Good COP, Bad COP

The Latest Climate Proposal – Gray, like the Weather
by -- December 12th, 2009

It’s an overcast morning in Copenhagen, perfect for writing about the latest draft climate proposal that was released yesterday.

The most recent draft proposal is light on the details, heavy on the uncertainties.  The developed-developing nations divide is augmented with a new disagreement in addition to the level at which global warming should be ‘capped’ – whether that level should be measured in terms of temperature or global carbon dioxide (and equivalent) concentration.  A consortium of African and small island nations is calling on other nations to commit to prohibiting more than a 1.5°C (2.7°F) rise in global temperature.  Emerging giants – such as China, India, and Brazil – advocate a less stringent goal, closer to 2°C (3.6°C).  It’s obvious why this divide is intensifying – both sides have a lot to lose.  For nations particularly at risk from sea level rise, drought, extreme water stress, and agricultural failure, a lower target is necessary to ease the disasters that climate change will indubitably bring.  For large developing economies, a lower cap will inhibit growth sourced from traditional, highly emitting fuels.  It is worth mentioning that economic growth and development are not analogous concepts, but exploring that tangent is another blog post for another time.

Other goals for limiting global warming typically assume the form of a carbon dioxide cap – 350 ppm is the most commonly cited level (compare to the current concentration of 389 ppm).  It is unclear what exact carbon dioxide concentration level will translate into a 1.5°F temperature rise, which is where the real problem lies.  Several countries advocating a cap on total greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are at odds with the temperature-cappers because of this uncertainty.  Groups promoting both concepts are ubiquitous in Copenhagen.  It’s obvious that we need a solution and unclear what direction the commitments should approach the problem from.  The most unfortunate part about this division is that is adding to the confusion and difficulty inherent in the negotiating process.

The other big news released yesterday is the commitment from the European Union to provide 7.2 billion Euros ($10.6 billion) to developing economies over the next three years to help these nations deal with the effects of climate change.  This is a big step, but unfortunately only a drop in the bucket when compared to the estimated $100 billion per year needed.  Furthermore, it appears that a large portion of the EU’s ‘newly committed’ funding was previously committed to this cause.  The EU is undoubtedly and reasonably hoping that others will follow with funding commitments.  It is unclear whether President Obama will commit any funding when he arrives in Copenhagen next week, but doing so would be a positive step.

The good news is that we have another week to go.  The bad news is that might not be enough time.

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