December 7th marked the start of two weeks of climate meetings, high level discussions and side events in Copenhagen for the Fifteenth Conference of Parties (COP15), also called the UN Climate Change Conference. This date also marked the start of fifteen-hour days of coffee, typing, running to events, typing, the occasional meal, typing, and more coffee inside an enormous conference center for yours truly.
With over fifteen thousand delegates, NGOs, observer organizations, governmental officials and press in attendance at the Bella Center in Copenhagen, this conference is officially the largest gathering ever on the issue of climate change.
Over 110 heads of State are expected to attend the high level segment of the summit starting late next week, including U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. COP15 has become the culmination of proposals and negotiations over the past two years leading to what hopes to be an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012.
The summit in Copenhagen has been portrayed as a pivotal event in the world’s efforts to prevent catastrophic consequences to the Earth’s climate caused by greenhouse gas emissions. The international community will be watching next week as heads of State and nations outline their official positions on their countries’ emissions reductions and financial contributions which will hopefully culminate in an international agreement.
Life in the Bella Center has been full of constant noise and excitement since the Prime Minister of Denmark kicked off the start of the UN conference on Monday. While this week has been fast-paced and the conference center appears filled to capacity, things are expected to get decidedly more intense and packed as high level officials begin to arrive next week.
Plenary meetings and side events have filled the agenda this past week and we've already encountered several protests and threats to walk out of COP discussions.
On the first day of the summit, the delegation for Saudi Arabia declared their lone stance in opposition to the climate change science - leading to strong reactions from Kevin Conrad of Papua New Guinea.
Drama again ensued the next day when a leaked document, which is being called the "Danish Text", was revealed. This document is rumoured to be an agreement worked on behind closed doors by the US, UK and Denmark and which was intended to be signed next week. While the document may, in fact, may just be a draft in progress, its discovery lead to an uproar by the African delegations who feared that the rich countries were bypassing the UN process by secretly negotiating a deal which appeared to highly favour rich countries.
And, yesterday, Tuvalu wanted to suspend COP negotiations when it was revealed that their proposal for a supplementary agreement to the Kyoto Protocol for signature by developing nations was never advanced.
Despite all of this drama and chaos, people seem to be somewhat optimistic that there will be at least some positive results and agreement coming out of Copenhagen next week, although this agreement will likely fall short of many delegations hopes. There seems little chance that emissions reduction targets and financing will meet the goals of a number of developing countries who hope to limit a global temperature increase to 1-1.5C rather than the 2C target currently under consideration.
I believe that delegations are eager for U.S. President Barack Obama’s arrival next week as many see the United States as the lynchpin to securing a strong and effective agreement in Copenhagen. While President Obama campaigned on the platform of change and tackling the issue of climate change, thus far, he has failed to show significant legislative commitments to emissions reductions (the U.S. currently only commits to a 17% emissions reduction target below 2005 levels which is effectively only a 3% reduction from 1990, the baseline used under the Kyoto Protocol). Furthermore, the topic of climate change has become a controversial issue recently within the United States. Despite this, however, I believe that Obama recognizes the importance of U.S. action in regards to climate change and will make U.S. commitments next week beyond what may be domestically popular for President back home.
Over the course of the next week and a half, I will continue to reside inside the Bella Center. Please stay tuned as I attempt to tackle some of the hot issues taking place in Copenhagen and the role of Obama in next week’s negotiations.