Winds of change at Copenhagen climate talks
Delegates from 192 countries are expected to clash over the specifics of combating climate change in two weeks of talks at Copenhagen. (Photo: AP)
World leaders are uniting this week on climate change, agreeing that it’s a problem. They’re bitterly divided, however, on how to solve it.
The clashing will be apparent as delegates from 192 countries descend on Copenhagen for a U.N.-led summit that begins Monday and runs for two weeks. President Barack Obama will attend Dec. 18, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg will talk with leaders about the city’s green initiatives.
Interest in the conference has been heightened by “Climategate,” which some see as evidence that scientists have trumped up the threat posed by global warming.
Ultimately, the U.S. and China — who together release 40 percent of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions — will be expected to take the lead in setting targets for a greener future.
“What we’re talking about is leaving a livable planet for our children and grandchildren,” said Gernot Wagner, of the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund.
Clashing on action
Some developing countries argue they hardly contributed to pollution in the first place and fear emissions restrictions would stunt their growth.
India, China and others have focused their pledges on carbon intensity — carbon dioxide emissions in relation to economic output — giving them wiggle room as their economy expands.
Nuances such as these make it unlikely that Copenhagen will produce a treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, set to expire in 2012. The conference is likely to deliver agreements, but they probably won’t be binding until additional negotiations next year, said Amy Davidsen, U.S. director of The Climate Group, who will be in Copenhagen.
“What’s at this point very likely is some kind of political deal,” said Wagner, an economist who also will be in Denmark, “a high-level agreement by the Obamas, Hus, Singhs, Browns and Sarkozys of the world to essentially agree to limit emissions by X percent by 2020, 2050.”
In the U.S., a bill to cap pollutants and trade for carbon credits was passed by the House last summer and is making its way through the Senate. There is momentum, but because lawmakers are focused on health care reform and the war in Afghanistan, it may be months before a cap-and-trade law is realized.
Clashing on facts
The climate change debate was brought back before House members last week, when Republicans demanded an explanation of e-mail leaks that indicate scientists sought to falsify evidence of global warming.
The messages, now being probed at the source, the University of East Anglia in Britain, show “ideology, condescension and profit,” said Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.).
The scandal last month, dubbed “Climategate,” fueled skeptics’ arguments that some global warming projections are alarmist.
Cynthia Rosenzweig, co-chairwoman of the New York City Panel on Climate Change, and other experts, however, emphasized that learning what’s at stake is a scientific process, in which “some things are more well-known and some less well-known.”
“We need to continuously learn about it. ... And we welcome questions,” said Rosenzweig, who will be in Copenhagen.
There is some consensus, though, city panel scientists and others said. “There’s unequivocal evidence that global warming is happening, and that humans are the cause,” Wagner said. “Statements like this just dwarf anything that’s going on e-mails, listservs, the like.”