COP15 Update

What’s been going down in the first several days of the Copenhagen conferences?  Well, I promised I’d keep you guys informed, so here’s what I’m seeing from my online vantage point in the U.S.

First, tens of thousands of people are rallying in support of climate action.  That’s not an exaggeration.  A massive march took place on the thirteenth, with estimates ranging from 30,000 to 100,000 protestors (see the slideshow here).

From Grist's Flickr photostream.

A variety of smaller, but very creative, activist stunts took place in Copenhagen over the last few days.  A group of aliens from Avaaz asked people to take them to the “real climate leaders.”  “Cut emissions, not trees,” said climate change activists in tree costumes.  “We are not your climate loophole.”  Treehugger has a slideshow of these protests and several others.

A number of art exhibits are popping up, as well.  The CO2 cube, a multimedia installation by Alfio Bonanno and Christophe Cornubert, represents one ton of carbon dioxide — the amount emitted each month by the average person in an industrialized country, or in the case of the United States, every two weeks.  On monday, the cube outside the Copenhagen Planetarium started moving and talking.  It also screens video footage and live info (Read the whole story at Inhabitat).

Art and activism aside, there are some very important things happening in Copenhagen.  Tens of thousands of people around the world have called for bold steps to confront climate change.  But decisions have to be made by political leaders, and politicians do not always deliver.

Politically, the Copenhagen discussion centers around two main points: emissions targets and money.  Cutting emissions is what the whole thing is about, and the pledges offered by several nations vary widely.  The European Union has pledged a 20% cuts, 30% if other countries will follow suit.  And Japan has made similar commitments.  The U.S. has promised a pitiful 3% cut below 1990 levels, though we do have the EPA ruling as well.

The sticking point is (surprise!) money.  “Developing” nations, such as China, India, and Brazil, want financial help from richer nations.  Meanwhile, nations that are most vulnerable to climate change are pushing for funding as part of legislation stronger than bigger countries would prefer.  The logic is that the nations most responsible for climate change are most responsible for solutions — and that means bigger commitments and bigger investments.  You can read more political details here.

All things considered, I think COP15 is more likely to produce a “political agreement” than a “legally binding treaty.”  Still, I can’t predict exactly what will happen in the next few days.  Even people that know way more about the politics than I do are unsure.

To close, here’s a statement from Greenpeace spokeswoman Tove Riding.  This is something that all political leaders should listen to.

“Cancel the speeches, cancel the fancy dinners, skip the photo opportunities and spend the time working,” she said. Doing otherwise, she added, “would be like dining on the Titanic.”

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