The UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen ended on 18 December 2009. What on Earth happened? Ask 10 different people and you’ll get 10 different answers! Here’s my round up with some key observations.
I watched the final hours of the conference live on TV through various news channels, and was fascinated by the wildly different reactions shown by people being interviewed. Some were furious, others were positive.
I honestly believe no single person on the planet can give a comprehensive and entirely unbiased summary, especially in a short article. With 193 countries attending, one can only give political platitudes such as “lots done, lots to do”. In effect I believe that’s as fair a summary as we can get. But that would make a very neutral article, so I’ll pick out a few more juicy observations!
Apparently Gordon Brown “tweeted” from the negotiating table very late on the last night of the Conference, saying he was exhausted but they were finally making progress. Interesting. I didn’t hear of Obama tweeting. Does that make Brown cooler than Obama, or just lacking concentration?
I was also fascinated by some of the language that an emotionally exhausted looking Obama was using. He used wording such as “I only wanted to come here with pledges I knew I could keep”. I agree with the news journalists on the BBC and Sky that this was a reference to Obama being held back internally within the US by the Senate. Combine this with Obama saying “we don’t have international Government” and my interpretation was that Obama was indirectly acknowledging the need for international Government. If the US is still negotiating internally, how can it effectively negotiate with 192 other countries? Obama and the US looked crippled, while China took its first step as the new global superpower, asserting itself in a negotiation with the US regarding emissions monitoring and reporting. I think Obama knows the American political system must change long term. But I also think he knows we need international Government long term. Even if it’s 500 years away, it seems inevitable eventually. That’s a lot of work ahead of him, and possibly why he seemed exhausted.
Interviewed by the BBC, Oxfam reminded us that climate change kills 150,000 a year. Sudan said the Copenhagen Accord spells "incineration" for Africa, and likened it to the holocaust of 6 million people to the furnaces. Meanwhile Greenpeace UK painted another vivid mental image: "Copenhagen is a crime scene tonight, with the guilty men and women fleeing to the airport."
Amidst all the negative quotes there were a few smug comments from China that everyone should be happy with the Copenhagen Accord. The other lone looking entity sounding positive was John Prescott. He negotiated for the UK at the UN Climate Change Conferences in Kyoto back in the 1990s, and urged journalists to stop the negative hype. Legally binding targets are, apparently, never set in stone during the conferences, always after the conference itself. In this case the deadline is the end of January 2010 for each country to submit emissions targets. There are meetings in Bonn and Mexico City in 2010 to facilitate. So journalists and charities lamenting the lack of a legally binding treaty do not necessarily understand the process.
I won’t go into all the ins and outs of that here. What strikes me, however, is that even if the Heads of State do nothing, we as other groups, charities, businesses and individuals can. Boris Johnson called for people to stop “overdosing on gloom” and announced that London will lead the world by ensuring no Londoner is more than a mile from a charging point for an electric car by 2015. And all the combined power of 193 world leaders still can’t stop you volunteering for a conservation charity, or sponsoring someone to run 10km to raise money for tree planting.
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