Tidbits from Copenhagen

20091207 Logo climateAs you probably know, the United Nations is in the midst of its Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. Countries are trying to compromise on a new global climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol and tackle the massive global problem of climate change. While a new binding treaty on emissions reduction will not be created at Copenhagen, world leaders want to hammer out the basic principles of an agreement so that a treaty can be created and ratified next year. In case you have been too busy studying for finals to pay attention to the conference, here are some of the more interesting happenings from last week and issues that still need to be resolved as heads of state come to the conference later in the week:

• Ever heard of Tuvalu? This tiny island nation has its highest point only four meters above sea level, and most of its population lives below two meters above sea level, so it would be devastated by the rise in sea level that is predicted to accompany global warming. Delegates from Tuvalu proposed an amendment to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. This would only allow for a .75 degrees Celsius increase higher than the increase to this point, and it would require cuts in carbon emissions that are significantly more ambitious than the proposals of the world’s major powers, including the U.S. This amendment received support from other island nations such as Grenada and the Solomon Islands, and was met with fierce opposition by Saudi Arabia, China, and India. Although Tuvalu’s proposal is unlikely to be adapted, it remains to be seen how the interests of small island nations and of large energy producing nations will be met in a final agreement.

• Over the weekend, an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 protesters from hundreds of countries marched through the city to the convention center where delegates were meeting. This demonstration brought together environmental groups, human rights activists, climate activists and anti-capitalists, and was largely peaceful. However, police did detain at least 950 people in a demonstration that turned violent in a different part of the city. Click here for a photo of this amazing display of support for a strong global climate treaty.

• The U.S. and China are at a disagreement about China’s refusal to accept international monitoring of its carbon emissions. China’s has pledged to reduce its “carbon intensity” (the growth of its emissions) by 40 percent by 2020, even though this would still lead to a net rise in its emissions. The U.S. is unhappy because it has no way of verifying that China is meeting these goals. As of Tuesday morning, the countries had reached a stalemate over this issue.

• With several days remaining in the conference and state leaders including President Obama scheduled to arrive later in the week, several major issues remain unresolved. How much aid will rich countries give to poorer countries to combat the effects of global warming? Will the United States commit to strong cuts in carbon emissions such as those proposed by the European Union, or will it decide to make only modest cuts because of fears that the Senate will not approve a strong treaty? How will developing countries such as China and India cut carbon emissions without sacrificing economic growth? Most importantly, will an agreement be reached at all, or will these issues be pushed back to the next round of climate talks next year? Stay tuned to the negotiations in Copenhagen this week for the answers.

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