Reflections on Copenhagen

COP15 wasn't as successful as the world hoped it would be. Photo: Simeon Talley

University of Iowa student Simeon Talley attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) in Copenhagen, Denmark. Following are his final observations and commentary on what he — and the world — learned as a result of the conference. — Julia Wasson, Publisher


The Copenhagen conference ended, for the most part, disappointingly. The Copenhagen Accord, the climate change agreement reached at the last minute, doesn’t effectively address climate change. While it may have been a step in the right direction, it was only an incremental step when the world needed a leap at this moment in time.

In the aftermath of such a disappointing effort, many have sought to place blame. Fingers have been pointed at China, predictably at the US, at Danish political leadership, and even at the UN. All of these narratives are partially correct, but only partially. The blame is plenty and should be spread far.

Yet, if we only focus on recriminating others, we’ll miss a fundamental lesson about what this Copenhagen conference taught us about the world we live in. Furthermore, such a narrow focus fails to acknowledge the positive aspects of the conference — albeit few.

COP15 wasn’t as successful as many had hoped it would be, because world leaders couldn’t put aside their political differences for the greater global good. And yet, something remarkable happened over the course of those two weeks. Thousands of ordinary people gathered in Copenhagen, with millions across the world standing in support of bold action. The Copenhagen conference unveiled a dramatic account of the many constituent parts that make up our world all interacting with each other for the very first time.

History may not look too kindly upon the leaders who participated in Copenhagen. COP16 taking place in Mexico in 2010 may begrudge what took place in Copenhagen as well. There are several interpretations of what went wrong in Copenhagen. And I imagine as time passes we’ll learn much more about what actually happened in those private meetings between world leaders. But what we do know now that can inform us moving forward is that many of those leaders still succumb to an outdated view of the world and how it is changing.

Climate change necessitates international cooperation on an unprecedented level. A few rich countries can’t get together, wave a wand and fix it. Nor can any country choose to remain on the sidelines and not participate. Climate change affects all, and any solution encompasses all. The issue is evidence of our increasingly interconnected, interdependent, and interwoven world.

Profound differences still exist, but with each day they are blurred, if only slightly. Negotiators and leaders came to Copenhagen with political positions and perspectives; they all had an eye on protecting national interests. To meet the challenges of the 21st century national interests that inhibit progress on critical global issues must give way.

I’m a university student studying international politics. The global community I saw in Copenhagen is vastly different than the one I — and most American students — read about in textbooks. The divisions between rich and poor, west and east are real. But in Copenhagen, poor countries of Africa effectively coalesced with the emerging economies of China, India, and Brazil to possibly thwart the will of the West for the first time.

African nations and small-island states like Tuvalu and the Maldives elevated their concerns like never before. At times, countries like Ethiopia, Brazil, and the Maldives played absolutely critical roles in moving Copenhagen negotiations along in the final hour. Unlike other international or intergovernmental institutions, to a reasonable degree, this process incorporated 192 nations. It wasn’t pretty most of the time, but it is a foreshadowing of things to come.

Thousands of ordinary people flooded the city of Copenhagen hoping to influence the conference. Citizens from all walks of life from all over the world were in attendance. Hundreds of youth participated, recognized as an official constituency group for the very first time. Citizen participation — the increasing ability of ordinary people to be there and to bear witness — will continue to shape climate change meetings.

There were protests and several arrests, but there was also excellent citizen journalism. Besides reading the mainstream press to stay informed, to get a complete picture of what was going on, it was key to read blogs or follow someone on Twitter . There a new element of transparency introduced in Copenhagen. What has happening wasn’t just confined to the conference center and how the big news outlets would report it. Information and news were profuse among many sources, some of them legitimate news organizations and some knowledgeable NGOs.

The task for civil society will be to continue to exert and raise political pressure on the world’s leaders to come together and cooperate in meaningful way. If COP16 is to be more successful, it will be in large part because negotiators know that more and more people are watching, and there will be domestic political repercussions if nothing meaningful is done.

2010 must be more successful than 2009. Let’s learn the lessons from Copenhagen and work together to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Simeon Talley

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Dispatches from Copenhagen – Talks Extended

Simeon Talley, Blue Planet Green Living contributing writer and University of Iowa student, was selected by the Iowa United Nations Association to attend COP15 this week. This is Talley’s fourth report in the series, a late-breaking update. For background information about Talley’s trip, visit his own blog, The Road to Copenhagen. — Julia Wasson, Publisher


COPENHAGEN – COP15 TALKS JUST EXTENDED TO THE WEEKEND.

So much has happened, while so little real progress has been made.

Obama’s speech essentially reiterated the US’s already stated position: mitigation commitments by all major economies, transparency by both developing and developed countries alike, and US commitment of $10 billion in the short term/$100 billion in the long-term by 2020 for climate finance.

The US president didn’t say anything new. The 17% number has not moved, and he didn’t specify what the US contribution would be to the climate finance fund. But, in talking with journalists and delegates from developing countries, that’s exactly what they had hoped to hear. The speech is being interpreted as “take it or leave it,” which may play well with the domestic audience, but has not gone over well here.

The speech was primarily directed at the Chinese. After his speech, President Obama met with Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao; no word yet on the outcome.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon just requested to extend the conference into the weekend. This could mean one of two things: We are close to an agreement, but leaders need some more time; or not enough progress has been made on the last day.

This meeting with 193 representatives from each country and over 100 heads of state in attendance is becoming a bi-lateral meeting between China and the US. For all we know right now, the Chinese have not agreed to the American proposal.

A draft text that was leaked early this morning shows how far from consensus countries really are. Very, very troubling.

It’s late afternoon here in Copenhagen. There was a scheduled signing ceremony for 3 pm; but everyone is still waiting, still guessing as to what will happen. Pessimism is growing.

The scene inside the Bella Center is frenetic. Hundreds of journalists are all trying to piece this puzzle together. You find TV cameras stalked outside meeting rooms, where they don’t know who’s inside, but whomever they are, they want that quintessential shot.

More to come, as events continue to unfold …

Simeon Talley

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

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Simeon Talley, Blue Planet Green Living contributing writer and University of Iowa student, was selected by the Iowa United Nations Association to attend COP15 this week. This is Talley’s third report in the series. For background information about Talley’s trip, visit his own blog, The Road to Copenhagen. — Julia Wasson, Publisher


COPENHAGEN – On the final day of COP15, the process of negotiations has moved from talks between delegates to direct communication between heads of states. As I write this, President Obama is in talks with other leaders over the remaining unresolved issues. CNN’s Ed Henry tweeted that President Obama has scuttled his schedule and is in a meeting with Ethiopia (representing China) Russia, South Africa, India, Mexico, Spain, South Korea, Norway, and Colombia. Accompanying President Obama to Copenhagen is a renewed sense of optimism for the prospects of success at COP15.



We know where the fault lines lie. We are essentially where we were two weeks ago: emission cuts that would limit temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius by 2020, climate finance, and whether developed countries like China, India and Brazil will agree to a system of international monitoring and verification. Whatever form of the final deal, it must include a nod toward — or even a better, a specific timeline or deadline for — a legally binding agreement.

What do we know now in the eleventh hour?

We know that these types of talks will proceed in the future on a two-track process: a Kyoto Protocol track and a long-term cooperative agreement track. The G-77 favors the Kyoto Protocol route, while the US, along with other developed countries, tried and failed to remove the Kyoto negotiating process from the Copenhagen proceedings.

We know that China can nix any final deal it doesn’t approve of, but the Chinese position has slightly softened. African nations, long distrustful of the US in these types of proceedings, effectively elevated their issues and concerns in Copenhagen. And President Obama will have to charm and cajole this international body forward or risk another major embarrassment in Copenhagen.

No one, I mean no one, really knows what the outcome of all of this will be. However, most are hoping for success.

Stay tuned: More to come.

Simeon Talley

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

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Dispatches from Copenhagen – Wednesday, Two Days Remaining

Simeon Talley, Blue Planet Green Living contributing writer and University of Iowa student, is one of only 10 young people selected by the Iowa United Nations Association to attend COP15 this week. In this, his second report, Talley updates us on the rising tensions at the conference. For background information about Talley’s trip, visit his own blog, The Road to Copenhagen. — Julia Wasson, Publisher


COPENHAGEN — The anxiety and anticipation rising in the conference center are palpable as the fault lines become more distinct and several entities attempt to resurrect negotiations. It’s Wednesday morning in Copenhagen, there are far fewer NGOs, a lot more press, and sightings of presidents and prime ministers scuttling to meetings. It’s difficult to make sense of everything that is taking place at these talks. But one thing is clear, the sense of urgency has heightened, and time is running out for nations to strike a deal.

Blue Planet Green Living Reporter Simeon Talley

Blue Planet Green Living Reporter Simeon Talley


Countries are divided along fairly typical lines: global north vs. global south, rich vs. poor. The G-77 plus China, the more than 100 countries in the developing world, want advanced developed nations to commit to deeper emissions reductions and more money to finance adaptation and mitigation — essentially a continuation of the Kyoto Protocol.

So far, the only country to commit to emission cuts along the lines of IPCC recommendations is Norway. Of course not the US, but the EU hasn’t either. Developed countries have committed to a numerical amount for “fast track” ($10 billion US for three years) climate financing, but so far have been silent on long-term figures.

The US has shied away from a more ambitious commitment because of domestic political constraints. The EU is willing to commit to a 30% cut from 1990 levels, but only if other developed nations commit to that number as well. On the financing front, the US has balked at the notion that it’ll finance China — which holds $2 trillion in US reserves — to adapt to climate change.

This may seem like a redux of disagreements from three weeks ago, even three months ago, but they have still not been resolved in Copenhagen. Most heads of states are have arrived by now, with anticipation growing for President Obama’s arrival on Friday. Because so much disagreement, the final deal will mostly reflect the commitments each country has put on the table prior to the start of the conference. And it’s most likely that the entire UNFCCC process will continue along a two-track pathway. A Kyoto Protocol (read: not including the US and what poor countries are advocating for) and a Long-Term Cooperative Agreement path (what the US has been pushing for and would push for emerging economies like China to be held to greater emission cuts).

Whatever the final shape the Copenhagen agreement takes, it is absolutely necessary that it include a timeline and a deadline for when a legally binding agreement will be signed. Many outstanding issues still need to be resolved, climate finance being only one of them. But to leave Copenhagen without a deadline for a legally binding agreement would essentially be a failure.

Outside of the conference center, many of the NGOs who are not allowed inside are protesting, leading to a large number of arrests. The UN has cut severely the number of Civil Society participants that can enter the Bella Center, where the conference is taking place. 45,000 people were accredited to attend the conference; the conference center can only accommodate 15,000 people. In the first week and on Monday of this week, no restrictions were placed on attendance; but as heads of states arrive, security has been tightening.

Simeon Talley

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

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COP15_LOGO_B_MArt450

Simeon Talley, Blue Planet Green Living contributing writer and University of Iowa student, is one of only ten young people selected by the Iowa United Nations Association to attend COP15 this week. Talley arrived in Copenhagen on Sunday. Here is his first report from the historic United Nations Climate Conference. For background information about Talley’s trip, visit his own blog, The Road to Copenhagen. — Julia Wasson, Publisher


Reporter Simeon Talley

Reporter Simeon Talley

COPENHAGEN — The climate change talks taking place in Copenhagen are on life support. One week in to the conference, and with one week to go, progress towards a worthwhile climate change deal has been slow. In order to salvage COP15, negotiators will have to double down in order to reach a deal.

Monday’s major news was a group of African nations walking out on negotiations, then, in dramatic fashion — late in the evening hour — choosing to come back to the negotiating table. The story behind the walkout is that, last week, the Danish government reportedly had met with a group of wealthy nations, including the US, outside of the formal process. The parties agreed to a draft “text” that could eventually become the agreement that the Copenhagen conference produces. Several poor nations were angered by what they perceived as a backdoor deal that favored rich nations. The mood has been sour — and souring— ever since, culminating in today’s walkout.

The walkout by African nations would have made a Copenhagen deal impossible, and it reflects long-held divisions. Organized as the G-77, developing nations want developed nations to commit to 40–45% emissions reductions from 1990 levels by 2020. And if you’ve been following international negotiations at all, you know that developed countries so far have committed to considerably less. The US’s commitment to 17% reduction from 2005 levels by 2020 is estimated to be only a 3-4% reduction from 1990 CO2 levels. And hell is more likely to freeze over before a change in US position.

G-77 countries want more ambition by way of emission reductions and adaptation financing. So far, developed countries haven’t budged. The US still hasn’t committed to a specific amount it will pay toward climate financing, funds to help poor countries adapt to the negative effects of climate change. With one week to go and only two days until heads of state start to roll in, negotiators have to find a way to reach consensus in order for the Copenhagen conference to have a positive outcome.

China, as a developing nation, is also a part of the G-77 grouping. But this morning’s report of impasse over verification shows the complexity of China’s status as a poor, developing nation and its continued differences with the US.

In many respects, poorer nations and nations closest to actual climate disaster, such as small-island states, are playing a moral role in negotiations. The country of Tuvalu — a small-island state only two meters above sea level – has repeatedly called on rich nations (read: the US) to do more. The president of Tuvalu made an impassioned plea to conference delegates to agree to a binding deal, which limits the amount of CO2 to the levels the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said is needed. Such a deal is likely out of reach at this point.

An EU Commissioner characterized the atmosphere as “frozen.” And that’s a fairly accurate description of where we stand currently.

Simeon Talley

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Follow Simeon Talley
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Light a Candle for Climate Change

December 3, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog, Carbon, Climate Change, Front Page, Global Warming

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During the weekend of December 12, 2009, people all over the world will be lighting candles to spread the message that we need action on climate change. Photo: © Christian J. Stewart

During the weekend of December 12, 2009, people all over the world will be lighting candles to spread the message that we need action on climate change. Photo: © Christian J. Stewart

The UN Climate Change Conference is fast approaching, and the fate of the world literally hangs in the balance. Will our representatives keep the real problem — the fact that at 387 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric carbon, we’ve far surpassed the safe limit for our planet — foremost in mind? Or will they be swayed by financiers who have a vested interest in the cap and trade program, distracting the world from finding truly workable solutions?

I just watched The Story of Cap & Trade, in which Annie Leonard does a masterful job of simplifying the concept and making clear that cap & trade is not a great solution. (We’ve posted the video on our home page as well as on our Facebook page for your convenience.) Truthfully, I’m not encouraged by the coming talks. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Leonard is wrong. Maybe we’ll all be surprised by the results. Maybe.

Then again, waiting to see what happens isn’t a very effective strategy. (I’m reminded of the business book that was popular a few years ago, titled Hope Is Not a Strategy.)

350.org, the folks who brought us worldwide climate change demonstrations on October 24 of this year, are gearing up for another go. Their purpose is to continue to keep the 350 number (the maximum parts per million of atmospheric carbon that is safe for our planet) at the forefront of delegates’ minds. The group is planning candlelight vigils the weekend of December 12, during the middle of the two-week Copenhagen summit.

Vigils will take place around the world, and you’re invited to plan one in your own neighborhood. To find a scheduled vigil, view the map on the 350.org website. Or register your own vigil.

News gathered by 350.org shows that the 350 message is spreading among religious and civic leaders. Here are a few of the folks who are supporting the 350 limit, according to the organization’s latest press release:

First we heard from His All Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians-that’s one in every 20 human beings. He was speaking the language of faith — environmental desecration was a sin, he said, and “350 is an act of repentance,” and in so doing he joined the huge group of Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, indigenous and other faith leaders from around the planet.  Many of these leaders are organizing “Sounds of 350” events on Sunday, December 13th — check out www.350.org/sounds to join this interfaith initiative.

Later that day we heard from the directors of the world’s largest zoos and aquariums. Almost 800 of them signed a letter to the Copenhagen conference demanding a 350 target lest their cages become the only place to see the world’s fauna: in their words, “the climate change threat to the natural world is so severe that we’re rapidly losing suitable habitats for these species.” They were speaking the plain language of science.

And the language of politics is chiming in too. Our friend Malini Mehra, one of the extraordinary Indian activists that have made global warming a high-profile issue on the subcontinent, just sent us a copy of her latest essay, which described October 24th “an awe-inspiring move by ordinary people to send a clear message to their cloth-eared political leaders: climate change required real action.” Given that too many at Copenhagen “are discussing a 450 ppm target, such calls may seem heroic at best and implausible at worst. But public opinion will be a decisive force in this debate. And public opinion is now getting globally organized. Importantly, as the 350.org events showed, more and more young people are becoming politicized on this issue. Politicians had better prepare to listen — the personal impacts could very well lie in store at the ballot box.”

That momentum builds and builds: we just found out that Oceana, a wonderful international NGO devoted to protecting the world’s seas, has organized advertising billboards for 350 all over Copenhagen-delegates won’t be able to ride the subway or even land at the airport without seeing that number. Our advance team is already on the ground, and more of our (exactly!) 350 young people from around the world (we think it’s the largest accredited team at the Copenhagen conference!) arrive each day.

A groundswell of support is building. Will our nations’ representatives listen to our voices? Will they place the interests of the people ahead of the interests of big business? Let’s make sure they hear our message loud and clear as we stand in silence, holding our tiny flames of protest — and hope. Will you join us?

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)