Copenhagen Climate Summit Ends – What Did They Accomplish?

The Heads of State, Heads of Government, Ministers, and other heads of delegation present at the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2009 in Copenhagen,… Have agreed on this Copenhagen Accord which is operational immediately.” And so ends the Copenhagen Climate Summit.

Long Beach port and oil island - major source of pollution for LA BasinBut what did the participants agree to? Was it substantial enough to make a difference? Did they silence the skeptics? Will Sarah Palin finally believe Alaska is melting into the North Pacific?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel defends the Copenhagen climate summit. In an interview with the German news source Bild am Sonntag Merkel stated “Copenhagen is a first step toward a new world climate order – no more, but also no less. Anyone who just badmouths Copenhagen now is engaging in the business of those who are applying the brakes rather than moving forward.”

The climate conference ended Saturday with 192 participating nations walking away with the “Copenhagen Accord,” a deal brokered between China, South Africa, India, Brazil and the US.

The “Accord” can really be brought into one statement:

To achieve the ultimate objective of the Convention to stabilize greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system, we shall, recognizing the scientific view that the increase in global temperature should be below 2 degrees Celsius, on the basis of equity and in the context of sustainable development, enhance our long-term cooperative action to combat climate change.

How the global community gets to that objective resulted in a non-binding acknowledgement that doesn’t set hard numbers on reducing carbon emissions, specific timelines, or penalties on violators.

It does agree to provide $30bn in funding for poor countries to the “adverse effects of climate change and the potential impacts of response measures” from next year (2010) to 2012, and $100bn a year after 2020.

The “Accord” not cites carbon emissions as an issue, but also deforestation.

We recognize the crucial role of reducing emission from deforestation and forest degradation and the need to enhance removals of greenhouse gas emission by forests and agree on the need to provide positive incentives to such actions through the immediate establishment of a mechanism including REDD-plus, to enable the mobilization of financial resources from developed countries.

Oddly, or maybe not, China (as the world’s largest source of carbon emissions and greenhouse gas) applauded the “Accord.” Maybe the “non-binding” nature of the “Accord” gave China some relief, or maybe China has simply accepted their role and responsibility in providing global leadership in reducing harmful toxins into our environment.

Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi of China believes the Copenhagen Summit produced “significant and positive” results. “Developing and developed countries are very different in their historical emissions responsibilities and current emissions levels, and in their basic national characteristics and development stages,” Yang said in a statement. “Therefore, they should shoulder different responsibilities and obligations in fighting climate change.” (Xinhua)

President Barack Obama stated “a meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough” was made in Copenhagen. “All major economies have come together to accept their responsibility to take action to confront the threat of climate change.” (from Press Conference in Copenhagen)

But there are skeptics

No event is perfect. When you get representatives from 192 nations in a room, teamwork is probably a fantasy none of us should harbor. A small island nation may wish to defend their island from rising oceans, where an oil-producing country may want to defend their industry.

Communist and socialist countries may have an agenda, religious leaders an agenda, democracies an agenda, and superpowers an agenda. So as expected, not everybody walked away from the conference with warm words for the “Accord.”

  • Venezuala – International thought leader Hugo Chavez stated “If it’s to go and waste time, it’s better I don’t go,” he said. “If everything is already cooked up by the big [nations], then forget it.”
  • Bolivia – Bolivian President Evo Morales called for the creation of an actual climate justice tribunal. The Global North, Morales said, should indemnify poor nations for the ravages of climate change.
  • Ethiopia – Director General of the Ethiopian Environment Protection Agency, Dr Tewolde Birhan Gebre-Egziabher
    beleives Africa is already suffering, and likely to suffer more from climate change, but contributes very little to climate change.
  • Nepal – Prime Minister Madhav Kumar highlighted his concern of the “seriousness of the problem of climate change” particularly for the least developed and vulnerable countries. He adds that Nepal urges special focus on the impact of global warming on the Himalayas, in Nepal and elsewhere.
  • UK – Ed Miliband, the climate change secretary, said “If leading countries hold out against something like ‘legally binding’ or against the 2050 target of 50 per cent reductions in carbon emissions – which was held out against by countries like China – you are not going to get the agreement you want.” (COPS15 )

And so on.

The important thing to remember…

The important thing to remember is that we, as a planet, were able to get 192 nations together to agree on one important point – climate change is occurring, and human bei9ngs are part of the problem. If we do not get control over global warming, our planet will not be able to support life in the longer term.

Every media source in the world focused attention on the issue for the better part of two weeks. Even Fox News, acrimonious as they are, provided a lot of coverage. Regardless of polls stating the roller-coaster of public opinion on global warming vs. job loss, 90% or more of the global population will now at least look at a bus spewing black clouds of exhaust into the air, deforestation, and thousands of 2-stroke motor scooters crowding streets as something that is not healthy for the planet.

Regardless of which side of the debate you fall, the result is your position will now need defense – defense that it is not destructive to the planet, defense a Hummer/2 used to buy beer in a West Virginia country town is your inherent right as an American, or defense that every energy-related decision should include an environmental impact question.

Prior articles in this series:

A Cold, Wet Blanket of Politics Covers the Copenhagen Climate Summit

The headlines say it all… “Further commitment needed to break negotiation deadlock.” The rich nations vs. the poor nations. Industrialists vs. environmentalists. And at the end A Very Polluted Planetof the day, looking out over the Pacific Ocean towards Catalina Island from Long Beach, the dense brown sludge of polluted air is a constant reminder we are dumping horrifying amounts of human waste into the oceans and air.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says “world policymakers do not have to choose between a clean environment and economic growth.” Schwarzenegger believes people worried about climate change should pay more attention to companies, universities and “ordinary folks” and not put so much emphasis on a multinational consensus. (AP)

If you listen to the entrepreneurs and innovators in Silicon Valley, they would tend to agree with Governor Schwarzenegger. Green tech is becoming a big business, and, at least in California, you cannot discuss any new technology or construction project without at least some acknowledgement of environmental impact. Damn the politics, the investment community and innovator community is laying some serious right brain on developing environmentally friendly products and technology.

If you listen to the Stanford Entrepreneurial Thought Leadership podcast series about half the speakers in the series focus on environmental opportunities and responsibilities. And the politics of green rarely find their way into the discussion. People inherently want to be responsible global citizens, developing a future that is both profitable, as well as friendly to the future of our planet.

The Politics of Copenhagen

As of Tuesday, United Nations negotiators have failed to agree on the financial aid that the US, Japan and other developed nations will give to the developing world to cope with climate change, Bloomberg reports, referring to a draft document. “The Copenhagen climate conference is in the grip of a serious deadlock,” the Guardian concludes in a feature.(COPS15)

Developing Nations Want Wealthy nations to Pay the Global Cleanup BillThe developing world believes wealthier nations are responsible and accountable for bearing the cost of reducing carbon emissions. In fact, the African delegation to COPS 15 walked out for a brief period to protest the reluctance of wealthier nations to accept financial burdens to assist African nations.

They may have a point. Africa generates a fraction of the carbon emissions spewed into the atmosphere by the United States, Europe, Russia, India, and China. If you do believe in the global warming and other environmental impacts of carbon emissions, then Africa may indeed be on a climate “death row” created by the wealthy nations. The UK publication “The Mirror” provided a couple interesting statistics just related to the Copenhagen Conference:

The Copenhagen climate talks will generate carbon emissions equivalent to the annual output of 660,000 Ethiopians or 2,300 Americans, Denmark revealed yesterday. Despite efforts to limit the impact of the conference , delegates, journalists, activists from almost 200 countries have gathered creating 46,200 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

The climate has stimulated considerable debate on both the merits and demerits of climate change theory. One publication might offer the fact Vikings farmed in Greenland in ancient times, reinforcing global warming is a natural cycle the planet goes through every couple hundred years. Al Gore will argue the polar ice cap will be gone within a decade. Sarah Palin mocks the entire discussion, advising us that we should concentrate on drilling for more oil off the coast of California.

At the end of the day, it is becoming very clear the ultimate agenda of climate change discussion comes back to money. Money to advance economies, money to pay for building an environmentally friendly world, money to go towards more immediate problems – such as clean water, HIV, and malaria.

Most Scientists Agree the Planet is in Trouble

It is hard to ignore the fact glaciers are shrinking, water levels are rising, storms in the pacific and other locations are becoming more violent, and desertification is encroaching The Industrial World Creates Carbonfurther into the grasslands and forested areas than ever before. Politicians and industrialists may argue that a rise of one or two degrees (cel) in ocean temperatures is not a big problem. “Who cares,… it’s just a couple degrees.”

Scientists are concerned with the short, mid, and long term impacts of global warming. Less water in the continental interiors means less food. Less food means more competition for food and other life sustaining resources.

Like the Internet, Innovation will Occur, in Spite of the Politicians

During the late 1980s and early 1990s the Internet grew fast. Like Facebook and Twitter, it is hard to keep a good idea suppressed for too long. While the government supported initial development of Internet technologies, it was ultimately the universities and innovators who built the world’s network-of-networks – in spite of governments spending most of their time worrying about telephone and cable deregulation. When they woke up from the hangover of the national monopoly telecom carrier meltdown, the Internet was already making the old telephony network irrelevant.

So let the politicians debate. It is good, because if nothing else, it does add visibility and awareness to the topic. Regardless of the pros or cons of the debate, over the past couple years every American has been exposed to the topic of energy and environmental awareness. We are all forming opinions, and we all have some level of basis for discussion. And we all know it is better to use good discipline in our energy consumption. All baby steps, but good baby steps towards individual accountability in protecting our environment (and saving money!).

Copenhagen will conclude their summit on Friday. The debate will continue. Innovators will keep their sleeves rolled up, and with luck will continue to develop better ideas and visions of a greener future.

Copenhagen Climate Summit Stimulates Aggressive Debate

Do you believe in global warming? Do you believe the cost of capping production of carbon dioxide is too high for our industrialized world to support? Do you believe if we do not aggressively act to stop global warming that Miami will be gone within 25 years?

It is confusing to the average American, as even our news media falls on the side of whichever political party or side of the debate is being funded by their sponsors. How do we find out the facts?

7 December 2009. Listening to Fox news, including both the O’Reilly factor and Sean Hannity’s program, the guests (Brit Hume – himself a journalist, Bernie Goldberg, Dick Morris) all openly mocked the efforts of both Americans and the global community gathering in Copenhagen for the 15th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP15).

Brit Hume frequently referred the “dogma” of global warming. He strongly emphasized that cleaning the environment is not worth the potential cost forcing changes in our “way of life.”

The segment was immediately followed by a commercial urging viewers to vote “NO” on cap and trade legislation.

Bernie Goldberg believes the “liberal” media has no stomach to “debunk” global warming.

Sean Hannity believes that global warming is “fraud.”

Dick Morris, while quick to jump on the anti-global warming bandwagon, actually had one compelling statement – if true. He mentioned that the US actually made substantial progress towards meeting Kyoto protocol targets, without resorting to government regulation. Of course it is probably not the anti-global warming crowd who forced that progress, however at least he did recognize efforts are being made to reduce carbon emissions.

Forget the Politics for a Moment

Hanoi motor scooters are primarily 2 stroke engines inefficient transportationHaving recently returned from Hanoi, where thousands of 2-stroke motor scooters pump extremely visible amounts of pollution into the air, it is hard to justify not at least considering the impact fossil fuel usage is having on the world’s environmental health.

Anumita Roychowdhury, associate director of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in Delhi, India, said at a 2004 conference in India that “inexpensive two-wheelers form a staggering 75–80% of the traffic in most Asian cities.” Because two-stroke engines burn an oil–gasoline mixture, they emit more smoke, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and particulate matter than the gas-only four-stroke engines found in newer motorcycles.

The result is that in Asian cities with high numbers of scooters, lung and respiratory diseases are prevalent at rates more than twice as high as in areas without the volume of 2 strike engine traffic.

Two-stroke engines produce a lot of pollution, primarily because the engine mixes lubrication oil with gasoline for combustion. This requires combustion of the oil during engine operation. The oil makes all two-stroke engines smoky, however an old, poorly maintained, or simply worn out engines and mufflers allow huge clouds of oily smoke into the air.

This is not just developing countries. In the US/Canada snow mobiles/machines, outboard motors, weed whackers – anything running a two stroke engine will produce pollution far exceeding the more efficient 4 stroke engine. The actual differences between engine designs are not that difficult to understand, and are clearly presented in web articles such as Wikipedia.

Coal Used for Heating in the Developing World

If you have ever been to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, during January you will have no question in your mind of the dangers human being face when living in an area with high concentrations of raw coal.

Very dense haze over Ulaanbaatar“Particulate Matter (PM), in Ulaanbaatar is estimated to be between 2 times higher in summer and 12 times higher in winter than minimum accepted standards.” (Mr. Ganbaatar B. Director, Dept of Fuel Policy and Regulation, Ministry of Fuel and Energy, Mongolia)

The main issue is the use of low grade compressed scrap coal commonly used for both heating and cooking in the “ger,” or tent communities of Ulaanbaatar. Burning the coal puts sulfer dioxide and carbon particulate matter into the air, which in Ulaanbaatar exceeds 300g2, in comparison with Oslo where the highest concentration of particulate matter is around 14g2 (Source: www.nilu.no).

Clearly, this is not a healthy environment for either human beings, or the plants and animals sharing our land. The amount of sulfur dioxide hitting the ground where we plant food, water that we ultimately drink, and air that we breathe is staggering. Author’s note: This is also from my own experience living in Mongolia.

So Make Your Own Decision

Take a walk in Los Angeles on a hot, muggy summer day. Take a look at Denver from a distance of about 100 miles. Fly over Dallas at 30,000 feet. Then consider that the brown blanket lying over each of those cities is pollution. A toxic mixture of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide.

Coal sold at roadside in Ulaanbaatar MongoliaBrit Hume may think cleaning this mess up is going to harm his opulent way of life, however as the world’s largest source of CO2, even exceeding the lands of 2 stroke motor scooters, we owe it to ourselves to carefully consider each argument prior to voting. Consider it while standing in line at the drug store buying your child’s asthma inhaler, or when your school cancels outdoor sporting events due to the poor air quality index.

I am not convinced Cap and Trade is the best approach, however I am convinced if we do not all turn into “born again green freaks,” the next generation may be living on ocean front property in Atlanta, using an oxygen inhaler, and zipping ourselves into an environmentally sealed bubble.

There is nothing evil in diligently working towards renewable energy, clean energy, water conservation, and cleaning up our use of the environment. If the private equity companies lose a bit of profit this year because they need to re-engineer their factories or data centers – so be it. They can start off by painting their buildings white!

John Savageau, Long Beach

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