State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Is there hope from Copenhagen?

awea_hopenhagenCan we find positives from the United Nations Summit on climate change?  Even President Obama  admits that disappointment is justified, although the Commander in Chief claims a non-binding accord was better than a complete collapse of the negotiations.

Jeffrey Sachs, fearless leader of the Earth Institute, adamantly opposed such victory proclamation from the President, for Obama’s disrespect to the international negotiation process.  Sachs feels that Obama fostered a vague and non-binding agreement because it was  convenient for the current messy state of domestic climate politics.

Certainly, a non-binding commitment with no framework for further negotiations is much less than most hoped, but others believe that it is what could have been expected.  Robert Stavins of Harvard’s Kennedy School argues that the best goal for the negotiations was to build the foundation for meaningful, global action rather than declaring a short term numerical benchmark.  As opposed to the  Kyoto Protocol, the Copenhagen Accord, vague as it may be, recognizes the fundamental differences between developing and developed economies and the challenges that each will face in curbing emissions growth.

Sam Hummel echoed similar sentiments in a Grist article last month, as he finds five major fallacies in the media coverage on the climate summit, refuting statements that the Copenhagen Accord is a “sham” on which developing nations collectively disagreed.

Aside from three page non-binding document signed at the 11th hour, did behind the scenes discussions give us hope for the future path of world leaders on arguably the biggest challenge of our lifetime?


Early in the second week of the summit, close to 80 mayors of major cities came together to pledge their emissions goals.  On a local level, change is happening.  California is working through its own cap and trade system.  New York’s City Council recently passed aggressive building emissions regulations.  CRED’s Psychology of Climate Change Communication focuses attention to the importance of local communities on environmental decisions.  The group’s research with student groups suggests that local “messengers” may be more likely to elicit responses for action on climate change as opposed to calls from distant locales.  Complexities of international negotiations leave many with an overwhelming feeling of disappointment or confusion but it is important to keep in mind the valuable impact that individual actions have on a local level.

Two other important progress points made in Copenhagen are highly noteworthy.  First is the recognition of REDD, Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, as a viable funding model for protecting natural carbon sinks.  Second is the establishment of the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund, dedicated to helping developing countries fund crucial climate change adaptations. This again is another split from Kyoto and although pledge plans are not forthcoming, it is a start.

Could Copenhagen have been more “successful?”  Undoubtedly.  Is this to blame on American political failure to bring serious emissions targets to the negotiating table?  Perhaps.

Although it falls behind Health Care and Job legislation in the United States Congress, 2010 is a crucial political moment, particularly for Climate and Energy legislation, particularly in the Senate.  Ensuring the stronger success of future international negotiations is the responsibility of all American citizens – we all must keep this issue top of mind for our Senators and Congressional representatives in the new year.  And we must all listen carefully to President Obama’s State of the Union remarks this evening to hear how we will truly pave a green path forward.

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Sarah Ferguson
Sarah Ferguson
14 years ago

Oh dear!

Have none of you read the intelligent blogosphere?

Please do not insult us with the Crusade to reduce us to an agrarian economy.

May I suggest that, instead of taking steps to demolish the economy of the US, you channel your research funds into viable energy sources. Stirling engines, fusion power are some which spring to mind. Mind you, it is a pity POTUS wants to scrap the space programme since many of the recent technological advances emanate from the previous space programmes.

As an engineer, I am appalled at the geo engineering suggestions being made elsewhere – filling the air with sulphates to cool the planet. But aren’t sulphates pollutants?

Stop flogging a dead horse – the IPCC AND their recommendations are now totally discredited – get the real engineers on the job – not railway engineers and astrophysicists!

14 years ago

Climate Change is an emergency of unprecedented proportions and it is long overdue that a 24-hour channel and website be created to detail, log, and provide ongoing and potential solutions to this crisis from around the world.

Perhaps, the best government institution to run this operation would be The Smithsonian and National Geographic.