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Back to Copenhagen

Copenhagen Denmark-Mermaid Last winter, we covered the U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen with considerable and then diminishing enthusiasm. What had seemed the best opportunity to replace the Kyoto protocols – which the U.S. did not join - foundered on disagreements between developed and developing nations. When world leaders showed up for a glorious signing ceremony that didn’t materialize, President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (partnered with India, South Africa and Brazil) knocked together an agreement called the Copenhagen Accord, a non-binding set of principles.

So was Copenhagen a failure?

Analyses from groups, including Deutsche Bank, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the liberal Center for American Progress, are challenging the snap indictment of the December conference, which drew wide criticism for failing to produce a new treaty to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Our view is that no one at Copenhagen seemed particularly shaken, and certainly could have, with the then brewing email scandal and proceeded with a universally agreed-upon set of convictions. Whatever disagreements existed, the issue of global warming was taken as a given: industry saw it, government saw it, the public saw it. That in itself has had an impact.

The article doesn’t really deal with this except rather abstractly, but there is this:

"What we're starting to learn," said Joe Aldy, special assistant to the president for energy and environment, "is, with this approach where we say to countries, come forward and ... make public your emissions targets and actions, it is creating almost a positive dynamic now, where countries look at their peers and say, 'Wait, I should do something.'"

Which is perhaps a little starry-eyed. This seems more on-point:

Under what he [Trevor Houser, who worked on the State Department's negotiating team in Copenhagen] called "reasonable" economic and technical assumptions of what each country could expect to keep doing, Houser concluded that the Copenhagen commitments would give the world a 50 percent chance of holding warming to 2 degrees Celsius by 2100, the level many scientists say is needed to avert catastrophic warming.

Or perhaps this:

"We haven't seen any action yet" as a result of the accord, said Bill McKibben, director of the climate action group 350.org and an early critic of the Copenhagen result. "Not only did they not agree on anything ... the stuff they didn't agree upon was spectacularly insufficient."

Hmm! There’s agreeing and then there’s agreeing – anyone can say anything. But what’s happening practically? Take at look at this Reuters story about the countries – 110 at last count - signed on to the Copenhagen Accord and what they plan to do – including an interesting list of many of the signatories and their goals. For example:

MONACO - 30 percent; aims to be carbon neutral by 2050.

We expected more, but they are gamblers and understand risk. But:

INDIA - Aims to reduce the emissions intensity of gross domestic product by 20 to 25 percent from 2005 levels.

Need we note that nuclear energy will have a considerable role to play here – Monaco, too, if it gets most of its electricity from France.

For another view, take a look at this interactive map of the signatories and their goals. You can click each country and zoom in and a lot of other Web 2.0 goodness. Both show the world not standing still and not proposing inadequate responses. A binding agreement would be even better – a true successor to Kyoto – but let’s wait for this winter in Mexico City and then see where we are.

So, Copenhagen a failure? Well, as it did not accomplish its stated goal, sure. But failure altogether? Perhaps not so much.

The Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen.

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