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COP15 Proletariats

Posted on behalf of Anthony Berger, a student at the University of Iowa:

Stepping off the metro into the brisk Copenhagen air, seeing the Bella Center’s wind turbine circling ominously in the distance, and the sensing the invigorated buzz of conference participants mentally-preparing for the second week of COP15 to commence, I optimistically descended the steps from the metro platform.

After gazing excitedly at the facade of the conference venue, I began my search for the point at which the registration queue terminated. Continuing my walk to the end of the line, I denied admitting that this was indeed a very long line. Though initially worried I wouldn’t make a 9:00am meeting with my accrediting NGO (Mediators Beyond Borders), I convinced myself that the line would move steadily, and that I’d eventually make it to the meeting a few minutes late, at worst. I mean, the line had nearly quintupled in length, and my naivete precluded that most of these people would eventually be registered and admitted.

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Hillary Hits a Double — Obama to Bat Clean-Up

Hillary Clinton was a big hit today before a packed crowd of 300 news reporters in the main press hall at the COP15 Climate meeting. She was confident, convincing, and straight-forward while making two points crystal clear: 1) For the first time, she committed the U.S. to do its part towards an ambitious target of international assistance, ramping up to $100 billion per year by 2020, designated for the “poorest and most vulnerable countries” (translation– not including China); and 2) She emphasized that emission reductions will need to be strictly verified for all participating countries (including China).

Clinton admitted that there had been “all kinds of unfortunate discussions and disagreements” during these COP15 negotiations, sometimes about the past as well as the present. But regarding the financing of the agreement, she was clear: “The U.S. will do our part,” including both the long term as well as the fast-funding start of $10 billion per year in 2010 and $20 billion/yr by 2012.

In answer to a question about “transparency” (verification of emission reductions), Secretary Clinton was emphatic: “If there is not a commitment to transparency, then that is a deal-breaker for the U.S. — that undermines the whole effort.”

Clinton set the stage for the arrival of President Obama tomorrow and cast a ray of hope for a successful conclusion of COP15. Most feel a compromise can be reached regarding the transparency of emission reductions that will satisfy both the U.S. and China. The strong commitment of funding is key to bringing along African nations and those most affected by climate change already.

President Obama will need to use his personal popularity here and formidable diplomatic skills to hone a final agreement.

Most feel the Copenhagen Climate meeting will not end in a full-fledged, binding treaty. More likely, it will result in a political statement and agreement to pursue an operational accord (treaty) next year at COP16 in Mexico City. That’s unless Obama can drive in the winning run in Copenhagen tomorrow.

Stealing The Spotlight

Posted on behalf of Abbie Gruwell, a political science major at the University of Iowa:

If you pay attention to the major news sources, the compelling stories out of Copenhagen today would appear to be the massive demonstrations and angry NGO’s. Today the Danish police reached for new tactics to hold back the protesters outside the Bella Centre, not stopping short of tear gas and baton beatings. Of course, these are the images that hit CNN and the voices that allegedly represented world youth.

For those of us actually focused on the task at hand, the real story was a painful waiting game and much needed movement toward higher level negotiations. After talks resumed this afternoon, very little information came out of the deliberations. It seemed that delegates and U.N. officials alike were finally getting down to business, even forgoing press-filled speeches to actually do work. Maybe if our leaders had felt this kind of desperation a week and a half ago we would have an ambitious, binding framework.

One of the most exciting parts of the afternoon were the speeches by the Heads of State, such as Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Ian Fry of Tuvalu, and other high profile leaders. Many were passionately in support of the G77 and China position for more intensive negotiations and a two-track plan. Tomorrow Ahmadinejad and Manmohan Singh promise to make it an exciting day.

One success that is predicted to come out of this week is the REDD document. The agreement aims to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and has been one of the only discussions that bore any fruit. Although there are still a few things to work out, it seems the most optimistic section of the comprehensive bill. There were several issues of contention about the REDD policy, most notably the rights of indigenous peoples. Amazingly, the final draft was presented today and REDD is predicted by the Environmental Defense Fund to be the most concrete thing that comes out of Copenhagen. At least there is something we can agree on.

Kerry Remains Optimistic (For Next Year)

Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) spoke yesterday at the COP15 Climate meeting in Copenhagen and was optimistic that progress has been made both in the U.S. and in climate negotiations underway here. He said that the next 12-24 hours will be crucial and that “success in Copenhagen is really critical to the success next year in the U.S. Senate.” Kerry is co-author with Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) on the climate bill pending in the Senate which will be considered next spring. Furthermore, he is working with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) on passage of the legislation. “Our bill is a jobs bill,” Kerry said. “It will unleash a technology revolution in the U.S.”

Kerry recognizes that significant obstacles still exist to a full fledged (binding) treaty. Financing from rich countries for emission reductions by poor countries will be required, but such financing will be contingent on a mechanism for verifying actual emission reductions. “It is imperative for us to help the other countries so they can reduce their emissions,” he said.

Senator Kerry also recognizes that the climate debate is yet to be fully resolved in the U.S. When challenged as to why he is relatively optimistic, Kerry shot back, “I will tell you right now 100% that we will pass legislation to reduce emissions.” He said one of his reasons for optimism is “everybody in America wants energy independence.” But he said that the only way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to price carbon. Kerry added that the exact mechanism of how to “price carbon” is still under debate, whether it will be a carbon tax, cap-and-trade, or strictly by regulations.

With heads of state now arriving in Copenhagen, it is time for some of the details to be unveiled. Kerry seemed to imply that he does not really expect a binding treaty at Copenhagen, but rather continued negotiations with a full fledged treaty possible by June or July, 2010.

"Prove Us Wrong, Or Stand Down"

Posted on behalf of Abbie Gruwell, a political science major at the University of Iowa:

The atmosphere inside the Bella Centre today is palpably tense. Entrance restrictions continued and security is getting increasingly tighter. We arrived at 7:00 this morning to guards, protesters, and a series of blockades that we were herded through like cattle. Many NGO’s were not admitted and several groups have been stripped of their accreditation altogether. Even a leader from the Brasilian delegation was denied access through security, a point embarrassingly brought up in the general session.

There is a general feeling of anticipation and dread about the negotiations as the heads of state begin their national addresses this afternoon. The resignation of Connie Hedegaard this morning highlighted the secrecy of the proceedings, even though the plenary sessions are thankfully being broadcast in the main rooms. Statements coming out of the negotiators are saying that her resignation is a matter of protocol due to the high status level of the negotiators, but there are doubts.

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Congress, Carbon, And Compromise

Posted on behalf of Abbie Gruwell, a political science major at the University of Iowa:

Time is running out for substantive negotiations at Copenhagen. My second day here saw virtually no movement on the U.S. position and continuing frustration on all fronts. The G-77 walk-out yesterday sent a strong message that a clear binding commitment is extremely unlikely by the end of the week.

China, India, and South Korea’s inclusion in the walk-out made the issue even more complicated. Because of their demand for adaptation assistance, the financing debate is deadlocked. The African nations and small island countries have a viable argument for climate financing from the developed world, but there is no way the U.S. Congress would support sending money to China, India, and South Korea for climate change adaptation. These countries are still supporting the continuation of Kyoto, and the U.S. is not budging on their emissions targets.

It seems that everyone has their scapegoat – the E.U. says they will commit to 30% reductions if the U.S. does, and the U.S. won’t commit to anything unless China is subject to a verification system. Hopefully the word of the week will be compromise, not disappointment.

I spent today outside of the Bella Centre quagmire and had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion hosted by the PEW Center and the Environmental Defense Fund with several policy and legislative aides to four U.S. congressmen. Michael Goo with Chairman Markey, Mark Helmke, Joe Shultz with Senator Brown, and Trent Bauserman with Senator Shaheen all gave their opinions on the effect of Copenhagen on the current Senate bill.

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Melting Ice And Snow At COP15

To me, the biggest story on Monday December 14 at the COP15 Climate Change meeting in Copenhagen was all about ice. Former U.S. Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore teamed with the Greenland Premier Kuupik Kleist, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Stoere, and Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller to call for global action to stem the causes of melting snow and ice.

There’s been a significant increase in reported and projected melt rates since the 2007 IPCC 4th Assessment which drew on data collected through May 2005. In only four years, estimates of ice sheet thinning and melting in Antartica have increased markedly. Observed sea level rise has doubled from the 1.7 mm/yr average rate in the 20th century to 3-4 mm/yr today. In 2007, IPCC projected a sea level rise of about 0.2-0.6 meters in 2099 through modeling of six different scenarios, whereas model forecasts today are in the range of 0.8-1.9 meters rise during the the 21st century. Quite a change in only four years! Much of the difference is due to the recently recognized (accelerating) melt rates on Greenland and Antarctica which adds to a thermally expanding ocean. Millions of people in low-lying island nations and areas such as Bangladesh, the Netherlands, and the Mekong Delta will be affected by sea level rise during this century if the new projections hold.

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The Climate Zoo in Copenhagen

It’s not all happening at the zoo. At least not for thousands of NGO delegates who came here on hard-earned currency or scholarships. In my own case, I’m here with 12 students from Iowa and 7 students from Rice University accompanied by my colleague, Pedro Alvarez. But, the Rice students waited in line yesterday for 6 hours before finally gaining admission to the Bella Center and receiving badges and credentials to the COP15 climate conference in Copenhagen. Worse still, three of the Iowa students waited the entire day in freezing cold and never gained admission to the meeting at all. It’s not clear whether they will ever get in.

COP15 has implemented a last minute triage strategy to stem the flow of thosands of people beyond the limit of 15,000 for the Bella Center facility. NGO organizations are only able to obtain required “secondary passes” for a fraction of their delegates, about one-quarter to one-half from what I can tell. It’s necessary to present the secondary passes in addition to the primary credentials and badge. So the ones who were lucky enough to get badges must now share passes and alternate days with their fellow NGO delegates.

I met one poor student from Tufts University who came to COP15 as a NGO delegate through the Stockholm Environmental Institute (SEI). SEI comprises one of the larger delegations with 84 members, but only 20 will be allowed into the conference on any given day with secondary passes. The Tufts fellow stood for nine hours in the cold and never gained admission, so now he couldn’t even use the secondary pass if he had one.

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