The final stretch in Copenhagen
December 18, 2009
As the conference in Copenhagen has ended for civil society, the real diplomatic jockeying for a climate agreement continues to intensify. The first 10 days of the 15th COP produced some clarity on varying national stances, but as the major heads of state continue to arrive, the question still remains – will any agreement be approved? And, more importantly, what will the final outcome mean for climate protection across the globe?
While there may be some limited agreements confirmed (possibly concerning deforestation), the unfortunate truth is that a comprehensive agreement is near impossible. Rather, we may see a framework for a future international treaty, which could be approved at next year’s COP in Mexico City.
Overall, the lack of a definitive plan is a major disappointment. One would think that five years of preparation would be adequate time to create an agreeable carbon mitigation plan. The U.N., however, is certainly not known for its efficiency.
Unfortunately, the blame for inaction really rests on the shoulders of a few key countries, namely the United States and China (and a few key senators, like Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma). What is still being debated? Emissions targets, transparency and funding to developing nations. Emissions targets have been a constant topic of debate for the leading emitters and for countries with developing economies and will continue to be contentious.
What’s complicating the process is that the largest carbon emitter (China) is also considered a developing economy. That’s where funding becomes a problem. The United States, for example, will pledge financial support to struggling nations, but U.S. leaders don’t want to see any of that money go to China, who holds $800 billion in U.S. debt. China, and other nations, has also been noncommittal in regard to the transparent tracking of carbon reductions. Their reluctance to agree upon an open verification program ultimately comes back to economics, which is the underlying linchpin to each of the major problems.
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Thankfully, all is not lost; to the contrary, my optimism for climate progress is high. Here’s why.
Despite the lack of commitment by the largest nations, there is significant headway being made by cities, regions and many smaller countries. Denmark and neighboring areas in Northern Europe serve as prime examples. Samsoe, a Danish Island, is powered by 100 percent on-site renewables. Copenhagen, Malmo and a series of cities in the Netherlands are also making significant strides – leaving the United States and other industrialized nations utterly in the dust.
In addition, the intellectual capital at the COP is immense. From NGOs to party delegates and private businesses, the array of solutions and mitigation strategies are evolving at a rapid rate. With engaged, active leaders like those in Copenhagen, I have no doubt we can achieve carbon reductions in the near and long terms. Corporate support and their financial interests are also becoming apparent. Siemens, Google and Vestas are some of the largest corporate proponents in Copenhagen. What they are confirming is the vast cost savings and revenue opportunities associated with carbon reduction.
Most significantly, these behemoths are beginning to act on the substantial financial potential that comes with the wide variety of renewable and efficiency technologies that are emerging in the marketplace. What each of the aforementioned sectors creates is a united driver and momentum base for the major industrial nations to build on – and maybe even confirm in the coming months. This week, John Kerry suggested we could achieve carbon legislation in the United States by early next spring.
Ultimately, the current lack of commitment from the United States and some other major nations does not preclude us (globally) from forging ahead toward a safer, cleaner, healthier tomorrow. Change is coming, financial support and financial opportunity are here. The carbon reduction effort will be led locally, regionally and by progressive countries like Denmark. We’ll just have to do temporarily without the slowest, most stubborn players.