Impressions from Copenhagen

Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope and and Frank Lorberbaum at Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change

Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope and and Frank Lorberbaum at Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change

I am back home a week now and still trying to understand what happened. I am used to attending conferences like the American Institute of Architects or US Green Building Council that are educational and entertainment opportunities. The Conference on Climate Change was an educational opportunity but the similarity stops there. This was a working conference attended by people from all over the globe that I believe care. They care first about their own countries future and I believe they all care about the future of our planet, some more passionately than others. They work all hours of the day and night. They are bright caring respectful people of all ages. Two thousand concerned youth attended the conference as observers.

Official decisions at the conference are made by consensus. The intent is for representatives of nations from all over the globe, all climates and all stages of development and wealth to sit down and reach agreements by consensus. These agreements are to be for the betterment of the planet regardless of their own personal interests. Can you imagine what would happen if decisions by our senate were made by consensus, every single one of our senators must agree before a bill is to be passed? I can’t even make an intelligible response to that question. The process is seriously flawed and must and will be reviewed prior to the next conference in Mexico City in December 2010.

There are six official United Nations  meetings going on often simultaneously during the two weeks, many into the wee hours of the night and they are:

  • COP 15 – the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP), signatories to the UN
    Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Treaty (192 countries)
  • CMP 5 – the 5th Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the
    Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (189 countries)
  • Two Ad Hoc groups that have been assigned tasks by the Cop or CMP
  • Two technical groups that have been assigned tasks by the COP or CMP

In addition there are 135 side events (presentations by various businesses, groups or governments) and 200 exhibits. There are 5000 media representatives documenting everything that moves or might move. A daily program is handed out as you enter the center. It is daily because it changes daily. Monitors are placed throughout the center that show scrolling updates on additions and changes to the schedule that was updated and printed early that morning. There are also people outside picketing and kids running around the conference center dressed up in Polar bear outfits singing clever songs to Christmas carol tunes. At 6:00 pm daily an attractive young Asian woman named Hilge dressed like a mermaid allegedly emerges from the depths of the ocean to award the Fossil of the Day Award to a chorus of boos from onlookers called NGO’s. Naturally, Arnold Schwarzenegger walks by. Mandela is in another room chatting with Hillary. Get the picture? Total Chaos.

There were ambitious expectations for this conference. It was hoped that developed and developing nations would establish future emission goals that would slow down and then stop global warming soon. It was hoped that mechanisms for sharing wealth and technology with the developing and least developed countries would be established. It was hoped that the countries most ravaged by climate change gain assistance for adaptation. It was hoped that a legally binding agreement be forged. Bold actions from ALL parties to satisfy these hopes were not realized.

I do think there were some positive outcomes from the conference:

  • All parties acknowledged that climate change is real and we need to act
  • Honest open discussions between parties took place
  • Some developing countries established emission goals
  • China agreed to some form of inspection/verification, exact form yet to be determined
  • $30 billion was pledged over the next three years to assist the poorest
    countries needing assistance for adaptation due to climate change

The Copenhagen Accord (CA) was only “noted” by the conference. The CA has been agreed to by countries that are responsible for over 50% of worldwide CO2 emissions. The CA may develop into a meaningful agreement, and then it may not. In its absence the conference would have ended in total failure. Don’t forget that the Kyoto Protocol was presented in 1997 and did not take effect until 2005. It is still the only legally binding agreement by the United Nations Framework Convention Climate Change.

The US agreed to the Kyoto Protocol at the conference, only to have the US congress retract the offer. Only 39 of the 189 countries under the Kyoto Protocol have any tangible responsibilities under the protocol, many of which are not living up to their commitments. There are no consequences for not living up to their commitment. The developing nations not only create the most green house gases (GHG) annually but are predicted to have the greatest annual growth in GHG emissions as well. They have no responsibilities under the Kyoto Protocol.

I think progress has been made at Copenhagen in 2009, but not as much as we had hoped. I think our planet is eager for a major country to step up and take the leadership role in the battle against climate change. I believe the present administration in Washington is ready and able to accept that role if it has the support of our legislature and our people. With strong support maybe the US can provide that leadership role at COP !6 in Mexico City in 2010.

– Submitted by Frank Lorberbaum. Frank is a long time member of USGBC-STL, former board member and former Green Homes Subcommittee Chair. He served as the Sierra Club delegate to the Copenhagen Conference.

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