Assorted omens for Copenhagen climate agreement

Keeping up with climate change developments is an exhausting business.

This week alone saw the World Business Summit on Climate Change, the Nobel Laureates Symposium on Climate Change, the Global Humanitarian Forum’s shocking report on the human and economic cost of climate change, and the bail-out of the carbon dinosaur, GM Europe, by a German government out of touch with the country’s reputation as engineers of the future.

As if to remind us what this is all about, the category one Cyclone Aila struck Bangladesh on Monday. Experts have said that thousands of lives were saved by the evacuation of 600,000 people. The shelters and early warning systems illustrate the importance of adaptation to climate change in developing countries.

OneWorld’s co-founders, Peter and Anuradha, were amongst representatives of the NGO sector at the Business Summit in Copenhagen. Business leaders were tuned in by an impressive line-up that included Ban Ki-moon, Al Gore, Dr Rajendra Pachauri and Cate Blanchett.

Reporting back to our team gathering on Wednesday, Anuradha expressed irritation at the agenda’s omission of the problems faced by developing countries. But Peter said that the mood of the conference was positive on prospects for a decisive outcome at the crucial UN climate summit in December.

I continue to play devil’s advocate within our team, arguing that the recession will make it impossible for US and China to break the mould of climate negotiations this year.

I was helped along by US Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, who was in London with the Nobel Laureates. Billed as the darling of environmentalists, Chu has been sounding more like an apparatchik from the Bush administration. New coal-fired power stations without carbon capture technology, a dash for nuclear power and no increase in petrol prices – that’s the package for Americans that came across in his interviews.

I’m also concerned about the proposed US global warming legislation, the American Clean Energy and Security Act. The pre-election promises of the Obama-Biden New Energy for America plan used a baseline year of 1990 for emissions reductions. Now the targets in the Act have quietly skipped to 2005.

As American greenhouse gas emissions increased by over 16% in that period, it makes a big difference. All European legislation is based on 1990. I’m not sure that Copenhagen negotiators will see this as a level playing field, however welcome the new US participation.

Further genial internal dissent was fuelled by the latest article in Anuradha’s series of “myths” published on OneClimate. This is a controversial piece suggesting that people should temper their addiction to flying through awareness of deaths caused by climate change.

I’m sticking to my view that guilt is an inappropriate emotional button to press in the cause of lifestyle change. Only the instinct of job preservation restrained me from awarding a low number of stars to the article.

But I have to bow to Anuradha’s sixth sense in picking the angle of the week. On Friday, Kofi Annan’s Global Humanitarian Forum released its latest report with the headline “climate change responsible for 300,000 deaths a year.”


this article was first published by OneWorld UK