SAN FRANCISCO, 12 DECEMBER 2009
Dear EarthTalk: What do organizers hope to accomplish at the (7 -
18 December 2009) United Nations Climate Change Conference in
F. Rojas, Oakland, CA
The COP15 meeting in Denmark so named because it is the 15th
such international gathering of the Conference of the Parties (COP) under
the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the world's
next big chance to take decisive multi-lateral action on reducing
greenhouse gas emissions substantially enough to ward off cataclysmic
Negotiators from all over the globe hope to come to terms on a binding
agreement regarding emissions reductions that both developed and
developing nations can agree to. The stakes are high: This conference
represents the final step in negotiations years in the making and the
results could chart a course toward success or failure in human efforts to
control the carbon beast we set free in the industrial revolution.
Officially, the stated goal of COP15, according to United Nations
organizers, is "to stabilize the amount of greenhouse gases in the
atmosphere at a level that prevents dangerous man-made climate changes."
They add that "this stabilization must occur in such a way as to give the
ecosystems the opportunity to adapt naturally" without compromising food
safety or hindering sustainable social and economic development around the
world. Organizers, delegates and a wide range of other participants some
10,000 people are expected to attend are still holding out hope for the
establishment of an ambitious, legally binding global emissions reduction
agreement to take effect beginning in 2012. That is when initial
commitments made under the Kyoto Protocol, an earlier international
climate treaty that the U.S. refused to join, expire.
One sticking point is whether or not the Obama administration will risk
agreeing to major emissions reductions without the prior consent of
Congress. The most promising U.S. climate legislation, the so-called
Kerry-Boxer Bill, is currently under consideration in the Senate but
likely wont be voted on until February 2010 or later; traditionally the
American government likes to iron out its policy legislatively at home
before agreeing to international commitments. But bi-partisan backers of
the bill in the Senate say they can agree on terms now that will be
acceptable to enough to their colleagues for later passage, enabling
American negotiators at Copenhagen to have some guidelines at the COP15
China and much of the developing world would like to see industrialized
countries cut their greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels
by 2020, but analysts say such drastic cuts are unlikely to fly with U.S.
politicians. Climate champion Al Gore is urging COP15 delegates to create
a binding legal framework where commitments can be ratcheted up with time
as governments begin to realize the benefits of switching to larger
amounts of renewable energy and participating in the development of green
Beyond the big question of U.S. participation, COP15 negotiators will
be trying hard to forge a consensus on a wide range of related issues,
including: what year should be set as the baseline against which specific
reduction targets will be measured; the duration of the emissions
reduction commitment period; whether or not to call for curbs on
deforestation, especially in developing countries tropical rainforests;
and whether or not to tighten rules governing the methods used to reduce
CONTACT: COP15, www.cop15.dk.
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Title photo above: Getty Images
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