Tag Archives: COP15

Reflections on COP15

Reporting on the climate meetings in Copenhagen picks out many different meanings from the chaos and limited success of the meeting.  Below are some reports from Canada, the UK, and the USA.

Comments linking to any other good reports on the conference outcome would be fantastic, especially if they are from other countries and raise other points.

Jeffrey Simpson, the Toronto Globe and Mail’s national affairs columnist, writes:

Ideally, the leaders who participated in the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen would have agreed to long-term emissions reductions, backed by short-term reduction targets. Apparently, however, even a 50-per-cent overall reduction target for 2050 was too stringent for too many countries and therefore Copenhagen ended without either long-term targets or short-term yardsticks.

Measurable yardsticks would have required hard decisions by many countries whose publics are not ready for strong action such as the United States; by democratic governments such as Canada that do not wish to lead; and by developing countries such as China and India unwilling to acknowledge that although the developed world has created most of the emissions to date, the fast-developing countries will be responsible for a growing share of emissions in the next half-century.

Instead, what seems to have been agreed upon was a process whereby countries will list their targets voluntarily. A long negotiation will follow to try to make these binding and included in an international treaty. The result was better than a complete collapse of the talks, but it left much of the detailed work for long negotiations ahead.

Copenhagen, therefore, was a predictable disappointment. The gaps coming into the talks between and among countries’ positions were too large; the domestic political stakes in some cases were too high; the economic fears too great; the temptation to finger-point too irresistible. …

Finding common ground among them was always going to be supremely difficult, and it remains so in the months, perhaps years, ahead as countries struggle to do better than they managed at Copenhagen, where they avoided the worst but did not achieve the best.

The negotiations did underscore the emergence of the world’s new power structure, since the critical negotiations involved the United States, China, India and Brazil, with the European Union off to one side, and Canada off the stage completely.

It took a major effort by President Barack Obama to save the negotiations; it will take an even larger one for him to persuade his Congress and the U.S. public to do something serious about climate change. But a Canadian could only admire his moral passion for the issue and his determination to lead, in contrast to the Canadian government’s approach that, appropriately enough, earned the country “Fossil of the Year” award by environmental groups at the conference.

In the New York Times, Andrew Revkin and John Broder report:

Many participants also said that the chaos and contentiousness of the talks may signal the end of reliance on a process that for almost two decades had been viewed as the best approach to tackling global warming: the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and a series of 15 conventions following a 1992 climate summit meeting in Rio de Janeiro.

The process has become unworkable, many said, because it has proved virtually impossible to forge consensus among the disparate blocs of countries fighting over environmental guilt, future costs and who should referee the results.

“The climate treaty process isn’t going to die, but the real work of coordinating international efforts to reduce emissions will primarily occur elsewhere,” said Michael Levi, who has been tracking the diplomatic effort for the Council on Foreign Relations.

That elsewhere will likely be a much smaller group of nations, roughly 30 countries responsible for 90 percent of global warming emissions. It was these nations that Mr. Obama rallied in a series of dramatic encounters on Friday to finally ink a deal that starts a flow of financing for poor countries to adapt to climate change and sets up a system for major economies to monitor and report their greenhouse gas emissions.

This smaller group of nations will meet periodically to tackle a narrower agenda of issues, like technology sharing or the merging of carbon trading markets, without the chaos and posturing of the United Nations process. A version of this already exists in the 17-nation Major Economies Forum, which has been a model of decorum and progress compared with what the world saw unfold at the climate talks.

The deal worked out in Copenhagen is a political agreement forged by major emitters to curb greenhouse gases, to help developing nations build clean-energy economies and to send money flowing to cushion the effects of climate change on vulnerable states. But even if countries live up to their commitments on emissions, a stark gap remains — measured in tens of billions of tons of projected flows of carbon dioxide — between nations’ combined pledges and what would be required to reliably avert the risks of disruptive changes in rainfall and drought, ecosystems and polar ice cover from global warming, scientists say.

An editorial from the UK’s Financial Times states:

One wonders how a conference to conclude two years of detailed negotiations, building on more than a decade of previous talks, could have collapsed into such a shambles. It is as though no preparatory work had been done. Consensus on the most basic issues was lacking. Were countries there to negotiate binding limits on emissions or not? Nobody seemed to know.

From the start, the disarray was total. In this, at least, the attention to detail was impressive. The organisers invited more people to the event than could be accommodated, and were puzzled when they arrived. Delegates queued in the freezing cold for hours, a scene that summed it all up. The organisers had planned a celebration of a grand new global pact – but the party was a disaster and they forgot to bring the agreement.

Governments need to understand, even if they cannot say so, that Copenhagen was worse than useless. If you draw the world’s attention to an event of this kind, you have to deliver, otherwise the political impetus is lost. To declare what everybody knows to be a failure a success is feeble, and makes matters worse. Loss of momentum is now the danger. In future, governments must observe the golden rule of international co-operation: agree first, arrange celebrations and photo opportunities later.

Fiona Harvey, Ed Crooks and Andrew Ward write in the Financial Times:

Developed countries insist that the accord, while imperfect, is nevertheless a significant step. As published, the section intended to show commitments to curb emissions by big economies is blank, but by February it is supposed to have been filled in. If leading economies repeat the offers made in public, the agreement will not be far from the political declaration the UN was looking for.

The real problem with the accord, however, is that it has not been formally accepted by the Copenhagen conference, which means it can easily be sidelined, an impression reinforced by China’s words. That leaves the UN with a further six months of tough and possibly hopeless negotiations to win acceptance, to be followed by the nearly impossible task of turning any such acceptance into a treaty. It also leaves the world without a global framework to tackle climate change.

It is these conclusions, after two weeks of unprecedented scenes, that have led some to question whether the UN, with processes vulnerable to delays, grandstanding and blackmail by special interests, is the forum in which to reach a treaty. There is talk from developed country officials of pressing ahead with a much smaller group of the leading economies, such as the Group of 20, responsible for the majority of global emissions – a “coalition of the willing” for the climate.

Yvo de Boer, the most senior UN climate official, made a strong defence of the UN as he prepared to leave the meeting, saying all countries must be included in making any deal. If it was restricted to the G20, he said, “you wouldn’t have round the table the countries who are in the front line of dealing with [the effects of] climate change but have minuscule economies.

“That’s part of the reason why people went to the trouble of creating the UN: that people wanted to address problems equitably.”

In Time magazine Bryan Walsh writes about lessons of COP15:

Green schism: The Environmental Defense Fund — a U.S. green group that often works with business — praised the Copenhagen Accord as an “important step,” and other mainstream environmental groups had a similarly measured response. But the new group 350.org — which demands extremely sharp and immediate carbon reductions — denounced the deal and protests outside the venue began almost immediately….

It’s going to get harder, and that’s a good thing: In the weeks preceding the summit, world leaders had downgraded expectations for a binding agreement, aiming instead for a broad political agreement while kicking tough decisions such as emission targets down the road. Logically, that should have made the talks at Copenhagen easier. Obviously that’s not what happened, as the summit’s final 48 hours were passed on the brink of collapse. But if Copenhagen was tough, Mexico City will be a lot more so, because there, countries will be tasked with filling in details sketched in the Copenhagen Accord.

Yet the very struggle to reach agreement at Copenhagen, and the tougher talks to come, demonstrate that climate diplomacy has finally come of age. The negotiations at Copenhagen were so contentious because of the very real impact the proposals on the table will have, not only on the environment, but also on national economies. China and the U.S. played hardball — and sent heads of government to do the talking — precisely because they had something to lose. The onset of a kind of climate realpolitik, which eschews hot air for real action, signals is a sign that global climate talks have moved beyond symbolic rhetoric.

What COP15 means for the planet?

Climate Interactive used their climate policy model, C-Roads, to analyze the Copenhagen Accord and national commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Their analysis assumes that nations follow their commitments. Their analysis shows:

The Accord adopted in Copenhagen (accessed 19 December 2009) calls for deep cuts in global emissions so as to hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius compared to preindustrial levels. Simulations of the C-ROADS model show that doing so requires global greenhouse gas emissions to peak by 2020 and then fall 50% below 1990 levels by 2050 (a cut of approximately 60% below current emissions).

However, simulations of the C-ROADS model show a large gap between the targets in the final Copenhagen agreement and the commitments offered by individual nations. Using the C=ROADS model, the researchers estimate that current confirmed proposals (that is, submissions to the UNFCCC or official government positions) would raise expected global mean temperature by 3.9 Celsuis by 2100. Including conditional proposals, legislation under debate and unofficial government statements would lower expected warming to an increase of approximately 2.9 C over preindustrial levels.

The graph and table below show simulation results from the C-Roads model for four scenarios: business as usual (calibrated to the IPCC A1FI scenario), current confirmed commitments, potential commitments, and the low emissions path required to achieve an expected warming of 2 degrees C over pre-industrial levels.



Seth Borenstein of Associated Press interviewed John Sterman and Andrew Jones from Climate Interactive as well as Cynthia Rosenzweig and Yvo de Boer:

Going above 450 parts per million “will change everything,” said NASA climate impacts researcher Cynthia Rosenzweig.

“It’s not just one or two things,” Rosenzweig said. “There will be changes in water, food, ecosystems, health, and those changes also interact with each other.”

At that point, among other things, millions of people would be subject to regular coastal flooding, droughts would cause food shortages, coral reefs would dramatically die off affecting the ocean food chain, and about 20 percent of the world’s known species would be significantly endangered, according to Rosenzweig and other climate scientists.

Systems dynamics experts John Sterman of MIT and Andrew Jones of the Sustainability Institute in Vermont compare our carbon problem to a bathtub. Each year we pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, much of it remains there. It lasts for about a century, although about half of the carbon dioxide produced is removed each year by forests and oceans.

Sterman and Jones figure the world can afford to churn out another 920 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide between now and 2050. Holding emissions to that level offers a better than even chance at keeping the world under 450 parts per million and avoiding a crucial temperature rise.

But that will be a challenge. Forty years of pumping emissions at the level we have now would exceed the safe level by more than 50 percent. And that doesn’t even account for future levels of greenhouse gases from booming economies like those in China and India.

Ideally, the world should produce 80 percent less in greenhouse gases than we do now, Jones said.

Technically, the delay of at least one year in implementing strict emissions limits — thanks to the nonbinding deal in Copenhagen — may not hurt. But it’s a momentum issue and a compounding interest issue, said Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Environment Program. It’s like debt on a credit card: Every time a person puts off paying the balance, it grows bigger and harder to resolve.

Every year of delay means the chance of achieving a stable and healthy climate “is getting smaller and smaller,” said Yvo de Boer, head of U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which ran the Copenhagen negotiations. …

Yet de Boer is optimistic.

“I think science will drive it,” de Boer said. “I think business will drive it. I think society will drive it.”

Portraits of Resilience

Portraits of Resilience, a photography exhibit at the Danish National Muesum for COP15, organized by the NGO Many Strong Voices.  The projects goal was:

to illustrate in a direct and personal way the ethical dimension of the climate change discussion. The goal is to train children in the use of digital media in order to help bring personal stories and faces from vulnerable regions onto the floor of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009. It is important that the world be able to see not only effects of climate change but the efforts people are making to both combat and adapt to it.

Below are photos from from Nunavut in Canada and Nesseby in Norway:

The arena in Pangnirtung used to open October or the beginning of November. Now it opens the end of December or beginning of January. The ice doesn’t freeze as much as it used to because of climate change.

The arena in Pangnirtung used to open October or the beginning of November. Now it opens the end of December or beginning of January. The ice doesn’t freeze as much as it used to because of climate change.

We travel a long distances with reindeer in the spring. If there is less snow on the ground it will be more difficult to drive with the snowmobile and it will get harder to graze the herd.

We travel a long distances with reindeer in the spring. If there is less snow on the ground it will be more difficult to drive with the snowmobile and it will get harder to graze the herd.

Modelling climate trajectories in Copenhagen

My systems modelling colleague Tom Fiddaman has been working to develop a policy screening simulation model to aid with climate negotiations.  He and his colleagues at Climate Interactive have developed a simple integrated energy and climate model C-ROADSSome negotiators are running on their laptop computers to evaluate alternate proposals.  Climate Interactive are using it at COP15 to provide dynamic updates of the consquences of different policy proposals.  An updated figure is shown in the figure above.

On the Climate Interactive website they write:

…how close do current proposals bring the world to climate goals such as stabilizing CO2 concentrations at 350ppm or limiting temperature increase to 2°C? The challenges of adding up proposals that are framed in multiple ways and the difficulty of determining long-term impacts of any given global greenhouse gas emissions pathway are just as present for citizens as they are for policy makers and political leaders.

With these facts in mind, our team is tracking the proposals under consideration and using the same climate change simulation available to policy-makers to report our estimate of how close ‘current proposals’ come to realizing climate goals. And we are aiming to do it in real-time as the summit unfolds.

Calculations in the Climate Scoreboard are made in C-ROADS, a scientifically reviewed climate simulator built using the system dynamics methodology that is designed to aggregate the proposals of 15 countries and country groups and calculate the climate impacts such as carbon dioxide concentration and temperature.  C-ROADS was built by Sustainability Institute, Ventana Systems, and the Sloan School of Management at MIT.

Follow these links to understand more about C-ROADS, explore its site, read the scientific review, read the reference guide, read user quotes, read the “Frequently Asked Questions”, or experiment with the online, CO2-focused, three region version, C-Learn.

To view more Scoreboard results beyond the temperature values shown in the “widget” image, view the table of proposals, download a PowerPoint file with graphs, consult the “Frequently Asked Questions” and view an Excel file that includes a table of references for the proposals, lists our modeling assumptions, and shares C-ROADS output for the proposals.