Why it would be good to reconsider the Copenhagen process

Climate negotiators in Poznan are starting to question whether the 2009 deadline for Copenhagen is realistic. Maybe there are good reasons to take a step back and reconsider the global climate diplomacy process.

This week, a few non-suspect climate experts have uttered doubts about the end-2009 deadline for a new global warming agreement.

As reported by Associated Press, Eileen Claussen of the Pew Center on Climate Change does not believe the Obama administration will be ready in time with a full negotiation package as it will have to deal with a difficult Congress. Former Clinton administration energy expert Joseph Romm is also convinced that Obama will not succeed in convincing 67 senators to vote for a new climate deal. The “only thing worse than no global climate treaty in 2009 is a treaty that Obama can’t get ratified”, says Romm and I fully agree.

That means that we also need to have the courage to question the UNFCCC process. The “UNFCCC process as we now know it is essentially a Dead Man Walking, even if nobody knows it yet”, according to Romm.

Of course, I am fully convinced about the need for an urgent climate “surge”, but I am also realistic. Without leadership from the US (including the Congress), there will be no REAL progress on fighting climate change. This is the first good reason to postpone Copenhagen and wait (one more year?) for the new American President and his other “first lady (yes Hillary :) ) to get their act together.

But there is a second reason which I think is even more important. Copenhagen and the whole UNFCCC deals only with one dimension of our current systemic sustainability crisis. Where is the international diplomatic dialogue on resource scarcity (“peak everything”), biodiversity, water or inequality? Maybe it is time to create a new global governance platform where all the sustainability issues (including also the current economic crisis which is just one side-effect of the sustainability crisis) can be discussed? Maybe putting all the issues on the table could make the process more efficient.

So let’s postpone Copenhagen and start talking about how to best tackle the biggest challenge of the 21st century: provide quality lives for all our 6 billion citizens within the ecological limits of our one Planet.

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2 responses

  1. The Kyoto Protocol has been seen as THE environmental agreement, “the only game in town”. But its focus on global warming/climate change and emissions from fossil fuels in developed countries is too narrow.
    Most significantly, the constant arguments about the validity or otherwise of global warming and emission targets has stalled action on obvious environmental problems such as over-population, forest and biodiversity destruction, water and food shortages and other environmental and sustainability issues.
    We urgently need a more broad-ranging and effective global agreement on environmental and sustainability issues.
    After all these years, forest protection is finally being recognised as a crucial factor in any global environment agreement. (Check out this paper by Amazon forest expert Philip Fearnside http://philip.inpa.gov.br/publ_livres/Preprints/2001/NGOs-engl-ecol-econ-revised.pdf to discover the political shenanigans behind the exclusion of forest protection from the Kyoto Protocol – how many people know that conservation groups and European countries had a hand in this !?)
    Now the topics of population growth / family planning need to be put on top of the enviromental agenda.
    I’m fascinated why population growth is such a taboo subject and why it was ignored in climate change negotiations.
    An excellent paper by resources and environmental lawyer, Brett Simpson – Participation of Developing Countries in a Climate Change Convention Protocol (Asia Pacific Journal of Environmental Law, Vol. 7, Issue 1, 2002 – link not available) gave me some background. (This paper is a very useful overview of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which was established at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) back in 1992, and subsequent climate change agreement negotiations, particularly the evolution of the developed / developing country split.)
    I was particularly interested to read that during negotiations:
    “…there were huge divisions (in particular, the “North-South” divide) and impediments (notably the success of the Vatican in stifling constructive consideration of the underlying population increase driver of environmental destruction worldwide and of developing country poverty in particular) – so much so that Maurice Strong, effectively the lead architect of UNCED, considered declaring, in his closing address, that UNCED was a failure” (p. 41) (My emphasis)
    So that’s how “the underlying population increase driver of environmental destruction worldwide” was left out of the climate change agreement…the Vatican “stifled” it…
    Rather incongruously buried away in footnote no. 134, Simpson notes:
    “In fact, population growth is one of the greatest threats to containment of the GHG problem generally. The UNDP’s World Energy Assessment records that 49 per cent of growth in world energy demand in the century to 1990 was due to population growth, as distinct from increased use per capita, and that that pattern is continuing…” (p. 70)
    According to the UN report World Population Prospects over the next 40 years the “population of the more developed regions is expected to remain largely unchanged at 1.2 billion and would have declined were it not for the projected net migration from developing to developed countries, which is expected to average 2.3 million persons a year after 2010.” (p. 5)
    The UN report suggests that future population growth is going to be driven by “the less developed regions, whose population is projected to rise from 5.4 billion in 2007 to 7.9 billion in 2050.” (p. 5)
    Significantly, the report also notes:
    “The urgency of realizing the reductions of fertility projected is brought into focus by considering that, if fertility were to remain constant at the levels estimated for 2000-2005, the population of the less developed regions would increase to 10.6 billion instead of the 7.9 billion projected by assuming that fertility declines.” (p. 6)
    The UN Report World Population Policies 2007 notes that:
    “Many developing countries have realized the importance of reducing high rates of population growth in order to ease mounting pressure on renewable and non-renewable resources, combat climate change, prevent food insufficiency and provide decent employment and basic social services to all their people.” (p. 7)
    Shouldn’t developed countries be doing more to help developing countries with family planning?

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