Is the Copenhagen conference going to be a success?
The raison d’être for the Copenhagen conference is to come up with a binding treaty that will cover the whole world committing the nations of the world to cutting CO2 emissions and so slowing global warming. However since the US congress will not pass a climate change bill in time this is almost certain not to happen. So what is success, the detail of a treaty worked out with it being made legal sometime next year? Commitments on transferring technology? Setting up an adaptation fund?
You can also add to the debate by leaving your comment at the end of the page.
Many countries have made substantial promises already
There are many countries around the world that have already made big commitments on reducing CO2 emissions, particularly the EU. But in the last day South Africa has made commitments, and a week ago India did. Having been a major sticking point, initially arguing for development first, India has been a particular sticking point so it is surprising and very encouraging that they have made these commitments. Many other nations such as Singapore, small as it may be with carbon emissions accounting for less 0.2% has promised to reduce its CO2 emissions 16% below 2020 ‘Business as usual’[[http://thegovmonitor.com/world_news/asia/singapore-to-reduce-emissions-growth-with-new-climate-change-target-17759.html]] level. This is especially surprising since Singapore, like India, has constantly rejected such protocols stating economic reasons. However, the very fact that even the smallest of countries like Singapore and are now stepping up and trying to play their role in reducing world carbon emissions goes to show that the awareness is slowly spreading to all parts of the world. Countries far and wide such as Singapore, Brazil[[http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/294703,brazil-aims-to-reduce-co2-emissions-by-almost-40-per-cent.html]] and even China[[http://www.chinadialogue.net/blog/show/single/en/3336-A-Chinese-environmental-update-]][[http://www.silobreaker.com/china-to-reduce-co2-emissions-by-4045-percent-5_2262766923555012650]] have stepped forth and set targets.
It is not only countries but also companies that are making promises. Take Siemens as an example, they announced "whatever the decision of Copenhagen, Siemens will continue to grow in ecological measures", in fact, their "ecological" sales was US$34.000 millons in the last year.
These cuts still do not come to nearly enough and many have only made ballpark promises. Will the promises made and to be made at the conference be followed by concrete action? On past experience this does not seem to be very likely. For example Norway agreed to the Kyoto protocol but only polluted more. There is no guarantee that world leaders will stand by their word. This is because the fact remains that enforcement of the commitment has always been an issue. Will it change this time? Even supposedly binding treaties are in reality not very binding. As is shown by the US in attacking Iraq International law is not always followed.
Leaders coming to the end of the conference
There are over 100 leaders from countries coming to the end of the summit. These people would not want to be wasting their time so will be wanting to either make some substantial progress or if possible sign something. If they go to the conference only for nothing to come out of it then their popularity is likey to be hit as they will be shown to be leaders who cant get anything done.
Leaders regularly attend summits where nothing happens, they simply create a document and hail it as a success no matter whether it really is. They simply try to pull the wool over the eyes of their populations, claiming to have come out with everything they wanted. Leaders attending can be simple politicking and grandstanding. For example the Scottish minister for climate change Stewart Stevenson has been excluded from the UK delegation because 'the UK will negotiate as a whole.' Given that Scotland's parliament has responsability for scottish environmental legislation and just committed itself to a whopping 42% cut by 2020 this seems to me like an attempt to play the unionist card by the UK govt. Furthermore, since there is a high degree of media attention. Barack Obama himself said he doesn't expect a major agreement to be reached before next year. But he's still attending the conference.
Costs of recession mean developed countries won't make financial commitments.
The banking crisis and the recession have cost the developed world trillions of dollars. This has been used to bail out banks, increase spending and on mitigating social costs. All necessary. However this does mean there is very little money left to help prevent global warming. This is made worse by many Countries owing the international community through the IMF lots of money. They therefore have to focus on repaying debts. These countries have not been able to take care of there own internal crises let alone make significant contribution to a world problem such as climate change.
The leaders of the developed countries have been seeking excuses to defer actions, and the financial crisis/economic recession provides this excuse to shirk financial commitments. It is like the 'prisoner's dilemma' in game theory, all parties know that commitments from all will reach an optimal result; yet because of the lack of binding power, they all refrain from being the first one to commit. As the impact of financial problems is always more imminently felt than that of global warming leaders are hestitant to gamble their electoral support on something that will not realize in their terms of office. It is only when the domestic support for something to be done to combat global warming becomes strong enough, a voice that cannot be ignored, then the leaders would respond accordingly.
If the world can find trillions to bail out banks who caused the crisis then they can surely come up with the money to prevent an even bigger disaster. Once the costs of global warming begin to kick in the costs of the financial crisis will look like small change.
The financial commitment does not need to be massive to start with as global warming is something we are going to have to tackle slowly. So much smaller amounts than went to the banks need to be invested but it will need to be invested year after year not in a one off block. This also means that the commitment could change depending on the economic climate in that year, in boom years more can go to combating climate change, when in a recession less would be spent on climate change.
Money cant really be an object. It's something that has to be done sooner or later, but the later we do it, the more it'll end up costing us and the worse the irreversible damage will be. Phrasing it as solely an economic problem is probably the wrong approach. How do you balance the existance of countries and species and cultures against the cost of technology. We'll be losing a lot more than money if we do nothing.
The US congress will not ratify climate change bill in time.
Any deal needs the United States, however the US congress is not going to have its climate change bill passed through the senate in time. Being the biggest consumer of energy supplies, but also obtaining a large producing industry itself, it is not surprising the US is one of the biggest polluters[[http://timeforchange.org/CO2-emissions-by-country]]. It is therefor it is almost certain that the US is not going to interrupt its economic development for something as 'minor' as global change.
Unfortunetly, superpowers such as the US do not realise that a 'minor' change in temperatures and greenhouse gas concentrations can become a MAJOR issue. Moreover the american people are divided on the issue of climate change as in many other areas so there is no public opinion consensus[[http://www.benzinga.com/press-releases/b53699/global-concern-for-climate-change-cools-off]] pushing for action, congress reflects this. This means that there is almost no chance of having a binding treaty come out of the conference.
The US congress will almost certainly pass the bill shortly after the Christmas break. This means that the US can make a commitment at Copenhagen and everything can be worked out. Only the signing would be left to a later date.
Developing nations won't commit to action.
The developing world will never make commitments to cut their own CO2 emissons. Each does not want to hurt how competitive they are.
Commitments made on paper do not necessarily equate to concrete action. The fact remains that many developing countries have large populations, not to mention a growing middle class, which consumes energy resources more intensively. The developing world argues that the developed world made most of the emissions so far and so they should be the ones making all the cuts. “Although Africa is least responsible for global warming,” it suffers most from a problem that it didn’t create, Jean Ping, chairman of the 52-member African Union Commission, said in an Aug. 25 speech in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. "Even if the cut were to be made in accordance to what level of pollution you contribute …African’s will really make no impact."[[http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601116&sid=aMFGq4Kuvh2g]] Not only do they have very little impact but the developing world has more important priorities such as reducing poverty and ensuring their populations have enough to eat.
While the least developed feel unable to commit to fighting climate change the industialising are unwilling. Developing countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia would not really be willing cut down their CO2 emissions. After all, the main motive of developing countries is to become a developed country some day. In this sense growing Asian countries simply wont commit because it hurts they're growing manufacturing industries too much. By committing to reduce emissions may dampen their developing process. Not an option politically.
However this is increasingly happening even in Africa where during the last 2 decades CO2 is being produced at an ever highter rate.[[http://unstats.un.org/unsd/environment/envpdf/CO2Change.pdf ]] Of course, emissions in Angola or Sudan are total incomparable with that in US, RF or Ch, but the growth in the region very rapid. Africa is potentially a low cost workshop of the world. Bangladesh and Cambodia have already become sewing workshops of the world brands, and according to the UN statistics it’s growth is more than 150% and 800% since 1990.[[http://unstats.un.org/unsd/environment/air_co2_emissions.htm]]
This is just not true. Many developing countries are making commitments, South Africa in the last day, India shortly before, and China is already committed to making cuts. Developing nations do not really have a choice, they are the ones who are going to be affected most by climate change and if they are to persuade the developed nations to act further they need to show that they can act too.
Poverty can't be given as a reason to ignore global warming as climate change is an important (but not the most important) cause of poverty in the developing nations is the deprivation of their ecosystems and environment. Desertification is threatening most North and sub-Saharan Africa and tangible evidence is the fact that the Sahara desert is growing tremendously each year. Higher temperatures and desertification are causing serious problems in farming therefore intensifying poverty.
It'll be a potentially bitter pill to swallow, but if the developing countries can get the developed countries to help out enough it's definately possible for them to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. It may seem unfair for developing countries to cut down their emissions, when they actual footprint per person its not even close to the one of a US Citizen, countries like China and India due to their population, need to do something about it. In recent weeks they have indeed proven to be committed to this global issue. Simply dismissing the possibility that they will make cuts gives them the oppurtunity to live up to the media's pessimistic expectations.
What is success?
The Copenhagen does not have a clear definition of success so how can success be measured at the end of the conference. Hence there should be no threshold for success. This conference may be just another open ended political tool that fails to produce real outcomes and merely expresses to the world that they too, are in agreement that climate change is happening.
The Copenhagen conference may also turn out to have the wrong idea of what success would be due to the idea that the debate has been closed and that Global Warming is happening. If this turns out not to be the case and the need for continued debate and scrutiny of the science is ignored then the conference may simply create expensive problems. There is a realistic chance that there will not be anything even close to catastrophic climate change even if we did nothing. "The Arctic ice caps are not melting. NASA had to admit on 6th April 2009, that the Arctic ice cap refroze at near record rates, while comparisons between 1997 and 2008 show a much bigger ice cap last year."[[http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO0904/S00375.htm]] This is not the only information that is being released which points to the very reasonable possibility that what we have been told over the past several years may not be correct. Therefore while there needs to be action on the environment it should not all be focused on CO2 emissions as they are at the Copenhagen conference. We need to stop deforistation, we need cleaner air and water, all of this should be part of the conference anyway if it is to reduce CO2 emissions but it cannot focus exclusively on one thing that may not turn out to be the problem, or the worst problem.
Success is only if all the countries can come to a true agreement about bringing actual change and ratify it within their own states. Success can be rated on two levels. Positive mitigation and policy outcomes coupled with empowerment and positive re-inforcement. Copenhagen it is hoped will allow all world leaders to take positive steps towards climate action, not merely discussing it and walking away without any actual binding agreements. The world has had enough of climate talks. It's time for action as opposed to passive discussions that continue to go around in circles. If this does not happen now, I cannot see a time when the world will gather on this issue again any time soon.
Success can also be measured by the positive empowerment that the world can walk away with. Individual states can take action, it is hoped on their own terms as well as committing to international agreements.
If success means stopping global warming then a binding commitment for emissions reductions through large investments in renewable energy, appropriate policy to turn deforestation into reforestation and assistance from the developed countries to the rest of the world. A realistic chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change would require that rich, high emissions-per-capita countries like Australia and the U.S. become zero emissions economies by 2020.[[http://www.un.org/esa/dsd/dsd_aofw_cc/cc_briefing1109.shtml]]
What do you think?