Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Now or never at COP 15 – the US decides

CI Head of Delegation at COP15, Rasmus Kjeldahl, blogs from Copenhagen

The United States plays a key role in deciding whether these climate negotiations shall succeed, and whether the targets agreed shall be implemented.

With a proposal of only a 4% reduction of emissions compared to 1990 level, and the world record in carbon emissions, the US performance has not commanded respect so far. This is in stark contrast to the charm offensive that the US launched at the Bella Centre today where celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger (left), Daryl Hannah and Thomas Friedman all threw their lot in with the climate cause.

In spite of the strong messages, the audience was left with a feeling that there was more hot air than real action behind the words. Daryl Hannah (actress who has made herself an advocate of the environment) proposed that we should all grow more vegetables ourselves and that solar panels should be installed on top of the White House.

Another debate between five governors from the US and Canada showed a side of the US where people had actually understood that the transition to a new world order also offers new business opportunities and were ready to meet more ambitious targets than what the US have committed to.

But what about the US population at large? Do people understand that their country has to take the lead, both in terms of reducing emissions and transferring technology to developing countries so they can find a different development path to the one the rich countries have followed? The underlying tone in many of the presentations today has been that the US must take a much stronger leadership role if a deal is to meet world expectations.

Thomas Friedman from the New York Times pointed out that opponents of a global carbon tax have quite overlooked the fact that in the existing world order we accept paying an overcharge to a cartel of oil-producing countries. The current pressure on the world’s oil resources has led to an enormous transition of money from countries which are to a great extent undemocratic and unstable. Friedman argues it would be better if a global carbon tax could lower consumption and, consequently, producer prices, while at the same time the income could be used to finance long-term solutions to the world’s energy problems.

Here he points at something very crucial in the debate about global warming: the inherent advantages of economising on our limited energy resources and of securing a much higher degree of independence from unstable regimes. In this respect an ambitious climate policy may prove to be a win-win solution, no matter how much one believes humans contribute to global warming.

The atmosphere at the Bella Centre on Tuesday evening was characterised by frustration, nervousness and, frankly, chaos. Much time has been wasted advancing familiar points of view; the time is running out for reaching the basis for a deal that is ready to be presented to the world’s Heads of State.

The situation is also chaotic with regard to getting in and out of the Bella Centre and the general logistics of the event. As a Dane I do feel a little uneasy about the impression of Denmark that people may have got: delegates who are rejected after hours of waiting in the biting cold, not to mention ordinary citizens detained without reason by the police who were unable to distinguish between peaceful demonstrators and a small group of troublemakers.

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