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Copenhagen: Moving forward, destination unknown

Something resembling order has been restored to the Bella Center in Copenhagen. The climate talks are back on track after getting derailed, for a second time, by protests from poor countries who are angry about a lack of commitment from industrialized nations as well as lack of clarity about the ultimate architecture of a possible agreement (see BBC , Telegraph).

Meanwhile, the dual-track talks are now taking place on multiple levels, with technical negotiators handling the details and ministers working on the bigger picture in preparation for the historic arrival of some 130 heads of state beginning this evening. The United Nations has had to institute a quota system to control access to the Bella Center. The official capacity is 15,000, but some 45,000 people have now sought accreditation.

What’s remarkable is that the outcome remains in doubt. It’s hard to believe that so many heads of state could walk away with nothing, but the gap between rich and poor countries remains as wide and deep as ever. I just talked to Koko Warner, who researches adaptation issues at the United Nations University, and she says there is still a possibility that a deal could be reached. And keep in mind that she is an optimist.

The pessimists are many, and they say the talks might well come to naught in Copenhagen. Warner acknowledges such a possibility but says the game changes when heads of state arrive. “It’s a historic moment,” she says. But ultimately, the entire affair might well turn on whether the US and China can work out their differences.

And while politicians struggle with discussions over relatively modest greenhouse gas reductions, scientists just keep hammering home the message that more needs to be done. Yesterday the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme released a new report on the ice-sheet melting in Greenland, while Al Gore and Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store released a second report looking at snow and ice trends across the globe. Bottom line: Global sea levels are projected to rise by 1 metre by 2100, more than double the estimate from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 assessment.

This isn’t surprising scientifically, but both scientists and politicians at the meeting used the information as “a call to action,” which is actually in the title of the second document. Store called for stronger action in Copenhagen and for additional action on black carbon and short-lived greenhouse gases, such as methane and ozone.


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