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Copenhagen Closeups: As Dust Settles, Now What?

Blog Archive | December 21, 2009 | By Brian Beauchamp

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While many attending the climate conference were saddened by its results, most would tell you that Hopenhagen lives on in the next steps people are now planning.

The accord that many world leaders finally embraced here in the wee early hours last Saturday morning, following a marathon of late-night meetings, negotiations, and political wrangling, amounts to nothing more than a handshake agreement to “keep trying” to reduce carbon emissions around the world.

The limited, non-binding agreement left thousands of activists speechless. Other were more expressive.

Naomi Klein, author of the international bestseller The Shock Doctrine, described the final agreement this way: “It would have been better to have no deal at all then one that steers us towards ecological catastrophe.”

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, summed it up as “a failure. . . It has no real targets, no real timetables, not really much of anything very useful. And it was reached without the participation of most of the countries that will suffer most and have contributed least to the problem.”

The Copenhagen Accord is also being criticized because it was formulated outside of the formal UNFCCC negotiating process. Only a small group of powerful countries, including the United States, China, India, Brazil, and South Africa, helped to shape it. That left many smaller countries few options other than signing on or rejecting the accord.

Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said that the more powerful countries overlooked the interests of their less- fortunate neighbors.

Cuba, Venzuela, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan were the four countries that refused, for various stated reasons, to sign on to the final text.

News of the accord came around 10:30 PM Friday night, when President Obama called a press conference to make the announcement. He called it an “important milestone” that will keep promises of global cooperation to combat climate change, recognizes the need to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius, and commits funding for developing nations to battle the impacts of global warming.

While press accounts vary drastically over the outcome of the COP15, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:

  • Two years ago, in Bali, at the COP13, world leaders formally agreed to craft a new framework and form a legally binding international climate change agreement to sign in Copenhagen this year. That did not happen.

  • In 2007, unprecedented ice loss at the polar ice caps emphasized what the science has saying for years: the planet is melting from the amount of carbon and other greenhouse gases that humans are spewing into earth’s fragile atmosphere.

  • Solving climate change is a high priority for people around the world, who now understand the problem and support immediate action to solve it.

But whatever spin is applied, no matter how the final outcome is framed, the COP15 gathering of more than 180 countries and 119 heads of state leaves many people making plans for what’s next.

My Take
President Obama landed in Copenhagen early Friday morning. I was in a makeshift office set up for bloggers and activists during the dizzying long days of the summit. Many of us were eager to hear what the president had to say during his remarks to the assembly, knowing that it would set the tone for the summit’s remaining hours.

His eight-minute speech made it clear that the political paradigm shift required to solve global warming is still a ways away. While the U.S. committed significant new funding for climate change solutions, very little was said about ensuring that a final outcome would match what the science says-that the upper limit for CO2 in the atmosphere is 350 ppm.

We’ve already passed that number and we need to get back down “if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted,” according to James Hansen, NASA’s chief climate scientist.

As we sat there, listening to Obama, some of us stunned and heartbroken, the phones began ringing, people began typing, and we began planning our next steps. By darkness, which comes very early this time of year here, rallies and vigils were already amassing. The most widely used term was “Climate Shame.” Other groups preferred “Climate Sham.”

Nearly 3,000 people gathered for a candlelight vigil outside of the KlimaForum, while others attended a smaller gathering outside of the Bella Center. The blogs and twitter feeds were going wild. It was impossible to keep up with the lightning speed with which news of gatherings were planned and announced. It was like nothing I’d ever seen. 

But the real story from Copenhagen is less about what wasn’t accomplished; it’s actually all about what was accomplished: The largest global movement on any issue in history showed up. That movement is now intensely focused on staying connected and spreading itself everywhere on the planet.

It may not be a Times lead story, but the hordes of young people and global warriors who make up the climate change movement is healthy, growing, and looking ahead towards the next step.

Taking It Home
So we have an accord that doesn’t amount to much, but we also have a movement that is as strong as ever. It’s up to us to take immediate action in our home communities.

In some ways, perhaps, it is unfair to expect a small group of world leaders in government to agree on bold climate solutions to climate change, unless we are all involved at every level of government. So we must all be part of making this transition happen as quickly as possible. 

Todd Brilliant, of the Post Carbon Institute, said it well.

“U.S. politicians can’t be blamed for not getting behind powerful climate legislation,” he said. “For all the activism to date, little of it has been focused on showing elected officials we mean business.”

So, prepare to engage. We can all lend our voice to supporting a strong climate change bill, which currently resides in the U.S. Senate. A vote is likely in the spring, and the bill we get will only be as impressive as the number of us who raise our voices in its support.

For the good people back in Traverse City, our local municipal energy provider, Traverse City Light and Power, is drafting a plan to reach a goal of 30 percent renewable energy by 2020, a much more ambitious pace than what the state mandated last year. It’s obvious that this is the right direction: Those places that get ahead of the climate curve by doing everything possible to reduce carbon emissions will be handily rewarded in many ways further on down the road.

TCLP’s next public meeting on this topic is at 4:00 PM on Monday January 4 at their Hastings Street office. The more of us that participate, the higher the likelihood a plan is developed that makes sense, is viable, and propels us ahead into the new energy future.

As Michigan teeters between a clean-energy future and building more coal plants, it’s clear which way we must go if we want to stay in sync with the rest of the world-including, it is now accurate to say, China and India-the countries climate deniers love to make into boogie men.

Despite all the diplomats’ dropped balls, the climate change movement is alive and well. That’s a great signal for all of us in Michigan. If we heed the call and steer our future towards clean energy, future generations will forever thank us.

Brian Beauchamp is a policy specialist at the Michigan Land Use Institute and helps coordinate TC350, the Traverse-area chapter of Bill McKibben’s worldwide 350.org movement. Reach him at brian@mlui.org.


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