24, 24, 24 Hours to Go at COP15 & Where Are We Heading?

cop15 photo

All photos: Matthew McDermott

There's one more day to go here at COP15 things in many ways seem to come off the rails. There is virtually no more NGO access to the Bella Center, with several groups getting outright banned. Entrance queues which took up to eight hours on Monday have be reduced to a few minutes. Except for talk of greater climate financing by UK prime minister Gordon Brown and US Secretary of State Clinton all indications are that talks have pretty much crashed. And even those promises of financing are about half what NGOs such as Oxfam and more hard-headed groups like the World Bank say is required. Where are we heading?Let's back up for a moment. One thing that seems clear at this point is that COP15 is really about much more than climate change. It's about decades of simmering grievances and inequity that climate change is just one part of.


Some of these are, as Andy Revkin pointed out last night at the TckTckTck Fresh Air Center, actually enshrined in the texts from the Rio Earth Summit that say that rich nations bear greater responsibility for repairing all this damage and degradation.

But others are, to paraphrase George Monbiot speaking at the same event, questions about what sort of world we want to create. Will it simply continue the same patterns of inequality between rich and poor nations that matured throughout the twentieth century, enjoyed its angry teenage years the century before that, and was born in the one before that?

After all climate change is but a symptom of that system. Monbiot rightly pointed out that this present crisis laboriously discussed for the past year and beyond -- without adequate progress in that time, and increasingly unlikely in the next 24 hours -- is just the first of a series of crises (peak oil, peak water, etc...) lined up behind it.

We in the United States may not be feeling this yet, at least not acutely, but in many parts of the developing world it's already being felt. More than we they are accurately seeing what the problem is and what the solutions are. And they are much more than new financial mechanisms and new technologies, though they may play a role; the solution to our environmental problems at the most base level is deep and profound economic change.

Collectively we need to recognize once and for all that the endless, rapid economic growth paradigm that has served well over the past century for a minority of the world's people is no longer suitable for any of us, as we are increasingly bumping into the strong natural resource limits of this finite planet.

The banners, placards and stickers so proudly presented these past two weeks are right: We are in need of a system change of greater depth than just green jobs and green technology. We need an economy that provides prosperity for all without growth.


Which is really all just background. The long and short of it -- as I said just two days ago -- is that we are not appreciably closer to having a global climate deal with teeth.

One that respects climate scientists' recommendations to avoid dangerous global warming (40% below 1990 emissions levels by 2020); one that supplies the funding needed to make a start at mitigating and adapting to climate change in the developing world ($200bn per year in that same time period, in addition to current aid); one that is legally binding.

We are even farther away from deeply recognizing the historical responsibility the world's rich nations have in creating this problem.

Though there are various scenarios floating around as to what might be agreed to here in Copenhagen, some sort of greenwashed provisional framework seeming to have a slight edge at the moment based on the analysis I've heard. But frankly, it's still very much up in the air.

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