State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

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The Current May Be Shifting

This is the twenty-eighth of a continuing series of essays and interviews from Earth Institute scientists on the prospects for a global climate-change treaty. Check with us daily for news and perspectives, and to make comments, as events unfold throughout the Copenhagen meetings.

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As I write this a little after midnight on Thursday, less than 24 hours remain before the close of the Copenhagen talks. Local television is playing continuous loops of an English-language TV movie (with Danish subtitles) about an evil oil company that is trying to sabotage the “Kyoto 2 talks at Calgary” by pressuring the U.S. delegation, besmirching a respected scientist, hiding damaging data, and maybe worse.

Many top-level officials arrived today. More than 100 heads of state are expected. As I was standing in the lobby of the Crowne Plaza Hotel this morning buttoning up for a cold walk to the train, a security person rushed up to me, made it clear that I was to step aside, and said something in a language I couldn’t make out, but the word “president” was definitely in there. A few seconds later an entourage walked by surrounding a well-groomed man whose face I didn’t recognized, lightly waving to several befuddled onlookers.

A few hours later an official whose face I would recognize — U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton — announced that the United States would contribute to a $100-billion-a-year fund to aid in the adaptation efforts of developing countries. Such an arrangement had been advocated by British prime minister Gordon Brown and, yesterday, was endorsed by the president of Ethiopia, speaking on behalf of the African Union. This announcement raised new hopes that an agreement can be reached. There was also talk that China was bending on the U.S. demand that it submit to independent monitoring of its fulfillment of emissions reductions commitments.

For several days it has been clear that an agreement on reduction of deforestation and degradation (REDD) would emerge from Copenhagen. Today there was much discussion both of how much cheaper REDD is at reducing greenhouse gas emissions than such technologies as carbon capture and sequestration. There was also discussion of some of the complexities of implementing a REDD agreement, including the effect on the rights of indigenous peoples; the uncertainties of land title in forested areas; and the multiple holders of different kinds of property rights in many such areas.

Today virtually all nongovernmental organization representatives were excluded from the Bella Center. (As I previously reported, access was severely restricted on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.) Many side events were canceled, or diverted to new accommodations. At a meeting today of international environmental lawyers (at which there was a short break so people could put on their overcoats because the meeting had been arranged with such haste that the heating hadn’t been ordered), one lawyer indicated that tomorrow he would file a petition claiming that the access restrictions violated the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making, and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters of 1998 (the Aarhus Convention).

I was on a panel at a side event with the state environmental commissioners of New York and Vermont, the mayor of Little Rock, Arkansas, and several others. It is clear that states and cities have played a major role in the development of climate policies. It is also clear that their role will be even greater if the J.S. congress does not enact climate legislation in 2010.

Michael Gerrard heads the Center for Climate Change Law at the Columbia Law School. He is writing from Copenhagen.

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Danilo Davin
14 years ago

The Bella Center was tested to the maximum. I guess the UN security staff wasn’t ready to handle such a massive crowd from the civil society.

REDD did emerge as a decision, but I hoped it had been stronger. I attended a side event where Norway said it would give Brazil another 500 millions in the context of REDD.

It’s a nice way forward