Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Moving Beyond Copenhagen

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For the past couple of months, we’ve seen a one-of-a-kind rush in the media to cover stories on deforestation, climate change and carbon markets ahead of the climate conference in Copenhagen (COP15). It was about time that these issues joined the mainstream: for most Americans, the need to lower global carbon emissions had been a distant and elusive reality. Most of us have failed to consider our country’s climate debt and, as individuals, we’ve felt powerless besides making the choice to ride our bikes to work or drive hybrid cars. Needless to say, this view doesn’t even consider the growing number of Americans who are overall skeptical of the concept of climate change.

But getting back to Copenhagen: it’s important to remember that the massive meeting in Denmark wasn’t in and of itself the solution. A recent story on NPR put COP15’s dysfunctional politicking into a clever perspective: “If you’re having trouble understanding why the Copenhagen talks are making such slow progress, try imagining having 193 children in your family,” the story went. “And every little decision has to be reached by consensus. You’d be lucky to get through breakfast.”

The challenge of instituting a new global climate agreement for 2012 was obviously no small feat. But considering the gravity of global warming, especially for developing countries in East Asia, Africa and Latin America, it has been frustrating to witness the impasse in the negotiations from afar. After two weeks of talks, heated debates and street protests, COP15 kept the issues on the headlines but accomplished little. Instead of delivering a strong binding agreement and a commitment to reduce carbon emissions and deforestation, the participants went home over the weekend “taking note” of the need for a pact.

So what’s next? Bill McKibben, founder of the activist portal 350.org, isn’t optimistic. He says the meeting in Copenhagen “marked the beginning of the end of the UN. We’ve never taken it seriously for war and peace, and now carbon and global warming are off the table.”

At the very least, COP15 has exposed the widening resource and ideological gap between rich and poor countries. It has revealed the urgent need for funding for mitigation, technology and capacity building, even as the economic recession is hitting all countries alike and market-driven models like carbon offsets, remain deeply controversial. Last but not least, COP15 has shown the urgent need for free, prior and informed consent of all players in global negotiations—especially those who have most at stake. Civil society groups, indigenous leaders, forest activists, and youth from around the world were among the thousands of people who descended on Copenhagen to influence the discussions on REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) but, in the end, the final text failed to address their questions and demands.

The summit is now over and done, with thousands of delegates heading back to their countries and gearing up for the next UN climate summit in Mexico City in 2010. And thus the cycle continues, leaving little to show for it. We can only hope that after 17 years of climate talks, the world’s leaders will soon learn to act swiftly, and in the interest of their global constituents.

Ruxandra Guidi is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org based in San Francisco, California. She is Communications Director for the San Francisco-based non-profit Amazon Watch, and one half of the collaboration group, Fonografia Collective.


Ruxandra Guidi is an independent journalist and multimedia producer with Fonografia Collective (http://fonografiacollective.com) based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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