Copenhagen Climate Conference Suggests Issue Not Going Away

350: The magic number for the Copenhagen Climate Conference
350: The magic number for the Copenhagen Climate Conference

Editor’s note: So far, I’ve been quiet on the Copenhagen Climate Conference. This doesn’t mean I’m not interested, or don’t have thoughts… rather, there’s so much information coming directly from Denmark that I’d rather let those on the ground do the talking for now. Rolf Nordstrom, the executive director of the Great Plains Institute, is one of those people in Copenhagen, and he generously provided this post for us…

I arrived in Copenhagen on Monday afternoon and am still suffering a little jet lag, but I am awake enough to give you a glimpse of what the climate change conference taking place here these next two weeks looks and feels like, and how you might expect it to impact your life.

First, to give you a sense of scale, I want you to imagine that the vast Mall of America is filled not with shops of every kind, but with hundreds of booths from different organizations, temporary offices for delegates from 192 countries, vast meeting rooms set up with microphones and video screens, cafes, the mother of all cloak rooms, huge banks of computer stations (many with Skype and video capability built in), and the whole place teaming with people.

To get into this global “town hall” meeting, I waited in line with hundreds of others in order to get my picture taken and go through several security check points. Indeed, the elaborate airport-like security system rivals any major airline hub, complete with scanners and sniffing dogs. And all this only hints at the scale of this gathering.

If you don’t follow the climate change issue closely, it may seem like this conference in Copenhagen is coming out of thin air. But the international negotiating process on climate change has been going on for a long time and takes place through a series of meetings, each called a “Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change” (or COP for short). This one, COP15, is my first and by all accounts the very largest of them all, suggesting that concern over the world’s climate has grown dramatically over the past 17 years; and of course the issue of climate change has been studied by scientists for decades prior to that.

High-level ministers and negotiators from all over the world meet every year to review the implementation of the overall Convention, which was signed back in 1992 in New York (including by the U.S.). Its objective is “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

If you are a climate skeptic, being at this conference would prompt you to ask yourself, “if the science behind climate change is not compelling, then how is it that essentially every major country in the world-and many you’ve never heard of (think Tuvalu or Comoros), is convinced that climate change is a real and urgent challenge? Have their scientists and elected leaders all be hoodwinked?

We tend to be a bit isolated in our thinking in the U.S., but a lack of strong action on climate change has led to demonstrations in some 4,500 locations in 170 countries, and more are taking place here in Copenhagen. An example yesterday featured people convincingly dressed as trees being followed around by a scrum of reporters with cameras and sound booms as the tree people called for a halt to deforestation and the preservation of forests in the push for new forms of energy production.

No matter what happens here, you can expect there to eventually be an international agreement that places legally-binding limits on the emission of greenhouse gases. If I were a business, I would ask myself two questions:

  1. Do I think this issue will go away? In other words, can we just wait it out (like a war of attrition) and hope that climate change goes away? If your answer is “yes”, what is the evidence for this view? What leads you to believe that the world will forget about climate change?
  2. If the issue is not going away, then what can I do as a business (or an individual for that matter) to position myself to flourish in a carbon-constrained world?

At a minimum, you may want to stay informed. One good way to do that is to follow the proceedings and the U.S. government’s positions here in Copenhagen through this official Web site: http://cop15.state.gov/uscenter/multimedia/index.htm

Rolf Nordstrom is executive director of the Great Plains Institute, a Minnesota-based nonpartisan, nonprofit working with Midwestern States and Canadian provinces to accelerate the transition to a sustainable and prosperous low-carbon economy.

Image credit: The Will Steger Foundation

  1. Steven Earl Salmony

    Ben Bernanke has just been named “Person of the Year” for saving the global economy from utter ruin by avaricious fat cats and their minions on Wall Street. When is someone going to be recognized for saving the Earth from greed-mongering economic powerbrokers and their bought-and-paid-for politicians?

    My vote goes to Yvo De Boer for “Person of the Year”, even though everyone realizes he will likely fail to save the planet because Father Profit seems to regularly triumph over Mother Nature. After all, greed rules and rules absolutely in our time, does it not?

  2. Rev. Tegga Lendado

    African Climate Change: A Call for Environmental Justice

    African environmental justice is long overdue. Africans need global leadership and personal commitment to save their children. Not only talk, but action! It is not about the usual so-called ‘global warming’ debate but the erratic African climatic crisis induced by its detrimental effects.. The worldโ€™s climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark is convening to devise an international strategy on the issue the environmental crisis affecting global climate. Africaโ€™s contribution is negligible compared with the Western nations, Japan and China. As such, Africa is a victim of the climatic extremes that threaten the life of innocent human beings and their environment. For too long, Africans arguably attributed the climate crisis to Godโ€™s wrath for our spiritual conditions and so on. But, now we have found out that our enemies are โ€œweโ€ on the other hemisphere. The culprits in Copenhagen will play the role of both defendant and judge at the same time. Africans have no choice but to stand and fight for their right to survive. They need to live like others. They believe they have God-given right to freely breathe unpolluted air. They do not want to be extinct like the dinosaurs. Thus, it now becomes a moral issue for the Western and industrialized nations to clean up their mess. You cannot kill someone and go back to your bed to sleep and snore. God will shake up your conscience if you have any. Some how, someway the Almighty God who created us equally from the dust but in His own image will execute His justice. Fighting for climate conservation is a just war. It is for the survival of the poorest and the weakest rather than the fittest.The Ethiopian Prime Minister Zenawi, who is a controversial figure with regards to his own government, represents the victimized 53 Africa nations and peoples. Nevertheless, the critical issue he is bringing to the table is far from being contentious. It is the very same issue that many international humanitarian organizations, national experts and individuals of bare common sense have been advocating for many decades. I am with the PM of Ethiopia on this burning issue as he debates this particular African dilemma. All serious and sensible Africans and other good willed people around the world should rally around his plea before world leaders in Copenhagen. I am not saying this as unconcerned by-stander. I opposed the massacre of trees for the European market consumption in 1980’s in Mozambique where I worked as a forestry engineer. The government needed ‘foreign currency’ badly to feed its newly independent nation. Africans shipped raw logs of black ebony to Europe and Japan. Since the country could not afford reforestation, it only became just a little more than a talk rather than an alternative activity. As head of regional forestry and wildlife office, I had fought against the communist military government’s land policy in 1970s, which contributed to further depletion of the virgin forest of Ethiopia. We managed to plant 11 million trees in the central region of Ethiopia before I moved to Mozambique. Later, I helped in some forestry development projects in Southern Africa. One of the reasons I abandoned the profession was because of such onslaughts on the natural resources of Africa without due consideration to the consequences or future restoration. Now about 30 years later, I am still weeping with the world over the spilt milk. While I praise the cooperation of the Prime Minister of Denmark, I challenge the resolute apathy of the culprits. They do not seem to be interested to rescue Africa after years of their unchecked exploitation. As Dr. Martin Luther King said, ” Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere (paraphrased)”. I can therefore, only agree with our late Emperor Haile Selassie, “God and history will judge” in due season if Africans mismanage Godโ€™s resources. As a side note of caution, let me say to my fellow global environmental activists that no amount of monetary compensation can fully recover the loss. Such environmental iniquity and irresponsible stewardship should humble them before the enlightened world. Since monetary award to corrupt African governments will only aggravate the situation, I would suggest that an international committee of legal, environmental and ethical experts be formed to devise a strategy to recoup the damage, manage and conserve the environment, fund reforestation of indigenous species, pay for training, research, sustainability and development.Given the gravity of the climate change due mainly to forest depletion, I am also calling on all Africans and friends of Africa worldwide, not to polarize or jeopardize the forum but to agree in principle and policy on this one solitary issue, i.e., to stand for Africaโ€™s environmental justice beyond all other divisive differences. May this message win the hearts and heads of the dignitaries and conferees of Copenhagen Convention! Rev. Tegga Lendado, PhD.O.A.S.I.S of American Solutions for SolutionsAtlanta, USA.

  3. Jess

    Thank you for your thoughts from the ground. I think question number two is especially important for framing discussion of this issue. For whatever reason, the moral imperative to address climate change seems to be lost on many people. Perhaps framing the issue directly at the wallet of individuals and corporations can help spur some measure of progress.

    And, now that the conference has ended, I think that we need to pause and consider what our next step should be as advocates for meaningful action on climate change.

  4. Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

    Thanks for chiming in, Jess. I thought Al Gore did a wonderful job (as he usually does) at addressing the moral dimensions in his speech to the conference…

    And, yes, it’s clear that Copenhagen didn’t end our work by a long shot… have to figure out next steps…

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