Monday, December 21, 2009

Heat In Our Time


They came, they jawed, they Accorded. The 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference ("COP15") is now history. When I was in Copenhagen recently, both the pride of the Danish in hosting COP15 and their high hopes for a diplomatic breakthrough to tackle climate change were tangible. For example, the spirit was festive in the Kongens Nytorv, a major public square in the city's center, despite its being filled with dozens of large globes representing different interpretations of climate change's perils and a large exhibition of human-sized photos depicting habitats and inhabitants from around the world endangered by rising concentrations of greenhouse gases. Danes I spoke to seemed to believe a meaningful treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was likely.

It is early days yet, but there are some worrying signs that Hopenhaven may instead have become Nopenhaven. Discord between less and more developed countries was immediately a dominant theme, and at one point a number of delegates from African countries actually brought official proceedings to a halt to protest perceived intransigence and injustice by "rich" developed countries. Connie Hedegaard resigned her post as COP15's president partway through the conference. Most significantly, the conference ended without a draft - let alone signed - treaty. Instead, the world was left with a consolation prize of uncertain vitality: the "Copenhagen Accord" that COP15 made a rather hollow "decision to note".

The New York Times lamented that
Despite two years of advance work, the meeting failed to convert a rare gathering of world leaders into an ambitious, legally binding action plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The Financial Times' editorial page pronounced a more lacerating judgment: "Dismal outcome at Copenhagen fiasco". Finally, environmental groups from around the world came to their own coincidental "Copenhagen Accord" with the market for trading carbon emissions, where the European Union’s December 2010 carbon contract declined 8% today to €12.41 per tonne after declining by a similar amount last week. Talk may be cheap, but so, in wake of COP15, is emitting carbon.

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