Environment Forum

The “Copenhagen Protocol” on global warming?

Red paint is seen on The Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen May 15, 2007. The statue was damaged by vandalsWhat’s in a name? 

Will the next international deal for combating climate change be called the “Copenhagen Protocol”, consigning the “Kyoto Protocol” to history?

Who would want the name of their favourite city linked to a treaty about global warming? It may be a momentous step towards a clean energy future but, if Kyoto is anything to go by, will also be hated by many. The poor “Little Mermaid” statue in Copenhagen harbour already suffers enough from protests, like red paint thrown by vandals last year (right).

A new U.N. pact for fighting global warming is meant to be agreed at the end of 2009 at a conference in the Danish capital and, by normal international practice, it would then be called the “Copenhagen Protocol”. 

Denmark has been adamant that a baby shouldn’t be named before it is born so I was surprised this week when Polish Environment Minister Maciej Nowicki, on a visit to Oslo, spoke repeatedly about the planned “Copenhagen Protocol” as if it were already decided.

The name “Kyoto” is badly tarnished by years of disputes between U.S. President George W. Bush, who dismissed the pact as “fatally flawed”, and his industrial allies who are implementing Kyoto’s curbs on greenhouse gas emissions running to 2012.

Way better than the subway

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There are plenty of ways to get around New York City, not all of them savory — subway, bus, car, taxi, bike, shoe-leather — but few offer the environmental cachet of the plug-in electric motorbike. Sleek, slim and silent, the Vectrix two-seater owned by filmmaker Michael Bergmann is definitely preferable to rocketing around town under almost any other kind of power. The ride from the East Side to the West Side one recent evening was an absolute pleasure, with less ambient noise than a golf cart as we zoomed across Central Park.

“I’ve always felt that enjoying life in New York to the fullest requires a way to get around New York,” Bergmann said later in an e-mail. “A way that’s quiet and up on the surface so you can enjoy the varied life and changing neighborhoods as you travel. That requires a vehicle that’s street legal (so I don’t worry about being stopped or having it confiscated), always available, that isn’t hard to park, that doesn’t contribute to congestion or pollution (air or noise), that can carry the amount of stuff one ordinarily carries, and carry a passenger as well. So as soon as I found out about the Vectrix I wanted one.”

Vectrix, headquartered in Rhode Island, first started selling its electric plug-in motorbikes in Europe and is now expanding in the U.S. market. The company bills its plug-in model as “an advanced zero-emission, battery-powered motorcycle,” with comparable performance to a 400cc gas-powered motorcycle.

Substance trumps style at climate talks

bento21.JPG   It was like a scene from the future. A carpark brimming with fuel-cell and hydrogen-powered cars, while fuel-cell buses ferried delegates to lunch near the modern conference centre outside Tokyo.

   Japan was determined to display its green credentials at weekend G20 talks, one of the biggest meetings of the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters since last December’s Bali gathering. Even conference staff were given chopsticks and traditional “bento” boxes that could be reused instead of the usual throw-away items.

    Inside the conference hall, though, delegates were more interested in substance than style as they discussed ways to agree on a global pact by the end of 2009 to curb growing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

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