Cop15: Understanding the Walkout
In Copenhagen yesterday negotiations hit an impasse. Countries from the developing world threatened to abandon the process. Everything now hangs in the balance.
Given the rhetoric and expectations that marked the beginning of COP 15 this is a profoundly disturbing development.
I spoke this afternoon with Brendan DeMelle of desmogblog.com who has been at the Bella Center since the beginning of the conference. Here’s what I learned.
Developing countries keen to grow their economies and lacking the capacity to transform those economies with green technologies, expect financial assistance from the wealthy industrialized nations that historically have been the primary source of greenhouse gases. A figure of $100 billion a year has been suggested. This flow of anticipated capital that has been variously described as assistance, subsidies, compensation or reparations. The language is highly charged and matters.
From an industrial world they see as the fundamental source of the problem they expect emission reductions that are deep, meaningful and binding, most especially from the United States, historically the largest producer of greenhouse gases.
Knowing that any meaningful political agreement will require the support of Congress, the Obama administration has in fact proposed an emissions reduction target from the United States that in real terms is only 3% of 1990 levels, a figure that pales in comparison to the commitments of other industrialized nations. This figure is not about to change, and does not signal to delegates a seriousness of intent. The American proposal offers a further long term goal of reducing emissions 83% below 2005 standards by 2050, a dramatic reduction that would if implemented reduce US per capita emissions roughly to the level of 1875. Many doubt this will happen. As one young protestor told me, only the kids protesting in the streets of Copenhagen will still be around by 2050. They have little faith in the commitments of government officials, few if any of whom will be alive in that year.
In terms of multilateral compensation, the UN has suggested a figure of $10 billion per year, $6.5 of which will come from the EU, with the US presumably expected to pony up much of the rest. Given that the US has spent at least a trillion dollars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and recently infused its own economy with a stimulus package of close to $800 billion, a contribution of a mere $3 billion to a global effort to mitigate the impacts of climate change is considered a trivial sum, a slap in the face, by delegates who are expected to transform their own emerging industrial economies. Referring to the full UN package, a Sudanese delegate, brought to tears of rage and frustration, described a furnace of heat and drought sweeping over and already afflicting his country. Referring to the anticipated impacts of climate change throughout the world, the inundation of entire nations, water scarcity as mountain glaciers melt and rivers cease to flow, and an increase in extreme weather events, he remarked “$10 billion will not be enough even to buy the coffins that we will require to bury our dead.”
Wade Davis is Copenhagen in partnership with Nissan’s A Journey to Zero project
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