Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Update from Copenhagen and COP 15

Quick update from Copenhagen: As you may have heard in the media, getting into the conference center where COP 15 is being held turned into a major logistical nightmare yesterday, with thousands of registered attendees being shut out. Long story short, I didn't get in...but this ended up being an opportunity for me to attend other, side events which I found incredibly interesting and valuable:
-a UN Foundation breakfast on women, population and climate. Having been interested in these issues for years, it was refreshing and inspiring to hear powerful world policy crafters talk about how the most effective way to address population issues is to empower women by making sure they have the same rights and opportunities as men. What a new UN study (State of World Population 2009: Facing a changing world: women, population and climate) also points out is that one of the most effective ways to address climate change is also to empower women: women now make up the majority of the developing world's farmers, are the primary care takers of their families, and often make many of a family's purchasing decisions. Empowering women to be positive agents for fixing climate change could be one of the most strategic moves the world's policy crafters could make.

-a UN Foundation dinner on the relationship between meeting the Millennium Development Goals and negotiating the international climate treaty. Like the breakfast, this was attended by some of the true luminaries in the international development world (Gro Brundtland, Mary Robinson, Helen Clark, Tim Wirth...and Jet Li!), and speaker after speaker got up and said that unlike any previous climate conference, this one will have to simultaneously address climate change and meeting the Millennium Development Goals. If it does not, THERE WILL BE NO DEAL. My "everywoman's" understanding of all this, is that the developed world is finally getting it that solving environmental problems is inextricably linked to solving human problems, including huge disparities in consumption and responsibility between the industrialized countries and the rest of the world. On the one hand, this seems so obvious, but given the type of discourse that happened on these issues at COP 13 in Bali, just 2 years ago, this is a huge and positive step in the right direction.

In terms of what is going on in COP 15, I learned from one of my NRDC insiders, Jake Schmidt, that one enormously positive thing has happened and one enormously large challenge still remains:

1.Positive thing: All of the developed nations have agreed that global emissions need to be cut, that each of their nations need to cut their own emissions, have set targets for emissions cuts and have plans for how to achieve these targets (or are at least working on these targets, the US being the most critical in the "we're working on it" camp.) This is a HUGE, game changing, revolutionary, "may just save us yet" accomplishment.

2.Large challenge: Part of the treaty will allocate funding from the industrialized nations to the developing nations to help them
a) cut their emissions (mitigation)

b)cope with the climate change that, at this point, is unavoidable.

Not surprisingly, the industrialized, wealthy countries are offering embarrassingly little and the rest of the world is FURIOUS! It seems like what will make or break the entire treaty is whether both sides can broker this part of the deal. To give you a tiny bit of context: I learned yesterday, ironically from a friend in Vermont, that the US just offered $85 million for developing renewable energy to the ENTIRE group of developing countries. As I hinted at in an earlier post, the US military gets 3 billion A DAY. Other ways of comparing these numbers come from my friend in Vermont (who works as a planner and spends his days crunching numbers for infrastructure projects):

In the fair state of Vermont, $85 million could buy you:

1.One large bridge
2.One large shopping mall
3. Repaving I-89 from Burlington to the NH border

What will probably be one of the most decisive factors is the kind of financial package President Obama arrives with on Friday. I am hoping he comes to town with a sense of vision, good will, realism about the kind of money it is going to take to help the developing countries retool to address climate change, courage and a generous heart.

In my conversations with others, from high ranking governmental officials, to policy staffers at environmental NGOS, to my actor/activist friend, I'm hearing the same message: humanity needs to re-calibrate our sense of self-interest to being linked to global well being. If every nation continues throughout these negotiations primarily focused on how it can best look after Number One, we will, in essence, be joining hands and walking off the cliff together. However, if each nation can realize that survival--and our ability to thrive--is dependent on making it possible for even the least of us to address climate change and thrive, we may just pull this off.

More later,

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