First they put the planet in square brackets, now they have deleted it from the text. At the end it was no longer about saving the biosphere: it was just a matter of saving face. As the talks melted down, everything that might have made a new treaty worthwhile was scratched out. Any deal would do, as long as the negotiators could pretend they have achieved something.George Monbiot, “Copenhagen Negotiators Bicker and Filibuster While the Biosphere Burns,” The Guardian (UK)

Countdown-CopenhagenThe grudging and minimalist agreement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen between the U.S., China, India, Brazil, and South Africa to take steps “to reduce global emissions so as to hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius” over the next century was something—but, as with other collective bargaining agreements we could mention—disappointed most participants. A deal was worked out among major emitters of greenhouse gases to curb those emissions, to provide financial assistance (a Copenhagen Green Climate Fund) for developing nations to build clean-energy economies, and to try to ameliorate the effects of climate change on states that are particularly at risk.

Many smaller nations, especially in Africa, bitterly decried the big industrial powers’ making decisions that the less developed nations had little choice but to live with. The conference was beset by walk-outs, short-lived boycotts, and disagreements all around—not to mention the protests in the streets outside. Still, what was announced Friday sounded better than what had previously appeared likely: total meltdown with no agreement on anything. Climate writer George Monbiot (not noted for timid opinions) denounced the agreement as “the chaotic, disastrous denouement of a chaotic and disastrous summit.” New York Times environmental writers Andrew Revkin and John Broder noted:

The final accord, a 12-paragraph document, was a statement of intention, not a binding pledge to begin taking action on global warming—a compromise seen to represent a flawed but essential step forward.

But many delegates of the 193 countries that had gathered here left Copenhagen in a sour mood, disappointed that the pact lacked so many elements they considered crucial, including firm targets for mid- or long-term reductions of greenhouse gas emissions and a deadline for concluding a binding treaty next year.

Monbiot was not able to get into the actual U.N. conference, but he did attend the alternative (and, he thought, better-organized) Klimaforum, a Peoples’ Climate Summit that was attended by 50,000.

Considering the urgency of the global climate crisis (some scientists project sea-level rises of more than 10 feet, possibly over 20, in the next century), the result of the U.N. conference was pathetic and alarming—this is the best we can do? But, as with the disappointing results of the U.S. Congress’s legislation (thus far) for health care and insurance reform, it seems that anything other than breaking down in a tantrum of name-calling recrimination or bursting into tears of hopelessness is to be regarded as progress. Better than nothing. Better than obstruction and denialism, that’s for sure.

And there are legions of committed activists and scientists and dedicated public officials for whom frustration and disappointment are not a reason to quit but are instead a motivation to work harder, smarter, like our lives depend on it.

But, then again, it’s snowing all up and down the eastern United States, so maybe this “warming” is all a hoax, anyway.


Recommended Reading

United Nations Climate Change Conference web site

Text of 12-paragraph Copenhagen Accord

Timeline of Climate Change Science and Politics (NYT interactive feature)

Dot.Earth (Andrew C. Revkin’s climate change blog @ NYT)

Global Climate Network

Andrew Light @ “Obama Hits the Reset Button on the Foundations of International Climate Agreements

Environmental Defense Fund’s Operation: Climate Vote political action page

Earlier Levees Not War posts on climate change:

Polar-Palooza and the Singing Glaciologist

Penguins Are Melting

Swiftly Melting Planet 2007

Diagnosis of a Stressed-Out Planet