Copenhagen Forecast: Snow, Protest, Apocalypse; Can Obama Clear the Air?


The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse March Through Copenhagen / Greenpeace
The Final Stretch
Citizens around the world have called for a fair deal at climate talks, and in Copenhagen, they plan to make that call louder tomorrow with civil disobedience. The world's leading mayors have also called for a real deal, as have some of America's leading businesses. But where it counts, in the negotiating rooms, something is, sorry to say, still rotten in the state of Denmark.

No one said bringing all the world's countries together to hash out a deal -- or really, the foundations of a deal -- would be easy. But after nearly half a decade of facing the inconvenient truths of climate change, and its economic, political, and moral imperatives, does it have to be this hard? Though we may not be fighting the apocalypse, as Greenpeace would have it, in Copenhagen we're staking the boldest claim yet for the future of the earth. We've messed it up -- we know that -- and we have the power to correct our mistake. So of course it has to be hard, because it has to be good.

Where We Are Now
To get things on track for the last day before heads of state take over, Denmark's Environment Minister, Connie Hedegaard, has formed five small groups to sort out the five "crunch issues" at the summit:

  • * Improving the targets to be set by developed countries to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) that are causing climate change;

  • * The mitigation actions of developing countries;

  • * The long-term finance to be provided by rich nations so that poor countries can cope with climate change effects;

  • * How to deal with emissions caused by the aviation and shipping industries; and

  • * Special circumstances of some countries (such as Russia) in relation to mitigation.

The Divisions

The end times may not be upon us, but the developed and developing countries certainly look more divided than before. The African nations, which suspended talks on Monday, want a continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, a regime the US and most other developed countries reject outright.

Rich countries are also reluctant to dole out the long-term aid poor nations need to survive and fight climate change. The US is especially adamant that it won't give China any money -- or reparations, as the US negotiator idiotically called them -- because China doesn't need the US's money. China's negotiator seemed to agree with that at first, but then Beijing backtracked, saying China deserves money too.

What China says it doesn't deserve is to have its emissions cuts overseen by any carbon police, a demand the US insists is an absolute must for any climate deal. Meanwhile, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) says that an upper limit of two degrees Celsius of warming isn't good enough as it would result in a loss of coastlines and sometime entire islands; they want a 1.5-degree cap, but not all developing nations do. And now, thanks to a backroom deal between France and Ethiopia, even the African nations are showing rifts.

The Agreements (Sort Of)

There have been some promising steps forward, apart from the promises made just before the summit by China, India, Brazil and others. Yesterday a number of potential financing options were put on the table. Today Holland committed to the 40 percent cuts called for by Kyoto.

Meanwhile, the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation scheme, known as REDD, got a dollar amount affixed to it today: $22 billion to $37 billion to jump start the plan, which would seek to halt deforestation in developing nations completely by 2030. (Currently, the only money being offered for a climate deal is a meager $30 billion in so-called "kick-start" financing over three years; some groups also call it "kick-end" financing because it doesn't go beyond that date).

But ultimately, these steps forward are signs of good will and good faith, not agreements that are likely to make it into a final agreement.

Endgame -- Or New Game?
With expectations as low as ever, and anger and concern rising, Barack Obama may be well positioned to attempt a modest hail mary pass when he flies in on Thursday. The timing of the White House's report today about green jobs seems fortuitous; what better way to prime the American public for a ramping up of the US's carbon cutting commitments? But chances are, his throw won't be strong enough, and if it is, he may not have any teammates to catch it.

At the summit where world leaders were supposed to ink a binding deal on climate change, environmental groups, activists and journalists are already preparing for a greenwash, and getting ready to pack their bags for the next possible climate agreement end zone in Mexico.

Before they get there though, they may need to help remake the game completely.

Follow more of TreeHugger's Copenhagen coverage.

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