TreeHugger Live at the UN Summit on Climate Change


image: Gabriel Rodriguez via flickr.
Note: This post will be updated throughout the day. Check back for updates as events unfold.
12:00 EDT -- Monitoring Expectations & Staking Out Positions
Nothing really spectacular actually came out of today's statements, though I'm not sure anyone expected otherwise. The mood so far definitely seems to be of monitoring expectations and laying out positions, with pains taken not to appear adversarial, prior to the big show in December. Everyone is on board with the idea that something has to be done about climate change, and sooner rather than later, but among the big players, no one seems really to be willing to give that much ground -- at least at this stage and in this biggest of public forum. 11:38 EDT
Interesting --- Al Gore: We have a third branch of government, the courts... points out the CO2 emissions have been classified as pollutants under Clean Air Act... hints at the EPA could act alone (hints, mind you...). Refers to recent ruling that utilities can be sued to reduce emissions... Even without legislation, existing law requires reductions in CO2.

By a number of analyses he's very much right, but to do so really (in my opinion) should be only a last ditch effort. It would create completely the wrong feeling on the issue. We need to come together in the view that emission reductions are the right thing to do. Without that agreement we could backslide into the current business as usual situation at some future date.

11:28 EDT
Al Gore sees glass "very much half-full" -- referring to Hu Jintao's speech.

11:22 EDT
Al Gore is asked about a climate bill not passing before COP15... he responds:

I do believe the US has an almost unique role...in providing important leadership in a situation like this. The ability of President Obama to wield the moral authority that the US has built up since the end of World War 2...would be greatly enhanced if he could go to Copenhagen with this legislation passed.

I would hope that the US Senate will pass legislation before Copenhagen. If it does so, the world can look with confidence that the differences between the House and Senate bill will be worked out.... The world wants and needs a timely solution to the climate crisis.

11:14 EDT
Dr Shi (chairman of Suntech): general remarks about the possibility of solar, but a bit of a yawn really....

Helmy Abouleish (from SEKEM) opens identifying himself as an organic farmer from Egypt (which will be the second-most impact country in the world...). Farmers are part of the solution in the form of sustainable farming and soil management... Calls for incentives, financing for incentivizing farmers throughout Africa to improve food security and combat climate change.

11:12 EDT
Danish PM: Private sector holds the key to the transition to a low-carbon economy...Government, business and civil society needs to join forces.

11:08 EDT
Danish PM, Lars Løkke Rasmussen: True commitment is what the world needs on climate change... developed world needs greater emission reduction targets... need to finance overseas adaptation and mitigation efforts...

11:03 EDT -- Meanwhile, in Conference Room 4
After threading my way through a sea of security guards, questions about credentials and a sea of people speaking countless languages, we get to Conference Room 4, where Al Gore and the PM of Denmark are speaking.

Al Gore: US leadership is crucial between now and Copenhagen... due to political "difficulties" in the US... calls on Senate to pass climate legislation "quickly"... urges Congress to avoid "backward looking" amendments being introduced into bill... calls for solutions to financing climate change mitigation technologies.

Action of heads of state will be crucial to breaking the deadlock on negotiations. But doing so is not an impossible challenge.

10:54 ET
Running out to another press conference... Al Gore...

10:53 EDT
Arias still... the cost of preserving the planet is less expensive that annihilating it (yup!!!)

With a small fraction of military spending we could cover the whole cost of stabilizing GHG emissions in the world... (yup!!) The world has in its military spending a savings account that could be spent for environmental protection.

10:46 EDT
President of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias Sanchez, is speaking from the perspective of medium-size states.... (in Spanish, through interpreter)

"we need to choose life, above any disagreements"... we can no longer evade responsibility based on excuses and accusations... nations which have benefited from previous unsustainable development must step up... without clean and inexpensive energy middle-income countries will disrupt the path of the economic growth... we need to bring the price of renewable energy to lower levels within eight years (so middle-income countries can benefit from it)... we must compensate the owners of private forests (for conservation)... we must reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation...

We need to transform environmental protection from liability for companies to an asset... as Costa Rica has done.

10:43 EDT
Reinfeldt: Agreement by G8 of 2°C goal is good but we now to take action to actually make that happen -- we need to make 25-40% emission reductions by 2020 (1990 levels) -- that's what the science says is required and great to hear the PM say it publicly... very good indeed to hear it.

10:39 EDT
Swedish PM speaking... "for everyday that goes by without us taking action the consequences will be more severe for all of us"

Maybe it's me, but there's nothing really new here -- even if everything Fredrik Reinfeldt is stating is entirely accurate, factual, there doesn't seem to be buzz around it -- everyone seems to be taking calls in the press room right now.

10:35 EDT
Kagame: We need to get beyond the hard distinctions between developed/developing nations in combatting climate change -- (in spirit... he obviously sees this, rightly, as a stumbling block in international negotiations).

Great! "There is intrinsic value in nature, beyond the products we enjoy" -- not often you hear a world leader making that point. You wouldn't hear Hu or Obama expressing that sentiment at this sort of gathering. Perhaps that's natural, considering the relative global positions of China/US and Rwanda, but nice nonetheless.

10:28 EDT
Paul Kagame (Rwandan president): Africa will have the greatest impact of climate change but has less resources to manage the challenge, but Africa didn't create the problem... (a constant theme this week) ... but blame will be counterproductive... we need shared adaptation strategy.

Interesting point regarding: We need different carbon trading schemes for nations below 2 tons per year per capita emissions and those above it.... the global trade in carbon will then result in $1 trillion per year. (Think I heard him right on that...)

10:18 EDT
Yukio Hatoyama, the new prime minister of Japan, has taken the podium -- but frankly, the atmosphere has sagged a bit post Obama and Hu. Which is a bit of shame because...

On emission reduction targets: Developed countries need to take lead. Japan should commit itself to 25% by 2020 (good!) by 1990 levels. (This is met with clapping...)

Developing nations must reduce GHG emissions based on differentiated responsibilities... (which is UN-speak for acknowledging that nations should reduce poverty and grown their economies, but can't do so willy nilly, without regard to emissions).

10:15 EDT
We will improve energy efficiency, cut emissions based on 2005 levels, develop renewable energy and nuclear power (15% renewables by 2020), increase forest cover by 40 million hectares.

10:11 EDT - Hu Jintao
Everyone's waiting for this one.... More so than Obama (at least in the press room).

Speaking through interpreter: Climate change is a major challenge facing all countries... First: we must fulfill our "respective responsibilities" our "common but differentiated responsibilities"... we must adhere to this to keep negotiations on the right track -- (an obvious reference to the fact that China won't commit to binding targets) -- we need to make an agreement a win-win for all countries

Third (missed two in there ;): We have to have tackled climate change in the course of development. It is imperative to give consideration to the development stage...while we address climate change... developed nations need to pay attention to the needs of developing nations.

We need to combine our efforts to combat climate change with efforts at growth in developing nations.

Developed countries need to provide financial support to developing countries to enable them to have access to climate friendly technologies.

China has taken, and will continue to take, determined and practical steps to meet this challenge... (describes Chinese efforts to combat climate change, slow deforestation, prevent pollution).

10:09 EDT
The Maldives president (still): If things continues as usual we will not live, we will die, our country will not exist.

10:05 EDT
Maldives president: Lack of trust between developed and developing world is holding us back -- fear of acting first without others acting.

These concerns are normal, however "I would argue that the threat posed by climate change is so acute...that such brinkmanship must be left in the past." Will the world actually listen this time to the Maldives' advice?

10:03 EDT
Developed nations must acknowledge responsibility... must make ambitious, binding commitments... Developing nations must also make binding commitments consistent with their different capabilities... developed nations must provide adaptation assistance.

10:00 EDT
President of the Maldives takes the floor...

The Maldives gets asked once or twice a year to explain climate change threat to the nation... we tell you how bad it is and what the consequences will be...

But after the initial indignation fades, everyone forgets about the Maldives and business as usual resumes.... RIGHT ON!

"We know deep down, you aren't really listening." I don't want to sound down-hearted but I want to be honest.

09:57 EDT
Speech ends, again to resounding clapping. Solid overall, but nothing radical -- as with the Ban Ki-moon, not that I expected it to be. The gap between Obama's statements and the attitude of some members of Congress and the American public is vast.

09:52 EDT
We must not let the perfect become the enemy of progress -- this is the call of the week so far. From Tony Blair to Todd Stern to Jairam Ramesh, it keeps getting said. It seems to be management of expectations: Publicly acknowledging (without directly saying) that we're not going to reach the level of emission reductions that science says are required but which no developed nation is prepared to make. It's quite painful, and obvious. The mood seems optimistic, but very politically realistic.

"It will do little good to eliminate poverty if you cannot harvest your crops..." very true.

By disseminating our technology we can help developing nations leapfrog over the dirty technology of the past -- now let's actually enable that -- getting past the nationalism on this one...

09:45 EDT - Obama Arrives
Barack Obama arrives to resounding clapping.

If we fail to meet the threat of climate change we consign future generations to catastrophe. Rising sea levels, more powerful storms, droughts breed hunger & conflict. Families are already being forced out of islands.

Time is running out... but we can reverse the problem. References JFK in that humans created this problem and we can fix it.

It's a new day, a new era -- the US has done more in the past eight months here than in the past eight years. (Lists off accomplishments...pretty standard stuff...)

09:38 EDT
IPCC chairman Dr Rajendra Pachauri: Makes the familiar scientific case that climate change is definitely happening. References the effect on the Maldives -- whose president is scheduled to speak later this morning.

If we take no action [on climate change] average temperatures could rise up to 7°C since industrialization. He must halt "this unacceptable trend" -- rising CO2 levels.

He's reading off a laundry list of dire climate change effects. Regular TreeHugger readers are probably aware of most of these, so employ that search box up on the right ;)

Wow! In Africa 75-250 million people will be exposed to water stress due to climate change -- twelve countries could become failed states due to environmental factors.

09:30 EDT
The Secretary General has been making opening remarks. Nothing particularly radical (as you'd expect, given the balancing act he has to perform here...), urging the world leaders and representatives in the room to take strong action on climate change.

Developing nations will need extensive financial and technical support to achieve environmental sustainable growth.

A deal in Copenhagen must include strong support for the world's least developed countries -- they've contributed the least to climate change and will suffer the worst, and first.

A climate deal needs to be properly financed -- without this the deal is essentially and empty commitment.

"The true test of leadership is taking the long view" -- so very very true but so seldom taken.

Not acting in Copenhagen is moral inexcusable.

09:23 EDT
Students from around the world begin speaking -- "Less Talk More Action" is the message -- this seems to be taken from the UNEP's Tunza Children & Youth Conference from last month.

It's basically the perennial message: Why is so much spent on military actions when there are so many other pressing problems? Why are developing nations making the same mistakes that developed ones did? Doesn't everyone have the right to clean water? Instead of continuing to invest in the same things that created the problem, we need to start investing in solutions? World leaders are failing us (youth) as global citizens and role models.

09:15 EDT
Djimon Hounsou begins, showing off a photo taken from space by Voyager of the Earth as a small dot among the stars. "Humanity has always asked why are we here. What is our legacy... we all exist on the same planet. Our only home. This pale blue dot."

Reads from Carl Sagan's book "Pale Blue Dot" with appropriately moving music in the background. Frankly the music is drowning out the weight of Hounsou's reading.

Despite that the reading is received well, with strong clapping.

9:00 EDT
Hey everyone, awaiting the start of the opening plenary session at the United Nations. Scheduled to speak are Djimon Hounsou, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, President Barack Obama, Mohamed Nasheed (president of the Maldives), Chinese president Hu Jintao, the prime minister of Japan, Dr Rajendra Pachauri (chair of the IPCC), Wangari Maathai, and a number other dignitaries. Everyone's still filing in; more soon...

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