Global environmental challenges
Will Copenhagen lead to a deal?
In Copenhagen, delegates from 190 countries are at the largest-ever climate conference aimed at crafting a legally-binding global treaty to curb climate change.
Reuters.com is running a series with some of the world’s leading thinkers on the subject during the talks, which run Dec7-18. We are asking questions about breaking news out of the conference as well as more umbrella themes about fighting global warming. We also hope you will join the discussion.
Today’s question: Will Copenhagen come up with a deal to avert “dangerous” global warming?
Dr. David Suzuki, award-winning geneticist and journalist:
It can and it should.
Many climate scientists and governments agree that avoiding dangerous climate change means no more than 2 degrees C of average global warming compared to pre-industrial temperatures. An increasing number are saying that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees is necessary.
If these thresholds are breached, impacts escalate: rising seas that inundate low-lying island states, droughts that curtail food production, hurricanes that become more frequent and intense.
But a fair, ambitious, and binding Copenhagen agreement can avert the worst damage and allow countries to seize opportunities in the clean-energy economy.
That means all countries must do their fair share, with the majority of the effort being shouldered by rich, industrialized countries. They need to reduce their global warming pollution deeply and provide financial and technological support to the developing world so it can adapt to climate change and curb its own emissions.
We still have a choice: to experience a little climate change or a lot of climate change. Copenhagen will be a defining moment for which path we choose.
Dr. Raymond Pierrehumbert, Louis Block Professor in geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago:
Predicting climate is hard enough, but predicting the outcome of a political process is even harder.
At least in this case, we only need to wait about two weeks to get the answer.
Meanwhile, I can say something about the general issue of what would constitute real progress towards avoiding “dangerous” warming.
The wording regarding “dangerous warming” in the Framework Convention doesn’t really make sense scientifically, since it implies that there is some level above which there is danger and below which things are safe. The reality is that even if we stop emitting CO2 tomorrow, we are already committed to a certain degree of warming, and some of the consequences of that could already be called dangerous.
The European Union has settled on a maximum atmospheric concentration of CO2 of 450 parts per million, and even that takes us fairly well outside the range of climate of the past million years and there will be some danger.
However, the thing to recognize is that the warmer we make it, the more danger there is, and there is enough coal underground that if we burned it all the CO2 concentration could go way beyond doubling, all the way up to 1200 parts per million, or maybe even as high as 2000 parts per million if the carbon stored in land ecosystems starts getting released.
So, even if the results of Copenhagen failed to put us on track to avoid a doubling of CO2, it will still have been worthwhile if it puts us on track to avoid going beyond.
There’s always more danger to be avoided, so getting the process started to get us on track to a decarbonized economy is the important thing. The wording of the Framework Convention is reasonable for a treaty document, in that it leaves it to the messy business of democracy to sort out the balance of costs and risks in deciding what is an acceptable level of danger.
The thing to recognize is that CO2 is a pollutant that accumulates in the atmosphere, like mercury accumulates
in the food chain, and is removed only slowly over many centuries. To stop the buildup to dangerous level, we eventually need to go all the way to zero emissions, and Copenhagen is not going to do that.
However, if we get on track to stop the growth of emissions during the next ten years and reduce global emissions by something like half in the next thirty or forty years, that will at least buy us enough time that we can almost certainly avoid a doubling of CO2, and will buy enough time to develop technologies that can take us the rest of the way to zero emissions.
There is a reasonable chance that Copenhagen will get us that much.
Kim Carstensen, leader of the World Wildlife Fund Global Climate Initiative:
Yes, Copenhagen will end with a climate deal.
There can be an agreement and there must be an agreement because that is what people around the world want. A failure to act means ignoring the will of millions of people.
It means turning the back to those whose lives will be affected by rising temperatures. It means to be remembered as the generation who did not care about the future of their children and grandchildren
But in Copenhagen we not only need to agree on a deal. We need to agree on a fair, ambitious and binding deal. WWF and other NGOs who gathered for this negotiating will be fighting for this.
We will be checking the deal for its level of ambition and for how binding it is on the countries, who sign. We need climate clarity and certainty, and we know we can get it.
What do you think? Leave your comments below.