• picture
  • picture
  • picture
  • picture
Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Climate Deal in Copenhagen?

Air Date: Week of

President Obama address the conference in Copenhagen (Photo: Courtesy of COP15)

President Obama managed to craft a kind of deal at the eleventh hour at the Copenhagen climate summit. Though he called it a meaningful agreement, it fell far short of what some countries had hoped for, and lacked binding targets and deadlines.



CURWOOD: From the United Nations Climate Summit negotiations in Copenhagen - this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

Outside the convention hall thousands were arrested throughout the two weeks of intensive, down to the wire negotiations.

Inside things weren’t quite as contentious, but the frustration was palpable. During the final official day U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon pleaded with the more than 130 heads of state and government who came here to seal a deal.

KI-MOON: The finishing line is in sight, our discussions are bearing fruit. Never has the world united on such a scale. The world’s leaders are all together here. Every sector of society is mobilized, faith groups, CEOs, NGOs, and individual citizens.

The world is watching. Now is your moment. We are united in purpose. Now it is time for us to be united in action, common action. I implore you to seize this opportunity.

Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon

CURWOOD: President Obama flew to Copenhagen amid great expectations he could break the deadlock. In the end he did and he didn’t. After hours of closed door negotiations with China, India, South Africa Brazil and the leadership of the African nations, President Obama announced a deal.

OBAMA: Today we've made meaningful and unprecedented -- made a meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough here in Copenhagen. For the first time in history all major economies have come together to accept their responsibility to take action to confront the threat of climate change.20

CURWOOD: The Obama deal would limit global warming to 2 degrees centigrade, it pledges 100 billion dollars a year in aid to help developing nations face the threats and consequences of climate change, and countries would open their doors to the verification of their global warming emissions.

OBAMA: Taken together these actions will help us begin to meet our responsibilities to leave our children and our grandchildren a cleaner and safer planet. Now, this progress did not come easily, and we know that this progress alone is not enough. Going forward, we're going to have to build on the momentum that we've established here in Copenhagen to ensure that international action to significantly reduce emissions is sustained and sufficient over time. We've come a long way, but we have much further to go.

CURWOOD: The long journey began with a first step by China, finally agreeing to scrutiny of its promise to limit emissions. Chinese vice minister of Foreign Affairs, He Yafei spoke on behalf of Premier Wen JiaBoa.

Premier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China, Wen Jiaboa

YAFEI: Action speaks louder than declarations. To increase mutual trust extremely important. We should not go for suspicion, we should not go for confrontation, we should go for cooperation. The action mitigation action we have set for China will be fully guaranteed legally domestically and it will promise to make our actions transparent. And will promise the implementation of these actions will be under the supervision monitoring of the law and by the media.

CURWOOD: Asked about the failure to get a legally binding deal, President Obama said they don’t necessarily offer guarantees.

OBAMA: Kyoto was legally binding and everybody still fell short anyway. And so I think that it's important for us, instead of setting up a bunch of goals that end up just being words on a page and are not met, that we get moving -- everybody is taking as aggressive a set of actions as they can; that there is a sense of mutual obligation and information sharing so that people can see who's serious and who's not; that we strive for more binding agreements over time; and that we just keep moving forward. That's been the main goal that I tried to pursue today.

President Obama address the conference in Copenhagen (Photo: Courtesy of COP15)

CURWOOD: The deal brokered by President Obama formed the core of what’s become known as the Copenhagen Accord, but it squeaked by the UN Conference with the barest of approval. It allows the climate process to keep moving, but did not settle perhaps the most contentious issue--- what happens now to the Kyoto Protocol. Officially Kyoto continues, but its first commitment period setting emission limits for industrial nations ends in 2012. Copenhagen was supposed to settle the issue, but now the decision has been put off.

Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, came to Copenhagen to follow the negotiations:

KNOBLOCH: It’s not entirely clear what this deal means, it needs to play through a bit more. On it’s surface this deal means that the largest greenhouse gas polluting countries and economies in the world have for the first time stepped up, held hands and made a commitment that they will be part of an international effort to deeply reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next 40 years.

CURWOOD: Some say the UN process broke down in Copenhagen. How true is that?

KNOBLOCH: I think the UN process did break down. After 2 weeks of intensive negotiation following on 2 years since the Bali mandate of intensive negotiation the elaborate process proved to be too much, such that when over 100 heads of state flew to Copenhagen late in the second week the negotiating delegates were unable to present them a clear negotiated text that they could bring over the finish line.

CURWOOD: With the US getting together with China, India, South Africa, Brazil, who looses?

KNOBLOCH: Well, if this plays out as we deeply hope it wills the fossil fuel industry looses. The fossil fuel industry has been unconscionable in pouring multiple millions of dollars, probably billions of dollars into stretching out the time in which we will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. And that’s costly time we will never get back again. We know we have this narrow window to get the policy in place to deeply reduce these emissions and every year counts now, every month counts now. And to see the Exxon Mobiles of the world, the American Petroleum Institute, the US Chamber of Commerce throw their back into trying to thwart this international agreement and domestic US policy, as I say, is irredeemable. So, I think if this works, what we’ve seen literally in the last couple of months. China put a greenhouse gas intensity reduction target on the table. India for the first time is say it is going to put national targets on the table and of course the US the president bring 17 percent by 2020 and the 80 percent by 2050 to these talks if we can translate that into a legally binding treaty by Bonn in 6 months or Mexico City by the end of the year at the longest the fossil fuel industry will have lost their bet.

CURWOOD: Let’s talk about domestic politics for a moment here. What does this deal in Copenhagen mean for the 60 votes President Obama is looking for in the Senate on the domestic cap and trade bill?

KNOBLOCH: To get to 60 votes on cap and trade in the senate we really have to convince those swing senators, the fence sitting senators on a couple counts. One is is China going to eat our economic lunch? You know are they going to grow their economy rapidly while ours might be constrained in a carbon constrained world. That’s a big one, competitiveness. And will it hurt the US economy. And I think what this agreement will do is provide some assurance, obviously the details have to be nailed down, it will provide some assurance that in fact those economies will be in a carbon constrained world as ours is.

The other thing that is so clear that is not fully understood I think is in the US and particularly in the Congress is that China is well on its way to transforming its economy into a clean energy economy. We are wringing our hands back home while China is on the march. They have a national renewable energy standard. We don’t yet. They have national fuel economy standards that are more stringent then our recently strengthened ones. China is committed and on its way to building a bullet train network across their nation. Yes, they are building coal plants but the coal plants they’re building are state of the art efficient plants replacing highly polluting plants. The point is once we pass national legislation and the president signs it will now be the policy of the land to transform our economy into a clean energy economy and I think we will see an economic growth and an economic explosion unlike anything we’ve seen in the last century.

CURWOOD: Kevin Knobloch is president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, thank you so much sir.

KNOBLAUCH: You’re very welcome, Steve. Thank you so much.

CURWOOD: Among the many vvips who came to Copenhagen was California governor Arnold Schwartzenegger. He sounded an upbeat note, even as it became clear the Copenhagen Accord would not be the legally binding deal the UN had hoped for.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks at the climate negotiations in Copenhagen. (Phto: Courtesy of COP15)

SCHWARZENEGGER: Now, if this conference does not get the strong agreement, some will say that Copenhagen has failed. No, ladies and gentlemen, this conference is automatically and already a success.

Kyoto brought the world's focus to what must be done. It brought the focus to that whole subject. We didn't know then what we know now. We didn't have as much experience with the science that we would research or the hurdles that we would face. But Kyoto made us think differently about the world.

And perhaps the real success of Copenhagen is to give us the opportunity to think differently again. Perhaps the success comes in realizing that something different needs to be done and in fact is already being done. It's being done on the sub-national level.
And I would ask the U.N. to convene a climate summit like Copenhagen but for cities, for states, for provinces and for regions.
And I will be more than happy to host such a summit in California or anywhere else the U.N. wants to hold it, but I recommend strongly in California.


CURWOOD: California Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger. The next UN Climate Conference will be held next year in Mexico City. But in one sense it has already moved there---in an unusual move the Danish government stepped down early as head of the process and now its Mexico’s turn.


CURWOOD: Just ahead – climate negotiations and the money tree. Keep listening to Living on Earth!



United Nations Climate Change Conference


Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

Living on Earth
62 Calef Highway, Suite 212
Lee, NH 03861
Telephone: 617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Newsletter [Click here]

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.

Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth