Ice Cream & Climate Headaches in Copenhagen

By Published On: December 18, 2009

Danish minister Connie Hedegaard, formerly the conference president, summed up the climate change conference dilemma: “In these very hours, we are balancing between success and failure. I must also warn you: We can fail…because we spent too much time on posturing, on repeating positions, on formalities.” Hedegaard resigned the conference post December 16. A number of the delegates’ bones of contention date back to the climate conference in Kyoto, Japan. There, many governments--but not the U.S.--committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions under a 2012 deadline. Todd Stern, head of the U.S. delegation, insisted that the U.S. commitment will not go beyond a 17 percent decrease based on 2005 levels by 2020. The European Union, China, and other developing countries are calling for far greater cuts from the U.S. While the U.S. position is limited by Congress, the 2005 baseline is a point of contention because the Kyoto Protocol uses 1990 levels. The current proposed U.S. emission reduction of 17 percent from 2005 levels equals about a three percent reduction from current levels. In a press conference on December 15, Stern argued that the Kyoto baseline is not applicable to the U.S, because the nation did not ratify Kyoto--which is in itself a controversial issue. Another point of discord is whether to maintain Kyoto’s two-track system, under which nothing was asked of developing nations. The U.S. seeks to erase this distinction, in part because any action the developed world takes to combat climate change would be dwarfed by the growth of emissions in China alone. In a briefing on Wednesday, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) argued that “here we no longer have the luxury of drawing [the line]” between developed and developing nations. On the other hand, Stern praised China’s efforts to combat climate change, but called for bigger strides. The world’s two highest-polluting nations also disagreed on whether China’s attempts to reduce the intensity of emissions should be subject to international verification. Developing nations, smaller countries and non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, often feel left out of the process entirely. Stern acknowledged the role of the developed world’s historic emissions levels in creating the current situation, but continues to reject the concept of “climate debt,” which holds that these countries have a duty to compensate the rest of the world. African delegates walked out December 14 in frustration at the process. Island nations continue to search for supporters of a 1.5 degree temperature increase (which would keep their countries above water) instead of the potentially catastrophic 2 degrees, which is the generally accepted target. Goodluck Diigbo, president of the NGO the Partnership for Indigenous Peoples Environment, deemed the process incomplete without the involvement of ordinary people and called for greater NGO participation. By Elisa Walton Edited By

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