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Copenhagen

Is the scientific evidence of human-induced climate change unequivocal?

Robert Watson's picture

    Photo ©  Himalayan Trails/flickr
Last December, a very large majority of the scientific community and most politicians would have agreed that the scientific evidence of human-induced climate change was unequivocal and that the only question was whether the world’s political leaders could agree in Copenhagen to meaningful legally binding greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. 

But, as we now know, the negotiations only produced an aspirational target—to limit the global mean surface temperature to no more than 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels—and an accord that does not bind any country to reduce their emissions. 

Since then, the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment report has been criticized for errors or imprecise wording.

  • For example, the statements that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035 or earlier (IPCC admitted that this was an error and not evidence-based);
  • that agricultural production in some North African countries would decrease by up to 50% by 2020 (the synthesis report did not contain the nuances and more detailed discussion in the underlying chapter);
  • and that over half of the Netherlands was below sea level rather than a quarter (this was largely a definitional issue – the Netherlands Dutch Ministry of transport uses the figure 60% - below high water level during storms). 

These inaccuracies, coupled with the controversy surrounding illegally hacked e-mails and temperature data from the University of East Anglia (UEA), have provided climate skeptics and some media with ammunition to undermine public confidence in the conclusions of the IPCC and climate science in general.

Why care? Because climate and development are inextricably linked

Ricardo Fuentes's picture

Hopenhagen – that magical place of bright future days – is a few weeks behind us and the public interest in climate change is in slow decline – at least according to Google Trends . This is normal. Big meetings create lots of news and expectations and there is often disappointment and exhaustion in their wake. Couple that with the recent concerns about some of the results of specific scientific research, and it seems that the debate on climate change is in a bad place, doomed to irrelevance.

Well, it should not be. Regardless of overcrowded meetings and leaked emails in academic departments, the world’s climate is changing fast (NASA reports that  009 ties with a cluster of other years as the second-warmest year on record since 1880 and the decade 2000-2009 was the warmest 10-year period). Climate change will add pressures to our already difficult development challenges. We care about climate change because it can derail several development efforts undertaken in recent decades.

The channels linking climate change to development are numerous but most of them involve water (or the lack of it). Droughts, floods, storm surges and changes in rainfall patterns affect the livelihoods of poor people, their nutrition, their security, their future opportunities and probably those of their children. Poorly designed policies to reduce the threat of climate change can exacerbate the problem. One such policy is carbon-intensive economic growth; as mentioned in the first chapter of the World Development Report, “countries cannot grow out of harm’s way fast enough to match the changing climate.” Economic growth is necessary for development, but it needs to become less greenhouse-gas intensive.

Last Post from Copenhagen

Inger Andersen's picture

Friday morning, I braved the snow, wind and sub-zero temperatures and hopped on the train around 7.30 a.m. to avoid what was billed as "extensive delays" as the 119 heads of state would be making their way to the Bella Center. 

The main questions on the train were "when does he touch down?", "has he arrived?", and "will he be able to help seal the deal?" And just after 9 a.m., Barack Obama's Air Force One touched down at Copenhagen Airport. 

Meanwhile, delegates had been hard at work for much of the night. We understood that 26 ministers met the night between Thursday and Friday, preparing the core document for the leaders.

On Friday we spent a lot of time waiting. First we waited for the Heads of State to take their seats.  Word in the corridors had it that they had agreed to 2 degrees, which would imply serious emission reductions, as well as to the provision of long term finance. The issue of whether any agreement on emissions reduction is "MRV-able", i.e. whether emission reductions are monitorable, reportable and verifiable, has been key when it comes to reductions from the economies in transition such as India, China, Brazil, and others. These countries can only accept MRV on the condition that the developed countries make an ambitious and legally binding target for emission reductions.  The developed countries, meanwhile, have put serious cash on the table, on the condition that the big emerging economies will commit to MRV. Further, the governance and financial architecture of the resources, should they be realized, remained unclear. The G-77 has pushed direct access to the financial mechanism, as well as for giving the COP the power to appoint the Board for the mechanism, while other countries have been more comfortable drawing on existing financial institutions and mechanisms.

Forgetting Copenhagen: poll results on the outcome of COP-15

Andrea Liverani's picture

This post was drafted around midnight, Dec 16, 2009. In 48 hours COP-15 will have delivered on its objectives, or perhaps not—by the time you read this, you should know. My message here is that the outcome of global negotiation should not be emphasized so as to divert attention from the core issue, i.e., the policies to be put in place, the resources to be raised, and the politics to be changed, domestically.

I have been blogging these past few days on what people (in our multicountry poll) think of different aspects of the climate change debate. Now I'm turning to what people believe regarding the negotiations. It turns out that most of our roughly 13,000 respondents are happy to see their countries limit GHGs in the context of a deal. This was somewhat expected, although the numbers are striking (and remember that respondents were told in a previous set of questions on 'willingness to pay'  that such limits would come at a cost.)

Forests: One of the few bright spots in Copenhagen

Benoît Bosquet's picture
  Photo © iStockPhoto.com

With only about 36 hours left before the curtain falls on the climate negotiations in Copenhagen, forests have so far been one of the few bright spots. The Parties to the UNFCCC agree on the basic premise that the forests of developing nations ought to play a significant role in a future climate change regime. The activities that would be implemented, monitored and incentivized in a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol are referred to as 'REDD+', which includes reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, conserving forests, sustainably managing forests and enhancing forest carbon stocks (code for things like re-vegetation and reforestation).

The three-page framework text on REDD+ likely to be agreed upon in Copenhagen is good. It covers aspects such as the scope of activities, reporting and safeguards. The need to respect the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples is included, which is a marked improvement from Poznan last year when the U.S. received the Fossil of the Day award from Climate Action Network for opposing this inclusion, or Bali two years ago when the launch of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility triggered a protest by some civil society groups. Some sticky points remain, including the details of how to link subnational monitoring and implementation with that at the national level. But, as of Thursday mid-day, the number of brackets in the REDD+ text was significantly lower than in the general text on climate finance. 

Reflections on my final day in Copenhagen

Alan Miller's picture
  • The number and diversity of countries participating in the convention process may simply be unmanageable. 
     
  • The increasing focus on climate change may have come at the expense of other important concerns. A commonly heard statement is that climate change is “sucking the air” out of everything else. Thus the amazing range of interest groups attempting to label themselves as climate victims or solutions, from groups based on gender, religion, diet, geography, etc.
     
  • The media was incredibly frustrated by the complexity of the issues and lack of transparency in the meetings. The process does not lend itself to simple headlines. Consequently the focus on good visual events – especially demonstrations and police activity – seemed totally disproportionate to anything observed.
     
  • No matter how many times I’ve done climate meetings, I always forget how exhausting they become and how good it feels to be going home!
Polar Bear spokesman delivers climate message, Copenhagen. Photo ©Alan Miller/ IFC Media frenzy when police move student demonstrators inside Bella Center. Photo ©Alan Miller/ IFC

 

Copenhagen: A long, long night

Inger Andersen's picture
   Photo © iStockPhoto.com

The weather here is absolutely freezing cold, dark and grey.  Although Denmark is my home country, I think my many years in Africa and the Middle East have inoculated me in such a way that my system cannot really take this dreary weather. But it is pretty. There are Christmas lights everywhere and a cheery mood throughout the cityeven on the packed Metro in the morning.

So what is this COP 15 all about?  And why is it so hard? Getting 192 countries to agree on something is inevitably going to be pretty complicated. And once this involves serious compromises, technology, big bucks, and equity and lifestyle issues, it gets all the more difficult.

Copenhagen: No Ordinary Conference

Inger Andersen's picture

Moving with the masses inside the cavernous Bella Center for the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an experience in itself: Buddhist monks in flowing orange robes, young people with more body piercings that one can imagine mingling with UN bureaucrats, and bicycle enthusiasts advocating for pedal power. The “Tck Tck Tck” campaign (get it?  the clock is ticking and time is running out) is the most amusing with cool cartoons and “mini-happenings” along the corridors. 

Shortly after my arrival, I noticed that many of the conference participants were sporting large canvas bags advocating a vegan lifestyle. This initially puzzled me; can it really be that there are so many vegans in the crowd?  Well, not really – the “Copenvegan" advocates do not have badges to the conference and are standing by the metro as participants enter the security zone handing out these very practical bags. Great advertising; their message is everywhere. Then there is the crowd sporting T-shirts and banners calling for “Hopenhagen;” they are also everywhere, on billboards in the Metro station, on posters on the street, and within the Bella Center.
 

Postcard from Copenhagen

Alan Miller's picture
Disappearing polar bear: climate change art work, Copenhagen. Photo ©Alan Miller/ IFC

Having attended all but two of the 15 climate change conferences, I am pretty familiar with the atmosphere, processes, and even many of the attendees.  Nevertheless, much about the Copenhagen Conference has been surprising -- the sheer number and diversity of participants, the large street protests, the media attention, the impressive engagement from the people and city of Copenhagen.  The best comparison I can make is to imagine taking the United Nations, Times Square, and Greenwich Village and put them all together under one roof. 







At the core, at most a few hundred negotiators, often sitting behind closed doors, undertake the difficult task of attempting to reach an agreement.  It is no exaggeration to say that what they do -- or fail to do -- may determine the fate of us all. Swirling all around them are thousands of people from every imaginable (and unimaginable) perspective, traditional environmental groups, indigenous peoples, business organizations, religious and spiritual believers, the media (press interviews pop up randomly in the halls) and of course the international organizations. 

Hopenhagen: central square filled with climate change activities, Copenhagen. Photo ©Alan Miller/IFC

Those of us from IFC (three or four this week) are a small part of the World Bank Group delegation, which numbers more than fifty; the World Bank is in turn only one of many international organizations. World Bank President Zoellick arrives today -- it will be interesting to see his role and impact.

As the senior political level officials enter this week, the process seems to be reaching a breaking point with four days still to go. The registration lines are slowing to a crawl and observer organizations have been told to reduce their numbers by half or more due to the capacity limits of the building (actually, multiple buildings several of which are temporary). Every day the few members of our delegation actually observing the negotiations report little or no progress. Yesterday they were told to leave when the meetings entered the sensitive "informal" stage. 

President  Robert Zoellick (World Bank) with President Mohamed Nasheed (Maldives). Photo ©Alan Miller/IFC


The ultimate hope for a positive outcome remains pending the arrival of an expected 110 plus heads of state.  As the Convention Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer told us in a briefing last week, "they come to celebrate, not to commiserate."  As of today it's difficult to believe that heads of state can do in two days what their ministers and staff have been unable to do in months of meetings. 

We'll all know soon.

  

Africa and climate change: enhancing resilience, seizing opportunities

Raffaello Cervigni's picture

A new page on the World Bank’s web site emphasizes that addressing climate change is first and foremost a development priority for Africa. Even if emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases stopped today, there is wide agreement among scientists that global temperature will increase by 2 degrees Celsius by mid-century. If no action is taken to adapt to climate change, it threatens to dissipate the gains made by many African countries in terms of economic growth and poverty reduction over the past ten years.

  Photo © World Bank 
A major reason is that climate change is expected to increase the frequency and severityof droughts and floods. This will have serious consequences for vulnerable sectors such as agriculture, which now contributes some 30percent of GDP and employs 70 percent of the population in Africa. Climate change is also likely to spread malaria (already the biggest killer in the region) to areas currently less affected by it, particularly those at higher elevations. 

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