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Countdown to Copenhagen

Keith Kloor

It seems like yesterday when everyone was downplaying expectations for success at next week’s climate summit in Copenhagen. Not anymore. Nicholas Stern writes in the Guardian:

“Given what is at stake, essentially the future peace and prosperity of the planet, world leaders must now recognise that Copenhagen is the most important international gathering of our time. A strong political agreement can and must be reached in Copenhagen. There can be no excuses for failure.”

Although a legally binding treaty has been taken off the table, Bill McKibben over at Yale Environment 360 takes stock of the thorny issues that still need to be resolved to reach any such political agreement. Among them:

“How do you draw something up that doesn’t require treaty approval by the U.S. Senate (no one thinks there are 67 votes for a real climate policy)? How do you give credit for actions already taken? How do you keep carbon trading from turning into one more Wall Street boondoggle?”

James Hansen, for his part, continues to insist that cap and trade is an “inefficient compromise” and that governments going to Copenhagen are “lying through their teeth” if they say otherwise. In Grist, Hansen writes that climate negotiators need to solve one main equation:

“Unless they order Russia to leave its gas in the ground and Saudi Arabia to leave its oil in the ground (which nobody has proposed), they must phase out coal and prohibit unconventional fossil fuels.”

Over on Scientific American, physicist Myles Allen of the University of Oxford, concurs:

“Any credible plan for avoiding dangerous climate change will have to address the question of what India, China, Russia and the U.S. are going to do with the coal they have underground that we cannot afford for them to release into the atmosphere. If they are not going to use that coal, ever, then who is going to compensate them for the benefits lost? And if they are going to use it, then who is going to pay for its carbon content to be sequestered?”


In the Observer, another member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) weighs in on what’s needed to solve the climate problem. Chair Rajendra Pachauri says that the real power shift needs to happen via “sustainable consumption.” He suggests, for example, that hotel guests should pay for their energy use:

“I don’t see why you couldn’t have a meter in the room to register your energy consumption from air-conditioning or heating and you should be charged for that. By bringing about changes of this kind, you could really ensure that people start becoming accountable for their actions.”

Meanwhile, less than a week before the conference kicks off, a number of newly leaked documents are already threatening to undermine talks. (No, not the Climategate emails, which are still being hotly debated in the blogosphere.) The Telegraph reports:

“Developing countries are preparing to challenge tough limits on their carbon dioxide emissions that could damage their economies, after tough proposals from Denmark were leaked ahead of next week’s Copenhagen climate change summit.”

According to the Guardian, the European Union also stands accused of being a spoiler,

“after confidential papers showed it wants existing overseas aid funding to be used to help poor countries adapt to global warming, not new and additional funds.”

Finally, regarding the controversy triggered by those emails leaked from the University of East Anglia’s climate unit, Mathew Yeglesias at Think Progress tries to understand why some skeptics adamantly believe “these emails prove the existence of a nefarious conspiracy to defraud the public about the evidence for anthropogenic climate change…” What’s the purpose, he asks? After all, he writes:

“How is it that the government of China, which is clearly reluctant to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, doesn’t seem to have any qualms with this science? Maybe political parties from across the spectrum in France endorse consensus climate science because they’re under the influence of the nuclear energy industry, but why does this political consensus extend to the U.K. and all across continental Europe? Are David Cameron and Angela Merkel in the grips of growth-hating socialist ideology? And what about the scientists themselves? Where’s the upside? Normally to posit a giant conspiracy you need some plausible account of the motives.”

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