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Critical Crossroads

Copenhagen Climate Change Negotiations

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Written by Meghan Swope      Add a comment

Lots to do (and a protest!) meant that I unfortunately couldn't make it to the computer center to update the blog during our last two days in Københaven. Here's what you missed...

Friday

The Plenary was postponed due to informal consultations, and most negotiation sessions that day were being held behind closed doors.

We therefore went to a side event being led by Tim Flannery, the author of a textbook we used for our class called The Weather Makers. Flannery is now the Chair of the Copenhagen Climate Council, and today was hosting the side event with Planet Call, a platform for young people to propose solutions to the climate change problem. He presented a declaration that had been signed by youth from 127 different countries, before introducing student delegates from China, India, Australia, and Europe -- each of which then presented a solution they had come up with.

The China representative felt that using social media sites will help youth from all over the world create the solutions, while the Australia representative proposed dynamic school partnerships for adaptation and mitigation solutions between schools in Australia and schools in developing countries. The representative from the Netherlands focused on sustainable agriculture, and the India representative focused on new technologies to bring sustainable electricity to the vast number of Indian people who do not have access to it currently.

In the afternoon we met with climate skeptic Bjorn Lomborg, as our instructors (and I) are aware that in order to fully participate in a negotiation, you have to hear and try to understand what the other side is saying. Lomborg explained that he feels we should invest in renewable technologies, but only when they are made more efficient. There were many flaws in his argument, however; and as we had seen in negotiations, we have already run out of time.

And to steal and expand on his analogy during his talk with us of cell phones and efficieny, I'm willing to bet that had no one bought those hideous and bulky bag phones in the 90s, we probably would have never made it to the Blackberry age.

He further offended when he said that the developing world sees this as "a money machine", when it seems in negotiations that most are asking for the money they need to keep their nations from going under in the rising sea levels. Lomborg isn't a bad guy, though -- even he realizes that eventually we will have to stop global warming.

Friday evening was delightful. Our professor, Susan, had hosted Danish students Sigrid and Ida during their choir tour of the U.S. earlier this year. The girls' parents, Steen and Bente, generously offered to host us at their home for dinner that night!

It was quite a large undertaking, and we were so grateful to them for being such kind and generous hosts. Bente and Sigrid had prepared a wonderful meal of about five different quiches, two chicken dishes, a pear and walnut salad, potatoes... the list goes on. It was by far the best meal that most of my classmates had had the whole week (my favorite was the tomato pesto chicken and prosciutto). Their youngest son, Hjalte, was quite the gentlemen. He made sure we all got our beer, wine, and soft drinks, before Steen gave us a "lesson" of his own professional experience and what their family has done to make their home more sustainable.

We had three varieties of Danish desserts, paired with hot chocolate, coffee, and Christmas tea. We were then entertained by Ida's singing of "A Tisket, A Tasket" before we tried to follow with "Piano Man" (needless to say, Ida's beautiful voice outshone our group's sad attempt -- you could easily tell that the School of Music is the school that is unfortunately not represented in our class).

They also gave us a tour of their home, and it was nice to be able to talk with and get to know some natives of Copenhagen -- especially those as wonderful as this particular family!

Saturday

This marked the Conference's midpoint, and so the stock taking Plenary was finally held. Tuvalu once again kicked off the conversation by refuting some media claims that they were trying to embarrass the Danish government. 

But as it turned out, it seems it was more our government they were after.

Tuvalu's delegation spoke to the appearance that negotiations were being delayed while waiting for the U.S. Congress to take a stand, and they noted that Obama went to Norway to "rightly or wrongly" accept his prize. This angered Tuvalu, as they have had a proposal already on the table for six months. "The entire population of Tuvalu rests only two meters above sea level. The fate of my country rests in your hands", the delegate concluded, as the room erupted in applause.

The updates on progress were then heard. The AWG-LCA had at that time established a contact group for the Bali Action Plan, and had formed a single drafting group to work on a new agreement based upon those guidelines. Nearly all countries, including the U.S., feel that progress is being made, especially in groups focusing on technology and forestry, but all feel that more time is needed.

Although progress is being made, many nations including the EU feel that the texts on the table don't present acceptable targets to keep us below a two-degree temperature increase. Many countries favor more transparency in the process, and the debates continue over whether or not there should be a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol. 

When we came out of the Plenary, we received word that a scheduled march to the Bella Center where the Convention was being held had now turned into a mass protest with thousands of people and was expected to be violent. Based on this news, the Copenhagen police were rumored to be arresting anyone under the age of 30 found outside the Bella Center. We were then faced with two choices: leave now, or face being stuck in the Bella Center until late evening. 

A few of us choose to leave to avoid the protest, and enjoyed an afternoon exploring Copenhagen. We went to the neighborhood of Christianshaven, and you can imagine our surprise when we came out of the metro to find the protest!! They were peacefully marching through towards Bella Center, and it was actually amazing to see such a crowd united for the cause. We then went to Vor Fresler Kirk, a famous church with an amazing spire. The spire had stairs along its side, and you could climb to the top. We decided to go for it, and the views were absolutely amazing.

However, we also got more of a site than we bargained for. We watched as over 20 police vans cornered the protesters, and we later found out that over 300 of them were arrested for the possession of knives or other weapons. It was crazy!

Sunday

As we prepared to leave Copenhagen, two draft agreements were on the table. However, this essentially referred to only the legal language; all percentages, base years, and target years were bracketed to be agreed upon at a later date. 

The day after we left, most of the developing world walked out of the negotiations. They have since returned, and are working towards a compromise. It will be interesting to see what comes of this week, as prime ministers and presidents descend upon Copenhagen.

As our shirts from Holland and the Youth Movement clearly state, "Don't Bracket Our Future".

The time is now.

 

Written by Meghan Swope      Add a comment

Today's been an interesting day here at the Bella Conference Center.

Firstly, "Copenhagen" has now surpassed "Tiger Woods" to become the most searched phrase on Google.

In other news, it's being said that more than 100 nations now support an even more ambitious temperature-rise target of 1.5 degrees versus the original target of 2 degrees.

And China? They think it would be "embarrassing for the U.S. not to be part of the solution to save humanity". Uh, yeah. Based on the stickers floating around the halls today, most people agree: "Won it in Oslo, Earn it in Copenhagen", with a nice little dove symbol of peace.

The best part is, that's not even the half of it. Our day started with the U.N. Plenary, the 4th Meeting of the CMP. (Disclaimer: I think I owe you all an alphabet soup post soon explaining these abbreviations, but for now I'll say that the CMP is "Conference of the Parties Serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol"). The Plenary opened with a proposal from Kazakhstan to be granted permission to join Annex B. However, there are deadlines for making such requests, and apparently Kazakhstan did not meet the deadline. Thus, the President of the UNFCCC and other countries recommend they wait until next year, but after some disagreement they agreed to "informal consultations" to be held on the matter until early next week. 

The agenda then moved on to the 12 proposals to amend the Kyoto Protocol which have already been submitted. When the President opened the floor, each country that had made a proposal explained their proposal and occasionally their position. Essentially, what it boiled down to was this: some nations want to amend Kyoto, others want to abolish it and start over, and others want to keep it but also institute another agreement intended to "strengthen" Kyoto. This led to a significant debate, and the Plenary was dismissed for further consultation. The Ad-Hoc Working Groups are scheduled to begin meeting in less than an hour to start their work, so an agreement of which path to take will need to be made soon.

This afternoon we attended the Inter-generational Inquiry Testimonies on Climate Solutions. We heard statements from U.N. Chief Climate Negotiator Yvo de Boer, and various negotiators and youth alike. When Yvo de Boer feels that "your role is very important", it's hard not to agree. He stated that world leaders are coming not only because they are starting to recognize the threats of climate change, but because they see the public outcry which in many cases is being fueled by youth. As he puts it, "You are confronting the people who make the decisions next week with who they're making the decisions for".

A youth delegate from India is the first to speak after de Boer. At first her voice is quiet and timid, but as she shares her story of surviving a devastating flood in her hometown of Mumbai her voice rises and is strong, and she commands  the room until she receives her standing ovation minutes later. She ended by addressing Mr. de Boer, saying that she trusts him and the other adults to do the right thing. H's response to her was that she is being a bit careless with her trust, as "trust is something you earn and this process still has yet to earn my trust".

Another youth panelist, Thomas from Australia, explains that we're negotiating for a "fair share" of the atmosphere, but that we must realize we are also negotiating for the right to survival. He sees the situation as "a child at the end of a seesaw, and Copenhagen should be a step forward for that child to begin walking downhill, not up".

A negotiator from the Maldives, one of the men who hosted the first underwater cabinet meeting to show the impacts of sea level rise, gave a powerful statement near the end of the session. "If you [the youth] could make the decision in this room, I'm certain it would be better than the one being made down the hall".

This year is the first in which youth are being recognized as a constituency. The YOUNGOS are active throughout the Conference, ensuring that our generation's voice is heard.
 

Survival is Not Negotiable.

Don't Bracket Our Future.

How old will YOU be in 2050?

You could say the youth are as determined as the butterfly that was surprisingly dashing across the room during the session: a butterfly in Denmark in December is a very rare, unexplainable thing; but that butterfly made its presence known and inspired hope, faith, and smiles.

 

Written by Meghan Swope      Add a comment

Only 0.1% of Earth's surface is covered by coral reefs, and in the past 40 years, we've lost about 50% of this small area.

Over 500 million people worldwide are dependent on coral reefs for food, income, and security.

When we reach 450 ppm carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, all reefs -- including the famous Great Barrier Reef in Australia  -- will be gone (We're already at about 390 ppm).

These are only three of the many facts and statistics that brought me to tears in a side event yesterday presented by the U.S. Centre. Although the U.S. was hosting, this expert panel featured distinguished guests from Australia, France (due to Samoa) and the island nations.

While studying abroad in Australia last semester, I visited the Great Barrier Reef and witnessed the ecological devastation occurring in many parts of this underwater world. Many students commented on the fact that, although it was still so beautiful, the reef doesn't look as magnificent as it once had. This is because, beginning in 1979, coral bleaching is occurring at a rapid rate. The calcification rate of oral reefs has simultaneously slowed by 14.5% since the 1990s, an unprecedented record of decline in the 400 years of record keeping and the up to 420,000 years of carefully calculated history.

As one of the experts put it, "This is a major issue. It's looming, and it's very predictable."

I was disheartened to hear that even getting our carbon count down to 350 ppm, which is a commonly agreed upon goal, will not be enough to save the reefs. Unfortunately, it is more likely that reefs may disappear over the course of the next 50 years.

Yes, I am deeply saddened that my future children will not have the same opportunity to take in this "underwater playground" one day. Yes, the scientific community will lose one of the most extraordinary "living laboratories" in all the world. Yes, I will likely never have a second opportunity to observe the wildlife found in the great "nursery's of the ocean" provided by coral reefs off the coast of Australia.

But none of this is what brought me to tears yesterday. That did not occur until a moving speech by a representative from the small island states who spoke to the threat to the very life of island peoples, something I hadn't given proper consideration to before. Coral reefs serve as a "first line of defense" for these small islands against your every day ocean waves. As island nations are so close to sea level, without the reefs these islands will likely be submerged, losing land, culture, and most importantly life.

The representative explained that if reefs disappear before the more prevalently discussed sea level rises occur, the small islands will still be swept away into the sea. Even if by some miracle they were able to survive, in some areas their entire income will be lost, as reef-generated tourism is the most significant source of income for many small island nations.

When comparing the threats of reef destruction and sea level rise, the island nation representative stated, "It's not a question anymore of whether these things are a threat. The question is, which is the shorter term threat? Unfortunately, it appears that both will occur at the same time."

1.5 To Stay Alive. This is the rally cry of the island nations, many of whom feel the survival of the reefs is the same cause, the same fight as the survival of their entire nation's people.

 

 

Written by Meghan Swope      Add a comment

The Conference is going well. The problem is this: we're able to learn so much from interacting with so many people from all around the world that finding time to blog is a challenge.

When I last left you on Monday afternoon (Copenhagen time), we had no idea that in a few hours the EPA would make a significant announcement that put the U.S. on the right path to start this first week in Copenhagen. The EPA released its findings on Monday that the six most prevalent greenhouses gases are a scientifically verified threat to both human health and the environment.

Seems obvious, right? However, the ruling means that the EPA now has the power to regulate these emissions using the Clean Air Act, giving them a significant means of helping the U.S. help the world in combating climate change. It's a big step, and a positive one (which is a good thing, considering that the U.S. and/or the Umbrella Group of which the U.S. is a part have been winning the un-prestigious Fossil of The Day Award each day here at Conference).

The EPA findings also state that the unprecedented levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere are a direct result of human activity, and that emissions from on-road vehicles are contributing to the threat (as we would soon learn at an Expert Panel, transport emissions represent 25% of total global GHGs). For more information, visit the EPA website.
 

Yesterday, myself and some of the Ithaca College students attended The Brazilian Government's Expert Panel on the Contribution of Biofuels to Climate Change Mitigation. (For those of you who are at the stage of understanding that I had before taking this class, mitigation refers to the actions we are taking to prevent climate change or its subsequent effects before they snowball out of hand. Adaptation, on the other hand, more or less accepts the negative effects and looks to protect against them). The panel included short presentations from many experts on the topic, including former head of the EPA and current U.S. Minister of the Environment Lisa Jackson. Ms. Jackson reminded those in the over-capacity panel audience that the U.S. government is currently working on a draft of the renewable fuel standards policy which will soon be sent to the President for review.

A powerful statement I took away from the Brazilian expert panel? "Without energy, there is no development. Without development, there is no employment.

After the Expert Panel, we made a restroom stop on the way to our next side event in the U.S. Centre, about the effects of climate change in the U.S. I noticed that Minister Lisa Jackson, whom we had just seen at the Panel, was washing her hands at the sink next to mine, so I struck up a brief conversation about the presentation.

This is just one example of how possible it is to meet and learn from some of the most influential people in government from around the world. It truly is an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime learning experience, and as students of Ithaca we are fortunate to have the support to be able to attend something like this.

The fact that I found myself nodding along with most all of the statements made at the U.S. Centre presentation was just another example of how much we've learned this semester. Whether it was the change in temperature across U.S. geographical areas or the science of greenhouse gases themselves, I found that I'd seen a lot of this information before -- through readings and class discussions for our course.

Last night, we attended an event known as Climate Spark. Its tag line is "The Business Forum of COP 15". There's a separate event each night focusing on a different topic, and it's attended by CEOs, entrepreneurs, and other successful businesspeople. Last night we heard from a panel of Danish Industry professionals, one of whom is the head of a company that has technologies that will allow a home to produce more energy than it consumes. Therefore, not only would your own home be carbon neutral, but you would actually have energy to spare. How cool is that?

The event is held at high-end nightclub NASA, and each evening there's an after party. The special guests at last night's after party? The Backstreet Boys. Yes, the boy band from the '90s. No, I'm not kidding. My friends and I were standing no more than 5 feet from them, in a nightclub, in Copenhagen. I guess you could say that my life dream as an 11-year-old came true -- 10 years too late.

 

Written by Meghan Swope      Add a comment

Today marked the opening of the Conference.Since nothing seems to occur without a glitch, only some of us were able to attend the Opening Plenary as planned. I guess you could call us "the lucky ones". I was one of them.

We got here as a group at 7 a.m., which was to be two hours before the Plenary. As it turns out, the Plenary was at 10 and not 9. While we were waiting, some students went to grab the daily agenda or to blog and e-mail.

Those of us still outside the exhibit space were approached by a man who gave us special tickets to the Opening Plenary. As it turns out, you can't get in without this second, special ticket -- but only the six of us sitting there were given tickets for our entire group of 20. Some others managed to run into him later and obtain tickets, but the rest were out of luck.

Apparently only 300 NGO tickets were given out, and there are over 15,000 registered NGO participants at Conference. So, yes, we were indeed the lucky ones.

The Plenary was so interesting. It began with a short film of a child's nightmare -- a world destroyed due to flooding, drought, and tornadoes. These are only some of the all too real effects of climate change that the class and I have studied throughout the semester.

The film also showed pleas from children across Denmark and the world, demanding action at Conference. We then heard speeches from the President of last year's Convention of the Parties, or COP, the Prime Minister of Denmark, and the Mayor of Copenhagen. All seemed to communicate a similar message -- let Copenhagen become known as Hopenhagen. Get it done. Seal the deal. Don't wait -- act.

We then witnessed the election of the new President for this year's COP, and the delegates from around the world began with the proceedings to initiate the Conference, confirm the rules and agenda, and begin the negotiating sessions. Not too fast, however.

Papau New Guinea's intervention during the rules portion was the first of what will likely be many controversies throughout the week. As I understand it, all the rules of the COP have been passed in the same way since these negotiations began 15 years ago. At the initial meeting, the first COP, one rule was omitted. That rule refers to consensus. At present, in order for an international treaty to be produced, the parties must come to a consensus. Papau New Guinea, or PNG as they are often referred to here, proposes that this consensus be brought down to only 75%. The reason they feel this way is that their island country is one of the most at risk in the world, and if swift action is not taken by the rest of the world, PNG as we know it may be submerged under water, thus creating a wave of climate refugees which no one at present seems prepared to take in. The President promised to further discuss the matter at a later time, but PNG would not waver from their position. The debate went back and forth three times before other countries, such as Brazil, also encouraged PNG to allow the discussion to move forward and thus the Plenary moved forward.

This, to me, represented the first example of another phenomenon we discussed in class -- the complex mechanisms that take place during international negotiations. In class, we'd done a simulation exercise in which each student represented a country and was to argue a proposed treaty from that position. Many factors must be considered, and it is nearly impossible to agree. Also, because time is short, action must be dramatic and swift in order to produce the change our planet needs. But, as anyone who follows any type of politics knows, swift and dramatic action is seldom wise and even less popular.

After the morning Plenary I staffed our Public Opinion Poll exhibit with Maria. We received in-person votes from delegates and NGOs alike, and spoke with people from Africa, Egypt, Greece, Canada, the US, and the EU.

Speaking of our poll, be sure to voice your opinion -- and keep coming back, as the question changes every day. Also check out the Vizu results map, where you can see real-time votes reflected as coordinates of poll participants around the globe.

 
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