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Why Copenhagen Could Be a Social Tipping Point

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Friday November 13th, 2009 | 0 Comments

“The world is looking to the United States for measurable, verifiable action,” the New York Times’ Andrew Revkin declared on November 4 while speaking at the Bard Center for Environmental Policy’s National Climate Seminar. Revkin is not optimistic that Congress will pass a bill reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions before Copenhagen. The House passed a bill this summer that requires a 17 percent reduction in carbon emissions, but the Senate has yet to pass a bill.

“The table I see being set at Copenhagen is with some pretty stark divisions.” Revkin said. Developing countries want $100s of billions in financial assistance to cope with climate change. In October, developing nations asked developed nations to give up to $400 billion a year. Around the same time, the EU’s 27 national leaders agreed that developed countries will have to offer developing countries around $147 billion a year. Revkin believes that a possible outcome in Copenhagen could include modest partnerships, steps, and commitments to reduce global GHG emissions. Copenhagen could result in the first step toward a system where countries on their own could essentially enshrine activities they were doing that would be measurable and verifiable  “without being legally binding.”

“The idea that on December 18 it will end with something grand…there’s no one I talk to who is seeing that,” Revkin said. However, Revkin does not see the process as dead. “This is not a one-term, one-Congress, one-generation issue…we’re poised at the beginning of this millennium to begin migrating to a fundamentally different relationship with energy, and one that acknowledges and monetizes perhaps the indirect impacts of choices we make on energy.”

Some delegates at last week’s climate change talks in Barcelona were “contemplating the increasingly clear high-level messages that a legally binding agreement at COP 15 will not be possible,” according to an Earth Negotiations Bulletin. The Chair at Barcelona, John Ashe, from Antigua and Barbuda, said that progress was “less than desirable.”

During the question and answer time, Revkin was asked if there are risks of a weak outcome in Copenhagen. He replied that it is not the last change, but can be the tipping point in the social system. “Anything you do to start to push toward flattened or declining emissions is likely to reduce the overall risk of passing points you wouldn’t want to pass,” Revkin said.

When asked if Obama’s presence in Copenhagen really matters, Revkin said, “He can’t not go.” However, he also said it is mainly a ministerial meeting, and presidents only show up when there is something to sign. “He seems to reflect for people a sense of possibility, so maybe there’s something that could come from it.”

Obama said this week that he will go to Copenhagen if he is “confident that all the countries involved are bargaining in good faith and we are on the brink of a meaningful agreement.” He added that it is doubtful the Senate will have voted on climate change legislation before Copenhagen.

Obama added, “I think everyone recognizes that not every ‘t’ is going to be crossed and ‘i’ dotted in the next three weeks. I think the question is (whether) we can create a set of principles, building blocks, that allow for ongoing and continuing progress on the issue, and that’s something I’m confident we can achieve.”

Ed Note: 3p is proud to have a sponsorship arrangement with The Bard Center for Environmental Policy. We’ll be featuring posts from Bard over the next few months, as well as keeping you posted on developments in their new curriculum and events taking place at the center. For more information on the program, visit www.bard.edu/cep/


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