Copenhagen and beyond

For anyone who is following (or trying to follow) what is going on in Copenhagen, I am pleased to be able to share this reflection from my friend Amanda Atherton. She was able to be there for the conference and has graciously said that I can share this, her departing thoughts. Thanks Amanda!

"Greetings all. Negotiations have concluded and we now have the Copenhagen Accord. After world leaders descended en masse on the city, talks continued around the clock at the Bella Center. Although access was denied to most NGOs, a few members of our delegation had press credentials and were able to sit in on all of the press conferences and some of the negotiations and saw virtually every world leader there. A few even pulled all-nighters. Lesson for the next round: get press credentials!

It is definitely a good sign that some agreement was formed. This is in part due to President Obama, who held many meetings with leaders from China, India, Brazil and South Africa just when it seemed like everything was falling apart and Copenhagen might be a complete failure. However, we are a long way from a treaty that will effect real change, as the language of the Accord is quite weak, with a lot of "should" and not much "shall." Here are the basics:

The U.S. and other developed countries (mostly Europe) will put up to $100 billion on the table to aid developing countries. This will be used for both "adaptation" and "mitigation" (the two big buzzwords here). Adaptation is especially important for developing countries because they do not have the funds to pay for the drastic changes that may be necessary as a result of climate change, such as relocation of climate refugees and technological advancements in agriculture.

A big sticking point for this round of negotiations was China's unwillingness to have their carbon emissions independently verified. My understanding is that China does not feel it has the financial resources to pay for this, and that any verification should be done by its own citizens to create jobs. However, as the world's leading emitter of CO2, a system without independent verification would be essentially useless. In the end China has agreed to this framework.

Two Degrees (aka 450 parts per million)
The Accord aims to limit carbon emissions to 450 parts per million in the atmosphere, or an overall temperature increase of 2 degrees. Many developed countries were gunning hard for 1.5 degrees or less, but were unable to achieve that target. As those who are familiar with have certainly heard, a limitation of 350 parts per million is generally agreed to be a safer goal, and 2 degrees may or may not be enough. However, the mere fact that we are arguing about 1.5 vs. 2 degrees may help shed light on the strong scientific basis for the evidence and could rally political support.

The next Conference of the Parties will be held in Mexico City, and the goal of that meeting is a legally binding agreement to enact the provisions discussed in Copenhagen. This meeting will be held sometime in 2010, although the last time I checked the exact date was still being negotiated (earlier would be better, obviously). There has been a lot of criticism of the discussions here, and there is language in the Accord mandating that future host countries do a lot of legwork before the conference to smooth the negotiating process, but I am not sure it is something that can be fixed within the current U.N. framework. Part of the problem is that much here is decided by consensus rather than majority, which makes it extremely difficult to get anything done. However, the alternative presents the issues of sovereignty (one country can't tell another country what to do) and willing participation.

There is so much more information to share, but in the interest of keeping this readable I will stop here with the technical stuff..." 
~ Amanda Atherton


Pauline said…
I appreciate this blog - ALOT. For someone who does not read the newspaper, watch television or read anything much on the internet, this is very helpful to understand what was actually decided upon. when I am so absorbed in my tiny little life, I tend to forget these important things. Thanks for the info. Pauline
Thanks Pauline! Glad that I can offer something, though, I swear I never usually know what's going on!

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