Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Climate Deal in Copenhagen -- Really?

I've spent the better part of my reading over the last few days glancing over analyses of the outcome of the Copenhagen COP15 climate change conference.  Over the next few days, I'll post and ponder my favorite pieces, from re-caps to implications.

Here's a good opener from Living On Earth:

The Obama deal (known as the Copenhagen Accord) would limit global warming to 2 degrees centigrade, it pledges 100 billion dollars a year in aid to help developing nations face the threats and consequences of climate change, and countries would open their doors to the verification of their global warming emissions.

It's not entirely clear what this deal means, it needs to play through a bit more. On it's surface this deal means that the largest greenhouse gas polluting countries and economies in the world have for the first time stepped up, held hands and made a commitment that they will be part of an international effort to deeply reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next 40 years.

What are the implications for the upcoming, Spring 2010 debate over climate change and clean energy legislation in the U.S. Senate?  Says Kevin Knoblauch of the Union of Concerned Scientists:

To get to 60 votes on cap and trade in the senate we really have to convince those swing senators, the fence sitting senators on a couple counts. One is is China going to eat our economic lunch? You know are they going to grow their economy rapidly while ours might be constrained in a carbon constrained world. That's a big one, competitiveness. And will it hurt the US economy. And I think what this agreement will do is provide some assurance, obviously the details have to be nailed down, it will provide some assurance that in fact those economies will be in a carbon constrained world as ours is.

The other thing that is so clear that is not fully understood I think...in the US and particularly in the Congress is that China is well on its way to transforming its economy into a clean energy economy. We are wringing our hands back home while China is on the march. They have a national renewable energy standard. We don't yet. They have national fuel economy standards that are more stringent then our recently strengthened ones.

China is committed and on its way to building a bullet train network across their nation. Yes, they are building coal plants but the coal plants they're building are state of the art efficient plants replacing highly polluting plants. The point is once we pass national legislation and the president signs it will now be the policy of the land to transform our economy into a clean energy economy and I think we will see an economic growth and an economic explosion unlike anything we've seen in the last century.

That's my bold-facing above.  Key points -- whether you believe in climate change or not, this legislation is tremendously important for economic, energy and security reasons. 

Regarding the Copenhagen Accord, first and foremost, it's clear that despite all the "good first step" talk, the deal is not nearly enough to stop the dangerous progress of climate disruption (my favorite term for it, which I may start using exclusively).  One piece I read today -- I think by Marc Gunther -- talked about how climate change defies the nature of politics.  That is, the political process tends to solve problems gradually -- especially really big problems.  Climate disruption is so dangerous in terms of its impacts on the ability of human civilization to sustain our well being that it's something that we can't afford to take on gradually.  Which of course flies in the face of how politics works!  This problem has become pretty obvious.

What, then, is the answer?

Got a few evenings around a campfire -- and some single malt Scotch to sip on as we brainstorm answers?  Seriously, though, I'll blog more thoughts over the next few days, but I honestly am wondering whether our politicians are up to the challenge, or whether the people need to lead here, Civil Rights movement-style.  Certainly, as many have said, the UN is not the right venue, as if you think it's hard to get 60 Senators to agree to a new policy, how about 192 countries composed of dozens of cultures and worldviews.

My sense is that the bright, energized youth movement has it right in that we need to build a movement that ratchets up the political pressure on our leaders until they take the steps needed to adequately address this unique crisis.

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