Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Copenhagen Climate Change Conference – A missed opportunity

The Copenhagen conference was a direct outgrowth of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that spawned the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. This agreement was largely ineffective; because, the major producer of green house gases, the United States, was not a signatory.

An overwhelming body of scientific evidence demonstrates that climate change poses a real threat to the planet; that it is a direct result of human activity and that an increase of 1.5C in average world temperature is assured regardless of what is done to mitigate the severity of the outcome.

The Copenhagen Accord was essentially brokered by President Obama with representatives of the developing countries of China, India, Brazil and South Africa. Most countries gave the accord their support, but Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Cuba were opposed. It should be remembered that the United States and China collectively produce 41% of the world’s greenhouse gases. In that sense, the Copenhagen Accord achieved what the Kyoto Protocol failed to do.

In many ways, however, it was a missed opportunity. None of the conclusions that were reached are legally binding, nor is there any commitment to come to one in the future. There has been no global target set for emission reductions by the year 2050, as anticipated. A goal was envisioned in which the developed countries would contribute to a fund to be used to aid the developing countries in the quest to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The amount stated was 100 billion dollars a year, yet no mechanism was suggested to reach this ambitious goal. In essence, a gentleman’s agreement was reached with the aim of holding the increase in global temperature to under 2C with the added goal of reaching a peak level of international and national emissions as soon as possible.

One could argue that this accord is a significant first step in the process of addressing a serious global issue with the participation of those countries that contribute significantly to the problem. The failure to take more decisive action, however, suggests a lack of real commitment to deal with a reality that can have such a destabilizing impact on world climate and ultimately on human civilization. A fundamental change in human behavior is required that we are apparently not yet willing to accept.

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