THIS WORLD of OURS – January 2010


By Bob Harwood

Copenhagen Hopes And Expectations


I file this with the Copenhagen Climate Conference underway and new developments by the hour raise hopes that meaningful action may yet emerge. Obama’s commitments to reduce emissions 17% by 2020, but from 2005 levels, and to attend Copenhagen provided momentum. Then the Environmental Protection Agency ruled emissions a health hazard opening the regulation alternative to pressure a dysfunctional Congress to enact legislation. Encouraged by Obama’s initiatives and visit to Beijing, China undertook to reduce the intensity of its 2005 emissions by 40% by 2020. Emissions will grow at a reduced rate as they continue long overdue development.

Next, developing giants of the BASIC Group (China, India, Brazil, and South Africa) forged a common stance introducing a new voice of great significance. They stressed that the developed world must make absolute reductions and provide both technologies and financial assistance to help developing countries. Then India committed to cutting the intensity of its emissions by 24% from 2005 levels. Yet another constituency was heard at the Caribbean Commonwealth Conference. Many of its 53 members are low lying or island nations whose existence is threatened by rising sea levels. They called for legally binding climate action and a fund of at least $10 billion annually to assist threatened nations cope with a warming planet.

Australia’s Labor Prime Minister Rudd endorsed Kyoto in 2007 as droughts and wildfires ravage his country but his Senate has delayed a carbon trading bill that could become a model for America. Canada did ratify Kyoto but Conservative Prime Minister Harper reneged on taking office and tar sands development in his Alberta heartland raise emissions significantly.

Canada’s and America’s undeniably interwoven economies make a good case for a common policy but Canadians want meaningful action now.   Under pressure Harper has committed to reductions of 20% but is alone in using 2006 as base year. He has given Canada rogue status at Copenhagenwhere, to my shame, Canada was first to win the Fossil of the Day Award as ‘most obstructionist.’

The European Union points to a future where empires based on parochial national interests are supplanted by genuine, respectful international engagement. And Europe does just that on global warming. Gasoline priced at more than twice North American levels has fostered fuel efficient vehicles and public transit, green power, and a meaningful carbon trading system with reductions measured from Kyoto’s 1990 base year.

Emissions per capita are half those of North America and continue to fall. Europe presses the need to recognize the first world’s role in causing this crisis and our much larger responsibility to facilitate and fund its being addressed. Thousands thronged the streets of Europe’s cities calling for reducing emissions even further by 2020 and a current EU Summit is seeking more funds to help poor and developing nations cope.

Complex negotiations await at and beyond Copenhagen but for the first time I see cause for optimism. Issues have been clearly defined. Every country has made commitments. What are appropriate action and funding responsibilities for (a) developed (b) developing and (c) poor and threatened countries? What should the base year for measurement be by country including North American late starters. What cap and trade formula is best and how and by whom should offsets and trades be regulated and monitored?

How should deforestation and reforestation effects fit into this? With vast differences in populations, meaningful comparisons can only be made on a per capita basis. North America’s emissions are twice those of Europe and four to five times those of China and India. The ball is clearly in our court.

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Ojo Del Lago
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