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Follow the U-M Delegation to the Climate Change Conference

United Nations Climate Change Conference Dec 07 - Dec 18, 2009

TAG | Global Warming



Nicholas Parker

Imagining Cooperation on Climate

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” – Albert Einstein

Can climate models embolden the imagination enough to push us through political stalemates?

We are getting reports that the COP talks are in disarray.  Many experts hedged before the conference and foresaw far less progress on the treaty than we need, and it seems like the outcome will in fact be disappointing.  But who knows for sure?  Backroom deals could be forged and surprise us all.  Visiting Copenhagen, Secretary Clinton just alluded to the U.S. staking the kind of financial commitment that would be the keystone to an ambitious deal in Copenhagen.  REDD might be launched in earnest (it is unclear whether a deal is nearly completed or faltering due to a lack of up-front cash from the developed nations), no insignificant thing given that deforestation and degradation, along with changes in soil characteristics, account for 17-20% of global greenhouse gas emissions and many other cascading losses to ecosystem services.  As ministers and heads of state arrive at the Bella Center to drafts of choppy, diluted text, many of us outside of the sessions—especially, I’m guessing, all the NGO observers left out in the cold, unmoving lines after some impressive mismanagement on the part of the conference organizers—return to questioning whether high-level collective action is possible on a problem that is not yet immediate (though many claim otherwise) and whose effects will be disproportionately felt among the global poor.

It is no mystery that most of us don’t perceive the climate problem as an immediate one that touches our personal lives—that’s because in many circumstances, it is not.  I pay relatively little to fill my oil tank, which I need to do because, yes, it still gets cold in winter (the north wind blew right through me on the Eastern Prom in Portland, Maine this morning!), and a relatively small rise in temperature will not affect my ability to secure water or food: my income is sufficient to buy water and food, and I assume it will be sufficient in years to come even if water becomes more expensive due to scarcity and food prices skyrocket due to global changes in agricultural production and increased demand from a much larger population (but let’s try to remember that there are many out there who rely on staple crops to feed their families and who don’t have disposable incomes to purchase food during shortages; and about the rapidly growing urban populations who need jobs and income to purchase food).  Throw in rigorous (ahem!) and pervasive “contrarian” arguments like Hannity’s, “It’s snowing in Houston,” some faith in our ability to engineer our way out of trouble when real trouble actually manifests—a faith fed in many cases, again, by cautious skepticism of model projections—and the need for sizeable up-front costs on the part of the developed world, and we’re left with a very shaky foundation on which to build a meaningful international treaty.

At COP, we are banking on some serious cooperative efforts to mitigate greenhouse gases so that a problem illustrated in model projections will not occur.  If we do act decisively, later everyone will ask, “Was it really going to happen, anyway?”  And we’ll respond that the models said so and, well, at least we modernized our economies, created millions of jobs, and now produce energy from renewable sources – at home.  If we do not act decisively, Homo sapiens, “thinking man”, might have some serious regrets. (more…)

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“I would rather see no deal at all than a watered-down version that doesn’t help anyone,” fellow U of M delegate Ahmed Tawfik told Keith Schneider of Circle of Blue and Climate Action Network. Ahmed isn’t alone.  Only half way through the conference, already many people are beginning to fear that the bureaucratic powers-at-be won’t be able to deliver at the end of all of this.  The problem as I see it is that there is such a disparity between the climate proposals that each nation has brought to the negotiating table, making it virtually impossible for anything but more dialogue and digress to emerge.  But there isn’t time for more dialogue—our time is running out to make a change that can actually save lives.

However, the estimated 5,000 climate demonstrations planned for today—both in Copenhagen and around the world—might be the united front that all of these factions have been looking for.  Maybe next week’s talks will “get serious” enough, following a weekend of international action, and the more than 50,000 expected to march today in Copenhagen.

This morning I woke up early to start researching the Global Day of Action, hosted in large part by many different groups in the TckTckTck coalition and Global Climate Campaign.  In fact, there are currently more than 527 organizations and networks from 67 countries (85 from Denmark alone) that have signed on to be part of what is assured to be the largest demonstration on climate change to date.

In Copenhagen, a rally begins today at 1pm (AMS), with speakers and music at Christiansborg Slotsplads (Parliament Square).  After mobilization efforts to energize the crowd, fifteen large recycled sails—each embellished with climate messages—will be carried more than three miles over the course of 2 hours, arriving at the Bella Center where they will be given directly to Yvo de Boer, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) Executive Secretary. (Watch a video of Greenpeace preparing banners and signs for the event here.)  A candle light vigil will immediately follow at 5pm.

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Aubrey Parker

Welcome to Bike Town, E.U.

I had heard from friends who studied abroad in Copenhagen that traveling by bike is “the only way to see the city,” but I was totally unprepared for the number of bikes that they have here.  The bike lanes are serious—clearly marked, and if a pedestrian dares to step out when the crosswalk is flashing red, there is no stopping on the bike’s part.  And the flow of traffic by the bikes is continuous: I would guesstimate that there is about one bike for every two cars on the road, or maybe in all actuality the percentage is even higher and I just don’t realize it because bikes are so much smaller than cars and take up less room on the road.  Whatever the case, it is amazing that in such a cold, dreary climate there are so many people willing—and somehow appear to actually enjoy—to ride around in the cold, adorned in mittens, scarves and hats, with any sort of belongings or groceries stowed away in the wicker baskets attached to the front.

What might be even more amazing to me is that virtually no one locks their bike here: I would say the rate of bikes with locks is probably less than 20 percent.  Which makes economical sense, to some extent—if everyone already has a bike, there is high supply and therefore very low demand, so not only the cost of new bikes from a store is low, but also those that are hocked on the black market.  Why steal a bike if you already have one yourself and you have no one to sell it to?

Read more about the how public transportation promotes green initiatives in Copenhagen at my blog for the Detroit Free Press!

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Aubrey Parker

Water + Climate

An excerpt taken from Circle of Blue, the non-profit journalism organization reporting the global freshwater crisis that I work for…this excerpt comes from our “Water + Climate” series in the lead-up to the Copenhagen Conference which features news articles linking global climate change and water-related problems in the areas of agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and human rights. (Read all of my past articles here.)

“The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function,” wrote Albert Bartlett, Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Colorado-Boulder, while assessing the sustainability of our planet. His statement is painfully insightful when we consider the global climate and water crises, as both rising temperatures and water scarcity have suddenly crept up on us, rearing their heads violently as either decade-long droughts or devastating floods.

It’s evident – without water as part of the equation, there can be no long-term solution to climate change.

With this in mind Circle of Blue launches our Water + Climate series – an examination of seven ways these two global crises intersect. Our first installment, Water + Climate: Food, examines the most universally tangible problem: global food security. We begin with a look at the push-pull factors that have lead countries with booming populations and unproductive land, such as China, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, to purchase land in poorer yet more arable places like Sudan, Madagascar and Pakistan.

While some activists paint these deals as neo-imperialistic land grabs, other leaders champion them as opportunities that will make the developing world legitimate players in the global economy. Each potential deal, whether private or public investments, is riddled with varying economic, political and social complications, leading us to conclude that the truth is somewhere in between.

As we push forward with other intersectional issues in our series, like energy, migration, hydrology and infrastructure, we will also be monitoring diplomatic developments in the run-up to Copenhagen in December. Ultimately we must recognize the lines that connect, instead of those that divide, two of the biggest threats to the survival of the human race.”

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