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Copenhagen: If you put it in the hands of leaders…

At the last round of climate talks in Barcelona, I had an interesting conversation with a former negotiator about what the global leaders might do here in Copenhagen. It wasn’t so much a betting game about what they would actually get done as a discussion about how the mere presence of actual decision makers could result in a political phase-change of sorts.

Negotiators are trained to negotiate, and environment ministers handle environmental issues. Typically these talks don’t get beyond environment ministers, but these officials don’t have much to say about things like money (which is one reason why global warming talks are so difficult). Both levels have mandates and tend to focus on the text, but leaders can do anything they want as long as they can sell it back home.

Which is what everybody wanted, but at the same time everybody seemed surprised when the US President Barack Obama emerged from a series of multilateral meetings with a completely new outline that pretty much ignored two years of negotiations. There was uproar and confusion when the deal came down in the Bella Center. Even seasoned diplomats had no idea what to make of it. Anger over the lack of ambition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions flared during the plenary, eventually leading to ugly Holocaust comparisons and one Venezuelan negotiator holding up a bloody hand to signify something that I didn’t quite catch). Nobody appeared to like it, including signatories.

Although to be fair, it must be said that virtually everybody ended up endorsing it as the best path forward. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that a bunch of sleep-deprived zombies with blood-shot eyes and two-day socks “took note of” the proposal. What does that mean? Let’s go to United Nations climate chief Yvo de Boer for the answer: “That is a way of recognizing something is there, without directly associating yourself with it.”

And so, we have a deal which the UN climate body has recognized and with which countries can associate themselves if they so choose. The initial deadline for registering pledges, which would presumably be those that are already on the table, is this February. We’ll see. Debate over the significance of the deal will continue for a long time to come (see the New York Times and the Guardian for a current sampling) but one thing is clear: the game has changed.

And with that I’ll sign off. Watch out for our coverage in next week’s issue, and beyond.


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    Ramil said:

    To ensure that every nation will reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, leaders need to develop and sign a document that will actually work.Without it all these talks are useless.So far every such a meeting was a failure.I that even without these meeting every country need to reduce it’s emissions.But to do so people have to put in their head that our nature depend on us and we depend on our nature, and start do whatever they can on their own.If every household will go green, the goverments of each country will HAVE to go green as well.

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    Steven Earl Salmony said:

    People are not speaking out loudly and clearly about the colossal threat that is posed to humanity by the skyrocketing growth of human population numbers on Earth.

    Despite the unfortunate, inhumane ways a “ONE CHILD PER FAMILY” policy was implemented in China, the policy could be vital for the future of humankind and life as we know it in our planetary home. The immediate, free, universal and compassionate implementation of a voluntary “one child per family” policy could decisively limit adverse, human-driven impacts on Earth’s body and its environs, and do so more powerfully than any other conceivable human intervention.

    Given the already visible, converging global threats to human wellbeing and environmental health that are presented to the family of humanity in our time, the humane implementation of one child per family could be an indispensible centerpiece of a set of adequately designed, actionable programs that serve to actually rescue a good enough future for the children and coming generations.

    If a root cause of the global threats on humanity’s horizon now is the unbridled growth of absolute global human population numbers, our willful denial of this primary cause could make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the children to reasonably address and sensibly overcome these threats. Then the children are likely being directed down a “primrose path” to confront some unimaginable kind of ecological wreckage, the likes of which only Ozymandias has seen. The children will not understand why the catastrophe is occurring. Because their elders refused to acknowledge the best available scientific evidence of human population dynamics and, therewith, adequately “diagnose” the distinctly human-induced global predicament all of us face now, the children will not know what hit them, why it is happening, and what is required of them so as not to commit the same mistakes made by the elders.

    This is only a guess but please note the likelihood that history will not be kind to the woefully inadequate leaders in my not-so-great generation of arrogant, extremely foolish and avaricious elders.

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