06 December 2009

Hopeful signs from Copenhagen

Delegates and officials are growing optimistic that the 192-nation Copenhagen conference will produce an agreement representing real progress in getting global warming under control, despite the bogus controversy over the CRU e-mails (latest on that here, here, here, and here). Commitments made so far, if fully carried out, would reduce worldwide annual carbon-dioxide emissions from 47 billion tons today to 46 billion tons in 2020, not just cut the rate of growth; the goal is to get enough further commitments to bring the latter figure to 44 billion tons.

A key factor is the change of administration in the United States, whose participation is essential to any truly effective global effort. President Obama is attending the conference, a clear signal that the denialism and obstructionism of the previous administration are no longer US policy, and is offering a 17% emissions reduction by 2020, something which a concerted push for more efficient and non-fossil-fuel-based energy technology should certainly make possible without compromising our standard of living.

Another is the fact that the two rising industrial colossi, India and China, are on board. Both have announced plans to cut the rate of growth of emissions, though this is contingent on economic help from the rich countries -- hardly unreasonable since India and China are in the process of bringing their populations (one-third of the human race) out of abject poverty. It's an indicator that they recognize the seriousness of the threat. Both countries, after all, are densely populated and living "closer to the wire" ecologically than the post-industrial nations of the temperate zone; they would suffer far more from a real disruption of climate than we would.

As is probably inevitable with an international project of such a scale, there remains some finger-pointing and suspicion; there will always be some who are convinced, perhaps rightly, that others could be doing more. But Copenhagen, unlike the ill-fated Kyoto agreement, looks likely to mark a real turning of the corner.


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