Can we find positives from the United Nations Summit on climate change? Even President Obama admits that disappointment is justified, although the Commander in Chief claims a non-binding accord was better than a complete collapse of the negotiations.
Jeffrey Sachs, fearless leader of the Earth Institute, adamantly opposed such victory proclamation from the President, for Obama’s disrespect to the international negotiation process. Sachs feels that Obama fostered a vague and non-binding agreement because it was convenient for the current messy state of domestic climate politics.
Certainly, a non-binding commitment with no framework for further negotiations is much less than most hoped, but others believe that it is what could have been expected. Robert Stavins of Harvard’s Kennedy School argues that the best goal for the negotiations was to build the foundation for meaningful, global action rather than declaring a short term numerical benchmark. As opposed to the Kyoto Protocol, the Copenhagen Accord, vague as it may be, recognizes the fundamental differences between developing and developed economies and the challenges that each will face in curbing emissions growth.
Sam Hummel echoed similar sentiments in a Grist article last month, as he finds five major fallacies in the media coverage on the climate summit, refuting statements that the Copenhagen Accord is a “sham” on which developing nations collectively disagreed.
Aside from three page non-binding document signed at the 11th hour, did behind the scenes discussions give us hope for the future path of world leaders on arguably the biggest challenge of our lifetime?
Early in the second week of the summit, close to 80 mayors of major cities came together to pledge their emissions goals. On a local level, change is happening. California is working through its own cap and trade system. New York’s City Council recently passed aggressive building emissions regulations. CRED’s Psychology of Climate Change Communication focuses attention to the importance of local communities on environmental decisions. The group’s research with student groups suggests that local “messengers” may be more likely to elicit responses for action on climate change as opposed to calls from distant locales. Complexities of international negotiations leave many with an overwhelming feeling of disappointment or confusion but it is important to keep in mind the valuable impact that individual actions have on a local level.
Two other important progress points made in Copenhagen are highly noteworthy. First is the recognition of REDD, Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, as a viable funding model for protecting natural carbon sinks. Second is the establishment of the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund, dedicated to helping developing countries fund crucial climate change adaptations. This again is another split from Kyoto and although pledge plans are not forthcoming, it is a start.
Could Copenhagen have been more “successful?” Undoubtedly. Is this to blame on American political failure to bring serious emissions targets to the negotiating table? Perhaps.
Although it falls behind Health Care and Job legislation in the United States Congress, 2010 is a crucial political moment, particularly for Climate and Energy legislation, particularly in the Senate. Ensuring the stronger success of future international negotiations is the responsibility of all American citizens – we all must keep this issue top of mind for our Senators and Congressional representatives in the new year. And we must all listen carefully to President Obama’s State of the Union remarks this evening to hear how we will truly pave a green path forward.