With Legally Binding Copenhagen Deal Dead in the Water, Where Do We Go From Here?


photo: anoldent via flickr.

I hate to say this, because pressure absolutely needs to be kept up on politicians in the next few weeks before COP15, but the green community needs to read the writing on the wall and start moving beyond Copenhagen. Despite a few policy notables, all signs point to no legally binding deal in December; and, let's be realistic, no amount of protest is going to align political will with scientific necessity at this point:Let's back up though, to check out some of those recent throw in the towel statements...

An Agreement Without Numbers is Wholly Inadequate
In the UK, Ed Miliband said the UN negotiations were "moving too slowly and not going well" due to nations being "stuck in entrenched positions." To his credit, Miliband also said he would have preferred a full legal treaty, and that whatever agreement is reached "it must lead, on a very clear timetable, to a legally binding treaty" and an agreement without emission reduction numbers is "wholly inadequate."

What Does 'Politically Binding' Mean, Anyway?
In Denmark the language has shifted from "legally binding" to "politically binding", whatever the heck that means. As Kevin Grandia from DeSmogBlog aptly puts in the Huffington Post, "Since when do we trust promises made by politicians?"

Political Agreement Must Hit the Main Elements of Full Treaty
In the US, negotiator Todd Stern has said a full deal "doesn't look like it's on the cards for December" and that "we should make progress towards a political agreement that hits each of the main elements."


photo: Kevin King via flickr.
Battle Lines Haven't Changed in Months
In short, the same battle lines that were drawn at the start of 2009 remain largely the same: Developing nations are demanding cuts in line with what science recommends (40% off 1990 levels by 2020) to keep temperature rise below 2°C -- something which the G8 agreed was the goal back in August -- and the rich countries of the world largely are saying we don't have the political will to do that. Currently aggregate emission reduction pledges are around 16%. Oh, and we don't have the will to pony up enough money to help developing nations adapt to climate change either; we'll give something, but not what you want.

We Have Moral Responsibility to Prevent Climate Change
Lumumba Di-Aping from Sudan, chair of the G77 group of developing nations sums it up well: Developed nations still have "a moral, financial and political responsibility" to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Di-Aping again:

if you take the EU position of a 20 or 30% cut [in emissions] the result is to condemn developing countries to total destruction, loss of livelihoods, and economies...You can't solve the climate change problem by tinkering around the edges.

Taking a Realist Positions ≠ Defeatist
So where does that leave the green community, which has for the past year pulled out all the stops in trying to hold politicians accountable and has built the foundations of a strong and vital grassroots movement around climate change? Is it defeatist to say we should start publicly planning for what comes after Copenhagen? I don't think so.

We knew from the start that tacking climate change is a long term issue, albeit one which requires immediate action if we're going to get emissions to peak by 2015. We also knew that there are seriously entrenched business interests, political interests, not to mention just psychological habits that need to be changed to really get at the root of the issue.

Achieving a legally binding deal in Copenhagen would be a key milestone along that path of change, but it's becoming all the more clear that we just aren't there yet..


photo: Matthew McDermott
Keep Building the Type of Grassroots Change Needed to Force Political Action
We just need to simply keep pushing in the next few weeks, at COP15, and beyond -- screaming where appropriate and talking quietly where required; insisting, as Bill McKibben has said and others have taken up, that political compromise is possible but there is no compromising with the physical laws of nature here.

We need to bring political leaders around and the best way to do that is to continue building a strong grassroots movement around this issue, both focussed on the science and the social justice part of this.

At Least the Senate Climate Bill Passed Committee
On a more positive note: Despite a boycott by Republican senators, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the US climate change bill by a vote of 10-1. It still won't be through the full Senate by COP15 -- something which is by all accounts of the key reasons the global talks are dead in the water -- but perhaps at this point we should be thankful for small graces.

COP15
No New Treaty Likely at COP15 - We've Run Out of Time
With 5 Negotiating Days Until COP15, Keep Pushing For Fair, Ambitious & Binding Climate Deal
Global Climate Treaty 'Impossible' This December

Tags: Activism | Global Climate Change | Global Warming Solutions