Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Last Chance Saloon in Copenhagen

Heavy snow and -12C temperatures will blanket Copenhagen over the next few days. This will nicely match the fog and gloom permeating the conference rooms and plenary policy sessions. Copenhagen is in danger of being a failure.

Something will be pulled out of a hat at the last minute, but it will not be the climate change strategy that was talked about in the lead up to this summit. We can expect compromise and trade offs all around, but whatever happens is likely to have little real impact on the earths global temperature rise over the next one hundred years.

Most informed observers now look to the US to salvage something from this summit. In particular, if the US steps up with significant funds to compensate developing countries for the pollution of the atmosphere and if it can commit to lowering emissions beyond the already declared level, then others may be willing to move and make additional compromises to get a two track deal – Kyoto for most and an alternative for others.

They will also agree to hold another meeting in 2010 to try and resolve remaining issues – another attempt (this is the fifteenth conference of the parties, not the first) is likely to perpetuate the current disagreements, but with a clearer understanding of the extent and exact nature of the differences between the parties.

However you look at it, none of this is good. George Monbiot, writing in The Guardian, captures the despair many climate change activists feel about Copenhagen. His message is simple – we deepened our understanding of the future, we better understood what is expected of us and we made a deliberate choice, through our representatives, to avoid dealing with it. We went further: we substituted surrogate decisions (offsets, cap and trade) for the real decisions – dramatically lowering emissions.

While the skeptics may see the outcome as “satisfactory” and many citizens appear disinterested, serious commentators will now observe that the ability of governments to work together on a challenge that affects the world is so weak as to be a cause for serious concern.

If there is to be a deal, it will have to emerge during Wednesday for the momentum to be created for signature by the majority of countries present. At the time of writing, this looks like a stretch. Watch this space.

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