by Courtney Shephard -- December 6th, 2009
Lately, I have been pleasantly surprised to see the term “Hopenhagen” thrown around in the environmental blogs. I like it. The play on words may be a little cutesy, but positivity is absolutely necessary on the eve of the COP15 UN Climate Change Conference.
The tumultuous journey to the COP15 negotiations escalated during the past few weeks – the Pew Research Center conclusion that fewer Americans accept evidence of global warming, the “Climate Gate” email scandal, and Annie Leonard’s latest video denouncing cap-and-trade policy (a misrepresentation particularly upsetting to anyone trained in basic economics). However, I advocate the adage that things often fall apart before they get better. Pundits latch onto any news item that seems slightly contradictory to the norm – it is their job. I am as tired of it as everyone else, so I try to focus on the positives, like when Senator Byrd (D-West Virginia) declared last week that propping up the coal industry at the expense of the planet is irrational despite the fact that West Virgina declared coal as the state rock in June. This is the type of attitude shift that we need in our leadership.
Of course, President Obama finally jumped on the bandwagon and decided not only to attend COP15, but also to attend the conference at the end with all of the other world leaders. I hopeful that he will use his rallying cry of “Yes, We Can” to fire up not only the United States, but also the world. President Obama will announce a cut of 17% in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020…finally. The United States still needs action in the Senate before an international treaty can be finalized and ratified, but announcing an official commitment is a powerful signal of leadership. It is clear that a binding international political agreement is not going to be released on December 18th when the conference comes to a close. However, I am very optimistic that the outcome will be more than just lip service to the greatest challenge the world has ever faced. At minimum, COP15 is an amazing opportunity for the world’s leading thinkers to get together and come up with the next greatest idea, whether that be conservation incentives reduce deforestation or how to launch space mirrors into the atmosphere. With luck, something substantial on the negotiating front will also result. I am incredibly excited to be attending the second week of the negotiations with several members of Duke University and the Nicholas Institute. Despite the cloud that will indubitably be hanging over Copenhagen, I have a really good feeling about the conference. As much as I would love to see COP16 be nothing more than a piña colada-filled celebration on a Mexican beach, I know there will still be work to do once the Copenhagen negotiations end. But here’s to hoping that the delegates really get down to business at COP15 – the world has procrastinated long enough.