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Global Warming and Global Whining

COP15 ended today with a political agreement to cap temperature rise to 2°C, reduce GHG emissions and raise financial assistance to developing countries (to $30 billion over the next three years) to adapt and mitigate against climate change. Many stake holders were disappointed that the meeting ended without reaching a legally binding agreement to reduce GHG emissions, as most experts had predicted. Many criticized this agreement as low in ambitions, poor on targets and vague on money. However, it represents a small but important step to move in the right direction, where countries recognize joint and differential responsibilities tailored to their economic and geopolitical capabilities and constraints.

Overall, I was left with a sense of frustration about the UN negotiating process, which is in urgent need of reform. Too much time was wasted in repetitive and digressive speeches, especially by countries who are neither particularly highly susceptible to climate change nor bring significant solutions to the table. Many breakout groups looked like procrastinating children that leave their homework until the last minute. At this level of negotiation, no time should be wasted to address global warming, so we should restrict the time devoted to global whining.

It is very difficult to make progress when there are so many people negotiating, often giving more importance to political considerations than to a scientific reality that demands our urgent attention. On the other hand, the current agreement reflects a compromise between the two major emitters – the USA and China, which is too few parties at the decision table. Considering that ten countries are responsible for 2/3 of the global CO2 emissions (i.e., China, USA, Russia, India, Japan, Germany, Canada, United Kingdom, South Korea and Iran- ranked from higher to lower emitters), I think they should form a smaller group that includes a few representative of the G77 to continue the negotiations throughout the year, and commit early on to a transparent and accountable process that is essential to earn trust and build a common shared vision. If there is one thing that quickly makes us put aside differences is the threat of a common enemy, and we are facing an enemy created by our own actions- an enemy of devastating consequences on food security, global health, natural disasters and the economy. There is plenty of blame to share, but it is more important to find solutions that culprits and start preparing for next year, COP16 in Mexico.

Be At The COP15 Table Or Be Part Of The Menu

Copenhagen is a very exciting place right now, with many contrasts. One of the jewels of this beautiful city is Tivoli, a sort of “Disneyland in Las Vegas,” with lots of bright and colorful lights. I wonder what its carbon footprint is. Probably a lot less than it appears, due to the prevalence of wind energy here.

The Bella Center, the main site for COP15, is densely packed with people of unparalleled cultural and philosophical diversity and competing interests. A friend once told me that political negotiations get more vicious when the stakes are lower. Here, it is quite the opposite. The stakes are huge and there seems to be a lot of civility, even amongst demonstrators that abound in the streets (though they seem often outnumbered by a very polite and firm police force).

Every stakeholder wants to be at this table, but meaningful agreements seem distant right now, due to a tendency for individual national interests to prevail over common global interests. For example, Saudi Arabia is worried about loss of revenue in oil sales due to renewable energy initiatives, while Singapore worries about losing ship traffic if the North Pole becomes navigable as Arctic ice melts. The small Island Sate of Tuvalu has a more compelling case. Their highest elevation is 4m above sea level and they worry about being swallowed by the ocean. Tensions between China and the US (respectively ranked #1 and #2 in CO2 emissions) flared up last Friday, after China (who joined the G77 position to seek financial assistance to mitigate and adapt to climate change) was irritated by an American official who stated that the US is unlikely to provide financial assistance to them. Incidentally, the G77 is a group of predominantly Southern developing nations who at times seem to be headquartered at the tower of Babel.

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Pre-trip Thoughts by Pedro J. Alvarez

This is my first blog ever. I am excited about heading to Copenhagen in two days, on Thursday. I will be wearing three hats:
1) Associate Editor for ES&T and virgin blogger;
2) Professor (taking with me 6 Rice University undergraduate and a graduate student who is pregnant, hope she feels well); and
3) Delegate, representing Nicaragua, the country where I was born.

I feel lucky that I will have an opportunity to witness a potentially historical event, and maybe contribute my grain of sand. I feel most lucky that my oldest daughter will accompany me, as an NGO observer and student of a class I am teaching on International Perspectives in Climate Change: The Copenhagen Experience.

Nicaragua’s position at COP15 will be that “the reduction of carbon and other contaminants is a direct responsibility of rich industrialized countries in the North and their model of production and consumption. Nicaragua rejects the notion that poor Countries in the South should trade their natural resources in order to maintain the current unsustainable model of production and consumption.”

I agree that we all have shared as well as differential responsibilities. The devil is in the details. My expectations are high. Time is short. More later.