of reduction are substantial, salient, and immediate, whereas the benefits (while substantial) are intangible, diffuse and long-term. Behavioural psychologists have a classic application of prospect theory - small and intangible benefits Vs moderate and tangible costs. More fundamentally, for the political masters, the costs are suicidal (or atleast result in losing votes) while benefits are not going to win votes.
After nearly two weeks of acrimonious discussions, the representatives of nearly 200 member nations finally cobbled up a non-binding Copenhagen Accord on climate change. The Accord, which does not contain specific emission reduction targets, sets the goal of limiting the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2050.
The Accord does not firmly commit the industrialized nations or the developing nations to firm targets for midterm or long-term greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and only codifies the commitments of individual nations to act on their own to tackle global warming. It provides a system for international monitoring and reporting progress toward those national pollution-reduction goals,and also calls for hundreds of billions of dollars to flow from wealthy nations to those countries most vulnerable to a changing climate.
One thing though is of great relevance. Given the weight pulled by the big emerging economies led by China, India and Brazil, the Copenhagen summit may be a bellwether of the future of multi-lateral negotiations in other areas (trade, capital flows and financial market regulation, arms trade, nuclear proliferation, labor flows etc). This also means India should be willing to assume the greater responsibility of not just blocking (or appearing to) unfavorable multi-lateral agreements on moralistic grounds, but pro-actively craft out negotiating positions (say, draft agreement alternatives) that protect our interests while keeping in mind the larger objective of such agreements.