Friday, December 18, 2009

Time For Action‏


December 18, 2009

by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Zaid Jilani, Brad Johnson, and Alex Seitz-Wald


Time For Action

"The time for talk is over," President Obama told the assembled nations at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. "And at this point, the question is whether we will move forward together, or split apart." Heads of state from 130 countries have arrived in Copenhagen to find a deal. Former vice president Al Gore said the outcome of the talks will answer a fundamental moral question: Who are we as human beings? "Instead of forthrightly addressing a mortal threat to the future of civilization," if we "allowed this process to fall into paralysis," Gore argued, the next generation "would be justified in asking us: 'Who are you?'" British Prime Minister Gordon Brown exhorted the assembly, "[W]e cannot permit the politics of narrow interest to prevent a policy for human survival." The greatest responsibility for the crisis of climate change and of finding a solution lies with the Unites States. In the first year of his presidency, Obama has done much to allow the United States to rejoin the clean energy race, though it remains in the back of the pack. While shepherding key legislation to limit pollution and invest in green jobs, the White House has also begun regulating global warming pollution and launched dozens of initiatives to build a sustainable economy, and is now throwing its weight behind the Norway-Brazil plan to allow rich countries to fund the protection of rain forests. Gore said on Wednesday that he believes that those assembled can rise to this test of leadership in Copenhagen, that the U.S. Senate can pass legislation before Earth Day in April, and the world can meet again to sign a binding treaty six months from now.

THE OBAMA FACTOR: After eight years of obstruction by the Bush administration, the world has pinned its hopes on the ability of Obama to forge a deal to address global warming. From day one, the United States has made it clear our nation would never join the Kyoto Protocol structure, instead we would work towards a parallel international structure that requires both developed and developing countries to make commitments to emissions reductions. Although the emerging economies of China, India, Brazil, and others have committed to lowering their emissions, the key stumbling block has been transparency -- "whether mitigation actions from developing countries would be subject to international verification." Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised the challenge to China, committing the United States to help construct a $100 billion a year fund for "the climate change needs of developing countries" if "all major economies stand behind meaningful mitigation actions and provide full transparency as to their implementation." Although China has been adamant about using its own domestic system of auditing, supervision and assessment, optimism for a compromise has grown, as Clinton and Brown have led intense, late-night negotiations to find a path to a deal. After Obama met privately with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao for nearly an hour today, a White House official said they "took a step forward and made progress," expressing hope that "an agreement can be reached."

THE PEOPLE'S VOICE: Despite an increasingly strict crackdown by security forces, people from around the world called for action both inside the official conference, at the alternative Klimaforum, and on the streets of Copenhagen. Over the weekend, about 100,000 people of various nationalities participated in a festive and overwhelmingly peaceful march -- three people were charged for violent acts -- from the center of Copenhagen to the conference. On Sunday, Desmond Tutu and Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, led an ecumenical service as churches around the world rang their bells 350 times -- to highlight the 350 parts per billion developing nations say is the safest upper concentration level for CO2. During the opening of the high level segment of the Copenhagen conference on Wednesday, some international environmental organizations were barred from entering the Bella conference center, while protesters outside -- calling for a treaty commensurate to the scale of the climate crisis -- were beaten and pepper sprayed by police as they pushed toward the conference. Representatives of indigenous peoples, whose voice was heard but influence is limited, were blocked in their attempt to join with the protesters. That evening "approximately 30 international youth staged a sit-in" in the middle of the convention hall, "refusing to leave the talks until a fair, ambitious, and legally binding treaty was reached." Youth from every corner of the globe -- "Canada, Wales, Turkey, France, the U.S., Denmark, Australia, Germany, China, Lebanon, England, Ireland, Kenya, Norway" -- "began to read the names of the more than 11 million people who signed a petition demanding the same fair, ambitious, and legally binding agreement that is needed to avoid dangerous climate change and usher in a global clean energy economy." By Thursday, essentially every civil society delegate was locked out, while corporate executives enjoyed continued access to world leaders.

MUCH MORE MUST BE DONE: "The fate of my country rests in your hands," Ian Fry, the delegate for Tuvalu, accurately described at the beginning of the conference. Fry made an impassioned plea for legally binding agreements to be made by world leaders to save his nation and other low-lying island states by agreeing to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, to no avail. As Apisai Ielemia, Tuvalu's Prime Minister said yesterday, "We will leave this meeting with a bitter taste in our mouth. The true victims of climate change have not been heard here." A leaked U.N. document confirms analyses by leading climate scientists, Climate Interactive, and the Center for American Progress that the mitigation efforts currently proposed by major polluting states -- while dramatically better than continued inaction -- would mean warming of over three degrees Celsius this century. (CAP's Andrew Light disagrees.) A new paper published in Nature warns that "an additional two degrees of global warming could commit the planet to 6 to 9 meters (20 to 30 feet) of long-term sea level rise." At the conference, ocean researchers reported that current levels of carbon dioxide have already caused dangerous ocean acidification, coral bleaching and ice-sheet loss. Both agreed that the safe level of carbon dioxide concentrations for oceans and icecaps is well below current levels. As the Tuvalu delegate said, "It is an irony of the modern world that the fate of the world is being determined by some senators in the U.S. Congress."

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