Friday, December 25, 2009

Post Copenhagen: Wait, what happened

It is the holiday season and I thought that Copenhagen would be a huge present to the world's ecological and green-citizens. The gift instead ended up being the equivalent of socks or $5 from your grandmother; you know a lot of effort was put into it and you can appreciate it, but it is still a bit of a disappointment, even if you were kind of expecting the socks.

The high hopes for a binding and effective agreement coming out of this meeting were short lived as a result of the walkouts, quick infighting and quickly dissolving accords. Eventually it looked as if absolutely nothing would come out of the conference.

During the Copenhagen talks, The Daily Show has poked fun at the ridiculousness of the proceedings, like the 1,200 Limos that were called out for the event to shuttle these VIP's which is reminiscent of the NY Climate Talk Chopper fiasco, but the final agreement was the ultimate punchline.

A colleague of mine and I were discussing it and she mentioned the fact that she was at the conference, I mentioned my jealousy at her being there, "Don't be," she told me, "it was super stressful and cold." For some reason that sums it for me. The result of the conference ended up being a three page "nothing agreement" that included nothing of substance. Yet the UN reps were more than ready to be struck with awe by it;
As a result, the two-week conference ended with a decision to simply “take note" of the political agreement, which did not go through the consensus-style UN process and had pushed aside prepared texts from years of climate negotiations. Despite the controversy, however, UN climate chief Yvo de Boer praised the pact as “an impressive accord" and the final press release from the secretariat did not mention the decision taken on the deal.
The one area of contention that really aggravated me was the issue of transparency regarding reaching goals. While I am unsure that anyone can actually substantiate the claims that China deliberately sabotaged the talks, it is not surprising to see China's behavior in their "promises" before the event. The President himself, during a speech earlier in the conference stressed the necessity of transparency;
Second, we must have a mechanism to review whether we are keeping our commitments, and exchange this information in a transparent manner. These measures need not be intrusive, or infringe upon sovereignty. They must, however, ensure that an accord is credible, and that we're living up to our obligations. Without such accountability, any agreement would be empty words on a page.
Yet a matter of a day or two later, when the three page accord was announced in a press conference centering around the president, he seemed to forget the importance of that issue. In fact, it seems like he was happy with the outcome, in fact he stated “this important breakthrough lays the foundation for international action in the years to come.” What he seems to forget is that anything laid on a shaky foundation has a tendency to fall to ruins.

I am rather saddened by the fact that certain countries are upset by monitoring and transparency aspects, esp. when this new tracking technology was unveiled at Copenhagen. This rainforest tracking technology would be lent out to countries and governments and could eventually be the ecological equivalent of the SETI@home program. Having this information easily available would allow for an overall tracking system that would allow for easier goal setting and behavior modification.

There are some amazing quotes that analyze the Summit and the Accords that I would just like to show here. From Margaret Swink of Grist;
the most depressing fail for the forests out of Copenhagen is the lack of binding targets to reduce fossil fuel emissions and start to halt climate change. If global temperatures rise above 2 degrees Celsius, most scientists predict that tropical forests will be profoundly affected, experiencing extreme droughts, increased forest fires and other catastrophic weather events. Even if a separate deal to reduce deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries had been agreed upon, the lack of commitment to deep fossil fuel emissions in a legally binding climate change agreement would continue to threaten the world’s forests.
Another summary to the final accord;
The final deal at the Copenhagen climate summit, which was convened to develop a comprehensive international response to the threat of global warming, came down to a behind-closed-doors conversation among some of the most powerful people in the world about the difference between two terms: "examination and assessment" and "international consultations and analysis."
A Blogger that goes by the name The Archdruid Report sums up the entirety of the proceedings and the two main players rather nicely;
The United States and China, who head the main power blocs in the negotiations and also generate more CO2 than anyone else, minted a toothless accord that furthers nobody’s interests but theirs, and proceeded to tell the rest of the world to like it or lump it. A few climate activists are still gamely trying to find grounds for hope in the accord; others are shrilly accusing Barack Obama of betraying the messianic expectations they projected onto him; and a certain amount of stunned silence, in response to the failure of climate activism to have the slightest effect on the proceedings, is also being heard.
Now, when exactly and why the summit failed are points of contention, but most agree that the issue of transparency is a pivotal one. There are also those that blame China for the breakdown of the talks. Part of the reason for this was their strong stance against the issue of monitoring. In fact it seems that; "now that Copenhagen is widely seen as a failure, and China as the main culprit, China’s propaganda workers are in overdrive trying to spin the story in China’s favor."

It makes sense that China who has a history steeped in isolationism and being the victim of colonization would be sensitive to the concept of foreign oversight. As a Wall Street Journal Article states;
Verifying compliance with a climate treaty is likely to be "orders of magnitude more difficult" than verifying other international agreements, such as arms-control treaties, says Kenneth Lieberthal, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

For China, he adds, "the main concern is sovereignty, and a desire not to allow others to dictate what they see, and the conditions on which they see it."
But China must realize that this is a world issue and necessitate world collaboration and that this is an effort hold countries accountable.

Though this Accord is pretty much a parody, it is interesting to see who was on board and not on for the Copenhagen Accord but it is not surprising that Cuba is not because of Castro's comments on Copenhagen.
He called the summit "a fallacy, a farce" and said Washington used back-room deals and strong-arm tactics to foist on the world a deal that he labeled "undemocratic" and "suicidal" because it urges — but does not require — major polluters to make deeper emissions cuts.
What world leaders seem to forget is that the ramifications of the failures at Copenhagen affect not just politics and progress on a national scale, but even states and municipalities as well. California itself had a massive delegation at Copenhagen during the "trainwreck period" and many commented on the fears regarding the future of the climate-progressive state;

"People who are trying to use AB32 (California Global Warming Solutions Act) in next year's election will use any negative result out of Copenhagen," said Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, the powerful agency that is drawing up the web of regulations that will enforce the bill. "They already believe they've caught something they can use to get people to the polls."

Copenhagen made me wonder if it would be more effective to take government entities slightly out of the picture and put the emphasis on NGOs. With NGOs you have more mulit-national flexibility and the ability to break down goals regionally instead of socio-politically. Perhaps that will be the more effective method. Whatever the solution is, it should come a little bit sooner than later based on the fact that apparently the "Earth (is) on track for (an) epic die-off" according to scientists.

So what does this leave us with? A ton of money spent, no real binding agreement, the finger of blame pointed everywhere, a bunch of beaten up protesters, and to wait for next year’s December meeting of the UNFCCC in Mexico City.

I will leave you with a sweet "Dr. Suess"esk version of the proceedings please watching/listen to this amazing video;

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