You may have missed it with all the Tiger Woods news, but this month, leaders of more than 115 countries are meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark to discuss climate change. If you didn’t miss it, you may be wondering why you should care. If you’re like most people, the details of the meeting are a little hazy. For example: Why are some of the top climate change proponents calling for the efforts to fail? What are the main sticking points? What will an agreement mean for you? I don’t have all the answers, but since you asked, I’ll try and explain what I know.
Q: People keep talking about how this agreement will be based, in part, on the Kyoto protocol. What the heck is the Kyoto protocol?
A: It’s an international agreement adopted in Japan 12 years ago, which went live in 2005. It set specific targets for 37 of the largest industrial countries for reducing greenhouse gas emissions — and global warming — over a five year period between 2008 and 2012. Today, the United States is one of the only large countries that has not signed onto the agreement, which you can read here.
Q: What’s going on in Copenhagen?
A: Officially, it’s called the United Nations Climate Change Conference. It’s a two-week conference taking place from December 7 to the 18th. Attendees are going to try and hammer out a plan to reduce emissions and hopefully stop global warming in its tracks. There is a Web site where you can check out the conference program, the different speeches, and even sit in on some of the actual proceedings via webcast.
Q: Why is this such a big deal now?
A: I’ll let wording from an official fact sheet explain: “According to the IEA, global energy demand will grow 55% by 2030. In the period up to 2030, the energy supply infrastructure worldwide will require a total investment of USD 26 trillion, with about half of that in developing countries. If the world does not manage to green these investments by directing them into climate-friendly technologies, emissions will go up by 50% by 2050, instead of down by 50%, as science requires. Copenhagen needs to put in place the framework that will enable the world to make the transition to climate-resilient, green global growth. To achieve this, governments in Copenhagen need to sign up to a new level of cooperation, followed by immediate actions in 2010.” Bottom line: Life as we know it may be screwed unless we can come to some sort of agreement and start making meaningful changes in the way we live and work.
Q: What are the goals for this meeting?
A: There are four main goals: Putting ambitious emission reduction targets in place — especially for developed countries, helping developing countries mitigate their emissions without hurting them financially, increasing financial and technological support for adaption and mitigation of climate change fixes, and creating a strong institutional framework — with governance — to help with fund and resource allocation.
Q: So how’s it going?
A: In a word: Eh. Carbon reduction is expensive and difficult. Smaller, undeveloped countries argue that they need to pollute so they can improve the way their people live. Large countries, who make the most pollution, have the most to lose financially by adhering to a new, stricter agreement. The U.S. and China in particular are butting heads. China wants a plan that would exclude trade sanctions. From Bloomberg.com: “A proposed U.S. law would impose tariffs by 2020 on imports of certain goods from nations such as China seen as not doing enough to cut emissions.” Meanwhile, seven African nations recently called a press conference to say that they thought the “rich” countries were trying to kill the Kyoto protocol. And India came out against Australia calling it “the ayatollah” of Copenhagen because of its “one-track” approach, which would bind all countries by the same treaty. (Sounds a bit like a grade school playground, no?)
Q: Is this meeting going to do anything or is it just a waste of time?
A: It remains to be seen, but at the very least it’s got many of us (you’re reading this, right?) thinking about global warming. As the incoming COP15 president, Connie Hedegaard says: “If the whole world comes to Copenhagen and leaves without making the needed political agreement, then I think it’s a failure that is not just about climate. Then it’s the whole global democratic system not being able to deliver results in one of the defining challenges of our century. And that is and should not be a possibility. It’s not an option.”
Have you been following the Copenhagen coverage? What’s your take-away of all this? Are you personally changing the way you shop, live, or work because of the threat of global warming? I’d love to hear about your efforts.