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Copenhagen Notes: The glass half full view

December 29th, 2009

Tuesday, Dec. 29

Could Copenhagen be considered a win?

Watching the progress in fight against climate change is like watching a glass being slowly filled. Is it half full or half empty? It depends on your perception.

This past month brought the biggest gathering of nations and leaders (193 nations) ever together in Copenhagen to discuss climate change, an awesome accomplishment in itself. They reached some agreements, though not a legally binding treaty as some had hoped. Was Copenhagen a victory or a failure? The answer to that rests entirely on your expectations for it. On the one hand, Copenhagen looped in nations that had not previously signed up for emissions reductions in the Kyoto Protocol (the U.S.) and persuaded others of the need for transparency (China). Some emerging industrial nations (India) took a seat at the table as did others that are fast industrializing and hold the key to critical natural habitat like rainforests (Brazil).

The bottomline, according to the progressive Washington think tank, the Center for American Progress, was that Copenhagen brought “numerous notable achievements.”

I have had the similar thoughts. There were many underlying victories; advances that can be built upon as these climate talks continue in smaller forums around the world. Is this naive thinking? No more so than those who would trash the summit as an abject failure because it didn’t score all the points possible.

The Center’s article, Lessons Learned from Copenhagen, points out that 188 nations signed off on the Copenhagen Accord. Not bad. And now those nations can make public their carbon emissions reduction goals. Under the agreement, nations have until the end of January 2010 to add their emissions reductions targets to the document.

So even if the agreement isn’t a binding treaty, it will likely get many nations to declare their intentions.

True, a psychologically binding agreement is not as firm as a legally binding one, but as President Obama pointed out in his departing news conference at Copenhagen, many countries (think: Canada) didn’t adhere to their legally binding commitments made under the Kyoto Protocol anyway.

The Copenhagen Accord also constitutes the first time the global effort to reduce carbon emissions has included both high emitting industrial nations and developing countries in setting goals for greenhouse gas emissions. The 1990s Kyoto Protocol asked for targets from industrial nations only.

As for the criticism, which has been vocal and wide-ranging, that the emissions targets discussed at Copenhagen fall far short of what is needed to avert climate disaster. Well, yes they do. Climate scientists say we need to reach greenhouse gas reductions in the range of 80 percent to 100 percent over 1990 levels by 2050. (If that’s hard to follow, think of it this way, we need to aim for no new additional carbon emissions, with steadily decreasing numbers starting now, through the next 40 years, to reach this goal. Why? If we don’t, and the Earth’s average temperatures reach above 2 degrees Celsius, we will face climate-induced disasters never before seen during the civilized history of humankind.)

But looking ahead, the authors of Lessons Learned, note that these can be tightened to aim for a more strigent guideline than the 2 degrees of increase that climatologists say the world must not pass.

“The accord stipulates that countries should consider further strengthening this goal [of holding to a 2 degree increase] by limiting temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Further specific targets are not iterated in the accord and need to be added as soon as possible, but most parties are committed to strengthening it and taking the next step to turn it into a binding agreement by the 2010 U.N. climate summit in Mexico City.”

The article also points out that billions were committed to climate mitigation by developed nations for developing ones, including $15 billion from Japan and $10 billion from the E.U., a move without precedent.

This could be pouring a lot of hope into what some see as a shaky framework.  But hope may prove a better glue than cynicism.

And hope is not unjustified.

According to the Center: “Preliminary results” from an analysis of what the  17 major carbon polluters have proposed as carbon emissions reductions “will yield 65 percent of reductions needed by 2020 if all parties succeed in doing what they have promised to do as of today.

Now, many eyes will turn toward another glass that seems to waver between full and empty when it comes to climate change, the U.S. Congress.

After the House’s victory in passing the Waxman-Markey bill months ago, observers have been left to witness near gridlock on the issue in the Senate, where a strong climate bill struggles for survival.

Chief author of the bill, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, calls it a pollution-reduction bill in an effort to show that all this dense talk boils down to cleaning the air for our health and survival, but that hasn’t seemed to bring a paradigm shift.

While both houses have conservatives opposed to climate action (ironically named because in this case they’re against  “conserving” our natural environment), the Senate’s opponents include those who don’t even believe that climate change is a threat.

As climate activists, especially those for whom Copenhagen was a big bust, reconnoiter, they might want to consider how much change Congress could bring, if it were to pass a strong climate bill.

  • Lessons Learned from Copenhagen was authored by Rebecca Lefton is a Researcher for Progressive Media, Andrew Light is a Senior Fellow, and Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and Director Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress.
  • For another take on the positive accomplishments of the Copenhagen conference, see the blog Bad Cop! Good Cop! by Peter Miller, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Saturday, Dec. 26

If you’re interested in the takeaway from Copenhagen, watch this short post-script by youth climate activists from around the world.  The video, produced by the Australian Youth Climate Coalition is not radical; just drives home a point.

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Saturday, Dec. 19

Signed agreement in hand, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called it “an essential beginning.”

Industrialized nations have until the end of January 2010 to add their target greenhouse gas emissions. More here.

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Friday, Dec. 18

We’ve come a long way, but we have much further to go

It was finally Barak Obama’s day at the Copenhagen climate talks, something that had been so intensely anticipated, it was bound to be anti-climatic.

His short morning speech to the U.N. assembly was derided by some environmental activists as “empty rhetoric” but hit certain key diplomatic notes, referring to the need for the world to collectively fight the threat of uncontrolled climate change, and urging the process forward.

Obama also warned that compromises were needed, saying, “No country will get everything it wants.”

Then onlookers stepped back, and waited, as Obama and the heads of states met behind closed doors. There remained some slender hope that world leaders would step forth with a legally-binding agreement, or perhaps a strong, but non-binding agreement.

At the end of the day, there was an agreement. Still being signed, and reviewed, it sets as a worldwide goal of trying to keep climate change to no more than 2 degrees (Celsius) of increase. That is one threshold that scientists say the world cannot cross without calamitous and irreversible damage to the environment.

The accord represents consensus on key areas that have been under discussion at Copenhagen — transparency (read: verification), climate mitigation, and finance (for developing nations), the president said.

But the details of this accord are squishy, and it remains unclear how many countries will be signing on. It is not legally binding. And it remains unclear how seriously it will be treated. Under the agreement, each country will set forth publicly what it plans to do to reduce its carbon footprint, including listing its carbon emissions reductions targets in an appendix.

Obama acknowledged that is not all that “the science demands,” as he met with the media before departing from Copenhagen this Friday evening.

“We’ve come a long way, but we have much further to go,” he told reporters. The accord is not the end, he said, “but the beginning of a new era of international cooperation.”

In the news conference, the U.S. president revealed some of the delicate matters and sticking points that made reaching a legally binding agreement difficult.

He cited tensions between developing and industrialized nations, and the need to treat emerging nations differently. Several times, he referred to the need for diplomacy and compromise — and alluded to the fact that those wanting a firm treaty will not be happy.

“As people step back, I guarantee you there will be a lot of people who say you have to do x,y,z….but we don’t have an international government,” he said.

He also noted that even though the Kyoto Protocol, signed in 1997, was legally binding, several nations failed to meet their commitments outlined within it.

The U.S. promised only what it was sure it could deliver on, Obama said, adding that new technologies will certainly improve the picture.

All the negotiating nations should continue to aim for more, including a legally binding accord, he said.

But this agreement, he noted, represented progress, and one step forward was better than the two steps back the nations could have would up with, if they’d dug in on their opposing positions.

Sounding weary, Obama said he’s been learning that negotiating can be hard, but he felt that the Copenhagen accord, despite its weaknesses, had pushed the process forward.

“Hard stuff requires not paralysis but going ahead and making the best of the situation you’re in at this point.”

Obama met with developed or leading nations throughout the day, and with the Ethiopian president, who represented African nations. He also huddled with the leaders of emerging nations China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

Obama said this last group – who have quickly risen to be among the leading polluting nations — must be respected for having come farther down the path toward carbon reductions than ever before, noting that India, still grappling with widespread poverty, had promised significant carbon emissions reductions. “We know going forward those countries have to make some changes, not at the same pace. But they have to do something to assure that whatever we’re (industrialized nations) taking out of the environment isn’t just dumped back in.”

Addressing a question about emissions targets — a topic on which the U.S. has faced searing criticism from those who believe its pledge of a 17 percent reduction by 2020 against 2005 levels is far too little – Obama acknowledged that the emissions targets put on the table by various nations “will not be sufficient in themselves to get where we need to by 2050.”

Compared with 1990, the U.S. pledge represents only a 3 percent reduction in greenhouse gas levels.

By 2050, most scientists say that civilization must cut its  carbon emissions by at least 80 percent compared with 1990 levels, to keep the climate stable worldwide.

(Hear Obama’s remarks at the end of the day here:  http://the-uptake.groups.theuptake.org/en/videogalleryView/id/2699/  )

Obama: Imperfect climate deal better than none

Thursday, Dec. 17

Hillary breaks through the chatter

Amid the cacophony in Copenhagen, a bright spot.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to a packed press conference, pledging that the U.S. would help raise $100 billion a year by 2020 in aid to developing nations to mitigate climate change effects.

U.S. Secretary of State  Hillary Clinton

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Her words, despite the surrounding maelstrom of discontented protesters, developing nations worried about being marginalized and others who’ve declared the talks either stalled or in chaos, could help bring clarity as the historic summit lurches toward a close on Friday.

The pledge, which Clinton said would come from a mix of public and private money, including funds raised on the carbon market, speaks to both those negotiating on behalf of the other leading nations who want to see the U.S. put real money on the table , and to those in developing nations, many of whom doubt that the rich nations have the political will to put up a strong and well-funded fight against climate change.

The Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said the negotiating nations must now work as hard as they can to make final compromises.

NGOs and climate activists, some of whom have been concerned that poor, developing nations have been marginalized at the talks, expressed hope as well.

“We are heartened by Secretary Clinton’s commitment to significant financial resources of $100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to help developing countries weather the negative impacts of climate change,” said David Waskow, a spokesperson for Oxfam International, which represents a collaboration of humanitarian groups.

“It is absolutely crucial that this funding come from public sources in developed countries and be additional to current development assistance commitments. Private financing is no substitute for public investment in the [aiding the] resilience of the poorest and most vulnerable communities.”

“If such public financing is put on the table, it could truly move us closer to a global deal on climate change.”

Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Clinton’s remarks had “reenergized the talks here. What’s needed now is a meaningful agreement that delivers effective action on climate change. That means commitments to cut carbon emissions in a clear and transparent way.”

Other climate action groups were not as hopeful. Friends of the Earth and others wanted to know how much of the stated $100 billion would come from public money, which some groups believe should be the main source of aid. The Center for Biodiversity noted that Clinton’s pledge is helpful, but the U.S. must reduce carbon emissions significantly as well.

“The U.S. may finally have pledged to help pay for more lifeboats, but without committing to meaningful emissions reductions, President Obama is still steering the Titanic directly toward the iceberg,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Beyond Clinton’s pledge, there are other hopeful signs that the Copenhagen summit may not crumble before the approaching finish line:

  • The talks continue on two tracks, one aimed at a new global pact on emissions reductions and climate financing crafted at Copenhagen, and the other pursuing ways to strengthen the existing Kyoto Protocol, which the developing nations (G-77) had worried would be abandoned.
  • China has “not given up” hope for a deal, says its chief climate negotiator Yu Qingtai. Clinton though, told reporters that China would have to agree to “transparency” or outside verification as it pursues carbon emissions reductions.

“It would be hard to imagine, speaking for the United States, that there could be the level of financial commitment that I have just announced in the absence of transparency from the second biggest emitter — and now I guess the first biggest emitter, and now nearly, if not already, the second biggest economy,” Clinton said. “… So, if there is not even a commitment to pursue transparency, that’s kind of a dealbreaker for us.”

China is, indeed, now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas pollution, accounting for about 30 percent of global emissions.

Wednesday, Dec. 16

The talks are now considered to be in the final, high-level portion of the meetings, which the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon formally launched on Tuesday evening, urging the leaders and negotiators to “not falter in the home stretch.”

John Kerry (Photo: Kerry office file photo.)

John Kerry (Photo: Kerry office file photo.)

As those high level officials arrived on Wednesday,  it was U.S. Sen. John Kerry’s turn at the podium. As primary author of the climate bill pending in the Senate — the climate bill that Obama says ties his hands because it hasn’t been passed — Kerry is in a position to move the agenda forward.

Here’s a snippet of what the Massachusetts said, plucked from the middle where he addresses those who are holding back climate legislation (the so-called climate deniers):

“There isn’t a nation on the planet where the evidence of the impacts of climate change isn’t mounting. Frankly, those who look for any excuse to continue challenging the science have a fundamental responsibility which they have never fulfilled: Prove us wrong or stand down. Prove that the pollution we put in the atmosphere is not having the harmful effect we know it is. Tell us where the gases go and what they do. Pony up one single, cogent, legitimate, scholarly analysis. Prove that the ocean isn’t actually rising; prove that the ice caps aren’t melting, that deserts aren’t expanding. And prove that human beings have nothing to do with any of it. And by the way — good luck!

Ladies and Gentlemen: Here in Copenhagen, now and forever, amateur hour is over. It’s time for science fact to trump science fiction….

You can read the full speech on Kerry’s website.

After his address, Kerry stopped to shake hands with climate activists staging a sit-in at the Bella Centre. The sit-in began on Wednesday, and grew to about 30 youth activists from around the world. As they hunkered down near the entrance to the convention hall, they read the names of people who’ve signed a petition asking for a strong treaty at Copenhagen.

To see a running time line of this peaceful demonstration, which has been continuing to draw more attention (with some of the youth swearing to remain seated until an ambitious, fair and binding treaty is signed) see the blog, It’s Getting Hot in Here.

Outside, protesters marched and some clashed with police over barrier lines.

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Yesterday, Al Gore and Arnold Schwarzenegger addressed the conference.

Nobel Laureate Gore urged leaders to consider the sweep of history and future generations.

California Gov. Schwarzenegger, also an ardent environmentalist, offered a message of hope that states and cities would champion carbon emissions reductions, whether or not officials sign an agreement in Copenhagen. He pointed out that the United Nations, host of the talks, has said that 80 percent of greenhouse gas mitigation will occur at the “sub national” level.

Cities are pursuing their own emissions cuts and businesses are developing cutting edge technologies to become greener, he said, lauding the power of cities and states and capitalist businesses to make changes.

Arnie got a bit windy at times, but also painted an uplifting vision at a time when the Copenhagen talks are roiling with suspicions, accusations and grumbling that the outcome will fall far short of hopes. (What you expected the world to get together and agree on everything?)

This clip doesn’t include Schwarzenegger’s conclusion, where he invited the cities of the world to hold a comparable climate summit, in California of course.

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Tuesday, Dec. 15

NRDC’s take: Be positive

As Obama prepares for his appearance at the Copenhagen climate talks later this week, the Natural Resources Defense Council praised the U.S. president for several completed passes in support of environmental causes.

A Tuesday news release  cited the Administration’s: Efforts to secure a global treaty to cut mercury pollution; creation of an Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force; new standards for toxic mercury and soot emissions from coal- and oil-burning plants; review of the herbicide atrazine, which is polluting water supplies in the Midwest; suspension of  mountaintop removal coal mining operations pending review and the cancellation of the sale of 77 oil and gas leases in Utah’s Red Rock Canyon.

“This is an extraordinary record of achievement,” said Frances Beinecke, president of NRDC, who is in Copenhagen with the NRDC’s delegation. “In its first 11 months, this administration has moved swiftly and effectively to protect our environment and safeguard the health of our citizens.”

The NRDC release lauded Obama for putting clean energy and climate protection “at the top of an assertive agenda”, for sending several high level officials to Copenhagen and for the EPA’s declaration last week that carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases are a public health threat.

It seemed designed to remind those who are worried that the Copenhagen talks will have to punt on a legally binding agreement (allowing global greenhouse gases to spiral out of control) that Obama has been environmentally pro-active.

NRDC pep talk aside, nine days into the conference, the outcome appears as hazy as the Scandinavian fog. It rests (as it always did, but more visibly now) on what “rich nations” can commit to. Will they sufficiently finance smaller nations? Will they stand up to industry by committing to big carbon rollbacks?

The NRDC release points with good cheer to Obama’s pledged goal of cutting U.S. carbon emissions by about 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.

But that is in the eye of the beholder.

Many environmental groups maintain that the U.S. target is far too low. It translates to a target reduction of only about 4 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels, which they say won’t avert the climate tipping points scientists warn will lead to uncontrollable climate change. (Lest you haven’t been reading much about this, those are the points after which our human efforts to curb carbon emissions, even to zero, would fail to reel back precipitous climate calamities, like the loss of arctic ice, flooding of major cities, droughts and reduction in agricultural lands.)

They worry that the Obama Administration will run for cover, claiming that they need to wait for the U.S. Senate to pass a strong climate bill, something that looks about as likely as the U.S. Senate passing strong health care reforms. More likely: The U.S. Senate will break for the Christmas holiday.

And so the glass looks darker from this perspective.

Over the weekend, demonstrators in Copenhagen pushed for more ambitious goals, saying that climate science demands emissions cuts of around 40 percent, compared with 1990 U.S. emissions. (My personal favorite protest sign: Planet Not Profit. Because ultimately, the way we do business needs to change, to favor non-polluting enterprises, if we want to remain on a healthy planet.)

The humanitarian group Oxfam International wants “rich country emissions reductions” of 40 percent, without the “loopholes and hot air” that have riddled some early proposals.

“Like cowboy builders trying to construct a house before fixing the foundations, negotiators have spent two years attempting to piece together a deal without any political agreement on the big issues,’’ said Jeremy Hobbs, executive director for Oxfam International in a Tuesday release.

“Heads of State now need to make the decisions they have shied away from for over two years.  They must deliver a deal which guarantees sharp emissions reductions and at least $200bn [billion] in new money to help poor countries tackle climate change.”

The world waits.

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Monday, Dec. 14

Where’s the money? Where’s the leadership from leading nations?

That’s what negotiators were asking by the end of the day Monday.

Developing nations want to keep Kyoto Protocol

The Copenhagen talks were suspended this morning, prompted by developing nations protesting the potential dropping of Kyoto Protocol, which could be used to strengthen emissions limits for countries around the world. But negotiations resumed after UN officials promised that Kyoto would remain on the table as the complex talks continue.

Here, Ben Margolis, global campaign manager for TckTckTck, the umbrella activist organization that represents millions of groups and individuals wanting strong action on climate change, explains why tensions rose and how they can be resolved. He spoke with  Tod Brilliant, communications and strategy director for the Post Carbon Institute, an NGO based in San Francisco.

Interests of rich vs. poor nations shaping debate

The Copenhagen climate talks began with an uneasy feeling for many poor nations. Countries like the Maldives and Tuvalu, resting barely above sea level; Kenya, dealing under drought; Nepal, coping with melting glaciers, face perilous futures under climate change. Indeed, they suffer today.

These nations, and others, came to the table in Denmark wanting help from the developed world, because the developed world is largely responsible for the carbon emissions causing climate change. The U.S. and China together account for more than half of global greenhouse gases.

But the U.S. never signed onto any legally binding emissions via the 1997 Kyoto Treaty, and China, now building coal plants faster than one a week, has promised emissions cuts without verification.

No wonder the developing nations are frustrated, and suspect developed nations will try to duck  financial agreements.

Today, representatives of the G-77 developing nations walked out of talks. They fear that the Kyoto Protocol, which holds many nations to lower carbon emissions, will be abandoned in favor of a new Copenhagen treaty that is a political accord, but not legally binding. The Kyoto is a bird in the hand, and provides a real framework for reducing atmospheric carbon, whereas a weak Copenhagen agreement would be tantamount to nothing in hand.

These small nations argue that negotiations along both tracks — updating Kyoto and aiming for a new, binding Copenhagen accord — should continue. Some are more committed to Kyoto, which spells out how countries should reduce emissions.

“Africa has pulled the emergency cord to avoid a train crash at the end of the week. Poor countries want to see an outcome which guarantees sharp emissions reductions yet rich countries are trying to delay discussions on the only mechanism we have to deliver this – the Kyoto Protocol,” said Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of Oxfam International in a statement issued Monday.

“This not about blocking the talks – it is about whether rich countries are ready to guarantee action on climate change and the survival or people in Africa and across the world,” Hobbs said.

Hear more from African environmentalist Nnimmo Bassey, recorded by Friends of the Earth:

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Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 12-13

Copenhagen march (Photo: Robert vanWaarden.)

Copenhagen march (Photo: Robert vanWaarden.)

As the official negotiations took a breather between week one and week two, activists took to the streets to show their support for a “Real Deal” on climate change.

That’s been the rallying crying of climate groups that want developed nations to get serious about cutting back heat-trapping greenhouse gases and also to help developing nations deal with the effects of climate change by committing financing. Island nations, and those in drought-stricken sections of Africa, have been appealing to conference leaders throughout the week, saying they already suffer a loss of sustenance and lands triggered by global warming.

The mostly peaceful demonstration in Copenhagen brought an estimated 50,000 or so protesters to a mostly peaceful march to the Bella Centre. A few hundred protesters were reportedly detained in assorted clashes with police at or near the event, with some eyewitnesses charging that Danish police handled many detained protesters roughly, cuffing them and forcing them to sit on the curb for hours in the cold.

Police said only five protesters were arrested, however. according to CNN.

The main body of marchers proceeded to the Bella Centre without major incident, their signs telling their mixed story or frustration and hope: Planet Not Profit; Bla Bla Bla Act Now!; Hopenhagen.

Activists are worried that the official negotiations will conclude next week with only the framework of a deal in place, or a loose  “political agreement” that falls far short of a signed, binding treaty.

On Friday and Saturday evenings, groups around the globe held candlelight vigils to draw attention to the issue of climate change. See a slide show of actions around the world at TckTckTck.

Friday, Dec. 11

EU leaders say they have agreed to commit the equivalent of $3.6 billion a year until 2012 to help poorer countries combat global warming. EU leaders also agreed to reduce their emissions by 30 percent of 1990 levels, up the ante for other countries such as the United States, which has proposed a much smaller reduction of 17 percent against 2005 emissions.

All 27 member states of the EU pledged money. The funds will help poorer nations deal with the effects of rising sea levels, deforestation and other damaging problems that result from climate change.

The agreement was announced on the second day of an EU summit in Brussels.

Thursday, Dec. 10

As the Copenhagen talks roll on, the dissension is surfacing, not just from protesters, but among those at the negotiating table as well.

As expected, there are insistent complaints from developing nations that the wealthier ones haven’t committed to deep enough emissions cuts or to enough financing for poorer nations already affected by climate change.

Lumumba-Di-Aping (Photo: Jens Norgaard Larsen, EPA.)

Lumumba-Di-Aping (Photo: Jens Norgaard Larsen, EPA.)

On Wednesday, Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, chair of the G-77 nations, put out an eloquent call to those at the conference to not marginalize developing nations — and to remember that when the world is 2 degrees warmer, it will be 3.5 degrees warmer in much of Africa.

Today Di-Aping, on behalf of developing nations, appealed to the U.S.: “The American Congress approves billions of dollars in defense budgets. Can you not approve 200 billion to save the world?”

Meanwhile, the industrialized nations continue to jockey as well, with China also arguing that the U.S. and the E.U. need to put more on the table.

Yesterday, a deputy negotiator from China complained that Europe and the United States  have not promised to cut emissions deeply enough. China President Hu Jintao has pledged steep cuts, in the 40-45 percent range. But the world’s most populous nation and biggest carbon polluter has not agreed to outside verification, leaving many skeptical that China could be held to the task.

In the U.S., Obama has promised a 17 percent cut in emissions by 2020 based on 2005 levels, but critics point out that translates to just a 4 percent reduction against 1990 emissions.

The E.U. has pledged more, a 20 percent cut against 1990 emissions, and some expect that Europe could up the ante with Great Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown pushing for cuts of 30 percent (against 1990 levels).

(By the way, if all this talk of emissions cuts measured against varying years makes you crazy, there’s a website tool at Sandbag that can help you convert emissions pledges to see how they stack up by year and across nations.)

The Nobel Man of the Hour

Obama, and several Western leaders, are prodded by a Greenpeace poster campaign in Copenhagen. (Photo: Greenpeace.)

Obama, and other Western leaders, are prodded by a Greenpeace poster campaign in Copenhagen. (Photo: Greenpeace.)

There’s incessant buzz about whether and how Obama can deliver a stronger promise on behalf of the U.S., with the Senate having failed to produce a climate action bill and several elected climate change naysayers planning to follow him to Copenhagen next week, including Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.).

Still, Obama could leap through the climate change obstacle course and emerge a winner, according to William Becker, executive director at the Presidential Climate Action Project. Becker has posted an article outlining a path for the president at 1Sky.org.

William Becker

William Becker

Becker, whose CAP project is based as the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver, urges Obama to not be derailed by Republicans he sees as seeking to raise their political capital and appease fossil fuel contributors.

“So long as the world waits for Obama to lead, and so long as Obama waits for Congress to lead, the international response to global climate change can be stopped by one vote in the United States Senate – one elected ego who has sold his soul to the coal industry or who wants to be a hero to the radical Right, with all the campaign contributions that status promises. Obama has the power to prevent this travesty, if only he chooses to use it,” writes Becker.

Indigenous people raise a voice against more dirty energy

Also today comes an outcry against the U.S. decision to allow Royal Dutch Shell to drill in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska, with protesters attending Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s appearance at the Bella Centre.

“Shell says ‘the Chukchi Sea could be home to some of the most prolific, undiscovered hydrocarbon basins in North America,’ but we’re here to remind Salazar and Shell that it is our home and our lives that will be devestated by the drilling,” said Faith Gemmill, executive director of REDOIL, a network of Alaska Natives working for a safe environment.

“More fossil fuel drilling will only bring more pollution to the Chukchi Sea, and ultimately, more devastating climate change to the world. Salazar should know: We must leave those fossil fuels in the ground and invest in real renewable solutions that uphold Indigenous Peoples rights,” Gemmill said in a press release.

“As Alaska Natives, our ancestral ways of life and homelands are imperiled by devastating proposals for fossil fuel drilling and development,” said Colleen Swan of Kivalina, a community near the Chuckchi Sea, who, like Gemmill, traveled to Copenhagen. “These fossil fuels are carbon that will compound climate change, and the ecological devastation we see is also compounded by the impacts of climate change, and so it is a lose-lose.”

Other Native American groups are present in Copenhagen, pushing for clean energy solutions, including those affected by coal-fired electricity plants.

“As a community ravaged by Peabody coal for generations, we know that there is nothing possibly ‘clean’ about coal, and coal is not a climate solution” said Wahleah Johns of the Black Mesa Water Coalition, located in the Navajo Nation in Arizona in a press release by the Indigenous Environmental Network.

“The real solutions we need in Copenhagen and in the U.S. are sustainable economies that can thrive without fossil fuels that degrade our land and have life-threatening impacts on the health of our people.”

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Wednesday, Dec. 9

Let there be Climate Art

The Sun Lawn...eric_andersen2

The Sun Lawn by Eric Andersen (Photo: Anders Sune Berg.)

What would an international conference be without some commentary from those who think outside the box? Nordic and international artists get their say at Copenhagen with a contemporary art exhibit called Rethink: Contermporary Art & Climate Change, which opened at the Alexandra Instituttet last month.

Statesiders can sit back and watch the images in 2-D (better than nothing) on the exhibit website, or watch a short video and (brush up on your Danish) on YouTube.

Follow the Action

The human rights group Oxfam is keeping tabs on the action in Copenhagen, and bringing the public short videos hosted by “Mr. Green” a well-known character in Denmark.

Here’s their roundup of Day Two. While it’s no Ingmar Bergman film (it’s actually more upbeat!), it will give you a feel for the action, and a glimpse inside the Bella Centre, the convention hall where much of the action is occurring.

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Tuesday, Dec. 8

CNN and You Tube are taking your questions

Have a question for Copenhagen Climate Conference leaders? You can post it on You Tube, and vote for your favorite questions through Dec. 14.

Then watch the town hall meeting, which You Tube will stream live and CNN international will televise, where experts and activists will address the top-ranked questions.

This event, tentatively set for 12-2 p.m, Dec. 15, Copenhagen time, will be available in 20 languages.

The collaboration is sponsored by YouTube, CNN and the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Need inspiration? See this video posted at You Tube. We don’t want to spoil the poignant surprise there. Let’s just say it’s about climate change and who will be affected.

There’s also an explanatory video on YouTube (what!? It’s YouTube, why have one video when two will do?).

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Monday, Dec. 7, 2009

World Summit Opens With Hope

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

As the world’s largest conference and negotiations over climate change launched today in Copenhagen, we’re still debating the question mark on that headline.

We want to say, Wow! The world has finally convened to formally, officially address the most important issue facing the planet, the future of the planet.

What a testament to our civility and evoluton that we might recognize an oncoming calamity and try to avert it; 192 nations have sent diplomats or representatives to this United Nations Climate Conference. Thousands of scientists have produced mountains of reports to guide them.

Still, we watch from the edge of our chair.

The UN conference will last for two weeks as national representatives patch together a plan to reduce the heat-trapping greenhouse gases that are tipping the earth toward irreversible  loss of ice and glaciers, rising seas and flooding, and long term climate changes that would rearrange agriculture, worsen droughts and cost trillions in lost infrastructure. Yes, that’s a long sentence, but it needs to be.

While they’re at it, the diplomats, backed by all those climate and environmental scientists, will try to forge agreements to preserve the rainforests and the oceans that are helping store carbon emissions.

Just a few weeks ago, hopes were fading that all of this brainpower could pole vault the entrenched interests, inertia and short-sighted naysayers to reach some sort of agreement.

Then, The New York Times and others ran stories about how hopes for a binding agreement at Copenhagen were dimming. Others predicted failure, saying that too many leading nations were unwilling to set aggressive emissions reductions and political leaders lacked the will to curtail fossil fuel  and other heavily polluting industries.

Then came criticism of U.S. President Barack Obama’s plans to attend the conference during the first week, essentially planning a cameo appearance on his way to pick up the Nobel Peace Prize.

Prospects started to brighten, however, as the conference neared.

Obama reset his calendar and announced he would attend near the end of the conference; a signal the U.S. would be there for finishing touches on a potential binding agreement. That’s vital because the U.S. and China are the world’s top carbon polluters, with China slightly ahead of the U.S., and both responsible for just under 30 percent of global emissions each.

The U.S. has promised it can reduce carbon emissions by 17 percent compared with 2005 levels, a proposal that has been dismissed by many environmentalists as far too little, but praised by others for at least putting something on the table. (The U.S. has a credibility issue to mend, having never signed the Kyoto Protocol, the first world pact addressing global warming.)

Other recent mostly hopeful signs for Copenhagen:

China said it would cut carbon emissions by 40 to 45 percent by 2020 compared to 2005 levels, a significant reach and promising; but the world’s most populous country doesn’t want to agree to outside verification.

India pledged last week that it would aim for emissions reductions of 20 to 25 percent compared to 2005 levels. The fifth largest emitter of carbon pollution, India has been a fencer sitter. The pledge last week was the first public articulation of a carbon reductions goal by the rapidly industrializing nation, though it came with a caveat: India does not want to sign a binding agreement.

And so the world turns. (And the heat-trapping gases accumulate.)

UN leaders tried to put a sunnier spin on things as the work began in Copenhagen.

Even though the cuts proposed by leading nations are not as steep (or verifiable) as environmentalists and scientists say are needed, the chasm is not that wide, according to a report released by the UN Environment Program.

Using the high end of all the proposed commitments, the UNEP said that carbon emissions would be about 46 billion tons annually in 2020, or about 2 billion tons over the level the scientists say is necessary to avoid disastrous consequences.

“We are within a few gigatons of having a deal,” said UNEP director Achim Steiner.

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media

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Britain’s Nicholas Stern warns of confusion

A leading British climate change economist warned that those who doubt the science of global warming are confused — and said their skepticism should not derail efforts to strike a climate deal in Denmark. >> Read the story

Copenhagen climate negotiations get underway:


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