Will Copenhagen Count?

The impending Climate Change Conference that is scheduled to start December 7th in Copenhagen has created quite a stir internationally. With over 190 nations planning to attend (almost every nation in the world will be represented), along with various non-governmental organizations, the United Nations has raised the stakes concerning global climate change.

Unfortunately, the barrage of references to the gathering in Denmark has allowed the public to tune out mentions of the meeting as simply white noise. Ironically, the media has effectively numbed the public’s senses through overwhelming amounts of information. Climate change is not a topic easily approached; the negative atmosphere surrounding the implications of global warming makes it a touchy subject. However, with the Kyoto Protocol due to expire in 2012 with little to show for its efforts, an agreement on a new global protocol is needed.

United Nations Climate Chief Yvo de Boer has recently outlined the main goals of the conference: to establish how much industrialized nations will reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases, to determine how developing nations will limit the growth of their emissions, and how these adjustments will be financed. Meeting these goals will require major diplomacy and negotiations. However, the world leaders and expert compromisers must realize that success at Copenhagen depends on science as well. Representatives can cut as many deals as they want, but without scientific support and validation, negotiations will come to naught. Pre-Copenhagen planning in Barcelona, Spain has ensured that the conference has sufficient coordination and strength to adequately address the challenges of climate change. But what about sufficient information about the possible effects of a new protocol?

A team of eleven tropical forest specialists in conjunction with the University of Leeds has conducted research that leads them to believe reducing deforestation of carbon-rich tropical forests could inadvertently draw attention away from other forests inhabited by endangered species if not properly planned. One of the proposals of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), is to financially reward nations that reduce deforestation, which is responsible for 18% of carbon emissions. Dr. Alan Grainger, leader of the team of specialists, is concerned that governments will focus so much on preserving carbon-rich forests that they will neglect to protect forests with high biodiversity. According to current estimates, up to 50% of biodiversity hotspots will be excluded from the REDD plan. Representatives to Copenhagen must be wary that the best of intentions is not enough; a well-designed and thought-out plan to reduce carbon emissions is a crucial step.

In order to avoid increasing global temperatures by 2ºC, global carbon emissions need to be cut in half by 2050. Faced with the discouraging news that current projections show emissions increasing by 45% instead, parties to the Copenhagen Climate Conference have their work cut out for them. While the sense of urgency is clear, a main concern that has yet to be addressed is how to reduce the gap between carbon rich and carbon poor nations. Although many technologies for reducing carbon emissions are available, as well as technologies that exploit alternative, renewable resources such as solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal energy, achieving the current 450-parts-per-million target concentration for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not realistic. Without new developments and improved technology, such as expansion of carbon capture and sequestration, the world will be unable to meet its goals. There is no doubt that the global community’s instinct for self-preservation will kick in to protect itself. However, progress at Copenhagen will come from taking into account the latest scientific developments. If representatives to the climate conference factor in current research, the new global protocol will be much more effective. Hopefully, the scientific community can lend the politicians a guiding hand, starting next month in Copenhagen.

Thumbnail image source: http://www.greenprophet.com/2009/12/copenhagen-middle-east/

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