With little more than a week to go before the start of the COP15 climate change conference in Copenhagen, the “Road to Copenhagen” starts to sound a little tired, even as participants prepare for actually heading to Copenhagen.
With the roller-coaster-like ride of pre-COP15 news, reeling from despair to faint glimmers of hope* that something positive and substantial will emerge from Copenhagen in mid-December, the question for many concerned about climate change, or who are considering going to COP15, is:
If Copenhagen is just another step in the long process from Kyoto to Bali to Copenhagen to… why bother?
The idea that a fully-formed legally binding agreement should come at the end of the COP15 conference as a requirement for success is, as one colleague I recently spoke with said, “one of the worst ideas out there.” Second to that is the notion that focusing on achieving “only” a political agreement in Copenhagen constitutes a failure.
Despite all the mainstream press reports and blog posts these past few weeks trumpeting the “failure” of COP15 before it even gets underway (or at least working hard to downplay its importance), the understanding that a finished, legally binding treaty would likely not come at the end of the conference is really not news.
Certainly the idea has become more formalized with the suggestion from the Danish government that world leaders look at COP15 as a “two-step process,” but I contend that for some time now, that has been the expectation–and even a good thing, as Joe Romm writes in his blog Climate Progress.
By not hanging on the presumption of a finalized treaty coming out of COP15–but still maintaining a sense of urgency–the process is afforded some “political cover,” giving space for negotiations to step into the breach and make real progress on the most contentious issues. Once that part is done, negotiators can come back (hopefully early) next year to clean up the text, dot the i’s, cross the t’s, and make the whole thing legally binding. This is international law we’re talking about, and formalizing a document with the scope and weight of a global climate treaty, even after the political framework is in place, takes time and “man-hours.” I believe it is counter-productive to insist that the whole deal be done, with the ink dried on a final treaty, in the ten days available for negotiations in Copenhagen.
We make it what it is
Writing in the New York Times, Kate Galbraith addresses the “Copenhagen attendance question” for business leaders, and the answer from Green Order president Andrew Shapiro is, in short, yes. Even if Copenhagen won’t produce a final treaty, “The private sector needs to show the world that it isn’t waiting for a global policy agreement,” said Shapiro.
That logic of engagement holds for all sectors of society. In her NYT article, Galbraith quotes Seth Kaplan, a vice president for the Conservation Law Foundation, on the enormous interest in the conference: “Many more climate activists and advocates, as well as students, academics and just plain interested citizens are going to Copenhagen than have gone to any international climate meeting since the Kyoto meeting,” Kaplan wrote in an email. “I know this because C.L.F. has official ‘observer’ status, and we have received many more requests from students and others to be a part of our ‘delegation’ and be credentialed for the meeting under our flag than we have for prior meetings.”
In a real sense, I believe, COP15 will be what people make of it. Not just world leaders and negotiating delegations, but everyone with any interest or stake in the outcome – from Al Gore to James Inhofe. Senator Inhofe’s continuing threats to show up in Copenhagen as a “one man truth squad” should be enough to answer the question “why bother.”
This blogger and “just plain interested citizen” will be there, having jumped through the hoops to obtain press accreditation. Will my singular presence at COP15 make any real difference? No. But my presence, added to the thousands of others that feel a stake in process – the crush of people watching, reporting, and clamoring for action – will make a difference. I believe we all have a responsibility to make COP15 what it is and what it will be.