Are We There Yet? COP15 Taking Us Just a Small Step Down the Road to Strong Climate Action

copenhagen climate march photo

All photos: Matthew McDermott

With nine days of COP15 down, we're really in the home stretch to achieving some sort of global climate deal and everybody and their brother, their cousin and their cousin's cousin is trying to get into the Bella Center. The UNFCCC just sent around an email that some 45,000 people have applied to get in, at least three times the capacity of the building. But are we really any closer to getting a deal that is in line with scientific recommendation, humanitarian need and ethical duty? See You at Mexico 2010
The half-joke floating around the Fresh Air Center among people I've talked to is that at least it will be warmer and not as dreary in Mexico next year...

We are closer than we were a year ago -- all the grassroots organizing that has taken place from the likes of, Avaaz, TckTckTck and all the other groups present here in Copenhagen hasn't been for nought -- but the fact of the matter is that by whatever benchmark you choose, governments are not doing enough, despite the growing grassroots movement.

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Emission reductions promised still fall woefully short of the science, again, woefully. As Bill McKibben pointed out at last night's event with President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives over at Klimaforum the US pledge of an effective 4% below 1990 levels by 2020 is ten time less than what is required to have a one-in-two chance of keeping global temperature rise below the critical threshold of 2°C. The average world pledges are better than that but still only about halfway to the mark.

Financing for developing nations is still well under what economists say is required. On the second day of the talks an impromptu rally by the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance reminded all still in the Bella Center at 5pm that even one degree of warming means more death, famine and hardship in Africa. And just yesterday the plenary session didn't even start as G77 and African nations staged a procedural walkout on the grounds that not enough strong action was being taken.

Despite proposals for financing -- which, in fairness, have been increasing over the year; the issue is moving -- the solid sentiment on the floor and in the streets is that the developed nations of the world, and the people who live within them, need to start making sacrifices to help out their brothers and sisters who have not had the benefit of 100+ years of profligate cheap energy use.

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We Have to Start Making Sacrifices
I say sacrifices with specific meaning for TreeHugger readers. Much of the time on this site we talk about sacrifice-free green lifestyle choices, green business, and incrementalism. There's nothing you don't do now that can't just be made green with a small(ish) tweak. Well, none of that flies on the streets of Copenhagen, where the overwhelming talk is of complete system change. And this isn't even among the genuine communists and anarchists who tacked themselves onto the rally.

A specific example: Carbon offsets and carbon markets are loudly denounced as just more financial monkeying around by the wealthy of the world, for which the global South is go to have to pay as they did during colonialism. It may be difficult to portray nuance on a protest placard, true, but the underlying message has legs.

At another rally inside the Bella Center, Nnimmo Bassey (at left), head of the Friends of the Earth International, laid it out for reporters afterwards. Bassey said that people in developed nations have to start doing less, start using less energy, start using fewer natural resources, start eating less meat. The glib version which Bassey is fond of saying is "Leave the oil in the soil. Leave the coal in the hole."

It's not complicated: We of the rich nations of the world have to start doing less and start considering seriously that while energy efficiency and technological change can get us part of the way towards a more equitable and ecological sustainable world economic system, the fact of the matter is that these techno-changes alone likely will not get us all the way to 90% lower emissions by 2050.

I will be happy to figuratively eat my shoe if I am wrong, but that is what my intuition tells me.

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Inspirational Speaking Isn't Enough
With all the "big" world leaders arriving between today and Friday, the inspirational (if somewhat empty) rhetoric is only going to rise to a crescendo. All in the Bella Center in the journalistic community will no doubt hang on every word that Barack Obama and others say. But in the end the odds of major shifts in negotiating positions occurring at this point are slim to none. We will be in Mexico next year refining whatever document is actually agreed to.

I can't believe we will have a a complete failure at this point, but it's equally clear that scientists and those who demand science-based emission reductions and all the representative from the developing nations of the world won't exactly be pleased going home this weekend.

We will have taken a step forward, but there are tens of thousands left to go.

Check out all of TreeHugger's COP15 coverage: COP15 United Nations Climate Change Conference
Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed is an Eco-Rock Star - Brings Down the House in Copenhagen
Bicycle Culture 2.0 in Copenhagen: Look at This Amazing Bike-Friendly Urban Planning (Video)
How History's Biggest Climate Change March Almost Got Lost in the Media Smog

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