Global Education

Despite gathering at Copenhagen, little progress against global climate change

By Annie Orenstein
Published: December 2009

According to predictions made by the US Geological Survey, by the year 2030, Glacier National Park will have no glaciers left, and by 2050, an estimated 15 to 37 percent of plant and animal species could be wiped out completely.

The Kyoto Protocol, whose aim was to fight global warming and lower carbon emissions throughout the latter part of the 20th Century and beyond, was designed in 1997 but not put in place until 2005.

As one of its successors, the Copenhagen conference hopes to create a base plan for climate change in the post-2012 world.

Monday, December 7 was the first official day of the World Summit for Climate Change in Copenhagen, Denmark. The United Nations Copenhagen Climate Council hopes to combat global warming with a series of constructive dialogues and treaties between the participating countries.

Since the Kyoto Protocol was officially enforced in 2005, there have been a number of countries that have stuck to their original ideals and lowered their carbon emissions to a healthy standard.

Germany for example, has lowered their emissions by a staggering 20.8 percent from 1990 to 2007.

There are countries that have taken a step backward however, such as India, whose carbon emissions increased by 124 percent during the same period.

The Copenhagen summit hopes to create new laws and treaties that would limit the amount of carbon that countries can physically emit into the atmosphere.

Author Michael Levy, Director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change, proposes a system to do so called Measuring, Reporting, and Verification, which would have the responsibility to make sure each country is contributing positively.

According to a release report by the Pew Center in Bonn, Germany, outlining options for measuring, reporting, and verifying countries’ actions post-2012, the system would have five main purposes.

The functions include offering a means for tracking parties’ progress individually and collectively, facilitating national action and planning, enabling recognition of mitigation actions, linking developing countries action to international support, and strengthening mutual confidence in countries’ actions.

Since the summit began, however, no such system has been ratified.

The Summit, which ran until December 18, had representatives from over 190 countries.

The only non-participators include war-torn countries such as Iraq and Somalia.

Reasoning that simple discussion would not accomplish anything, thousands of protestors took to the streets of Copenhagen, clashing with police on December 12.

More than 900 people were detained although most were later released.

Carrying signs that read “Climate Justice Now, and “Time is Running Out, nearly 40,000 protestors marched to the Bella Center where the United Nations Climate Change Conference was happening. Delegates inside the center took time to watch the protests on television while continuing their work toward a comprehensive climate change agreement.

President Barack Obama and the Senate released its new carbon emissions goals about a month before it was presented at the Copenhagen Summit.

The goals state that the United States is prepared to put on the table an emissions reduction target in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, ultimately in line with domestic legislation.

The target puts the US on a path towards a 30 percent emissions reduction by 2025 and a 42 percent reduction by 2030. The reduction by 2030 would be in line with Obama’s goal to reduce US emissions 83 percent by 2050.

The Copenhagen summit is not the end of the process but a part of a larger collective commitment to meeting one of the world’s greatest challenges.

The global conference presents an opportunity to transition the world to a low-carbon economy.

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