by Gail Karlsson (US Citizens' Network for Sustainable Development)
She was not among the over 40,000 registered conference participants, or one of the many young people who marched for climate justice. Nevertheless she is someone who wants the world’s leaders to take action for a sustainable future.
Most likely she, like many others, was confused by the complexity of international negotiations and disappointed that no legally binding commitments were made for future greenhouse gas emission reductions. But this is not the end of the climate negotiation process and there is still plenty of time for hope, and for action.
The ‘Hopenhagen’ shirts were part of an International Advertising Association campaign to support the UN climate negotiations by creating a grassroots movement powerful enough to influence change. www.hopenhagen.org The message is that we can all begin reducing our own greenhouse gas emissions and working together on climate change solutions, no matter how small our contributions may seem.
Since I was at the UN conference as a citizen of the United States, not Hopenhagen, I was a bit nervous about being held accountable for my country’s lack of action to prevent climate change. In fact, I was questioned about why Americans don’t seem to care about the impacts of their cars, oil and coal consumption on poor countries like Bangladesh and low-lying islands like the Maldives, places that are already losing land and homes due to rising sea levels. However, I was pleased to be able to report that New York City already has its own emission reduction plans and targets, and that other Americans like Bill McKibben have been busy mobilizing people to press for global CO2 limits of 350 parts per million. www.350.org
I was also grateful to have a President who came to Copenhagen and engaged in the negotiations, saying that he recognizes that “climate change poses a grave and growing danger” and that “we must bridge old divides and build new partnerships to meet this great challenge of our time.” www.facebook.com/usdos.cop15
People from many countries were discouraged that President Obama did not promise more, especially in terms of binding emission reduction targets. But he cannot promise more without the support of more Americans, and more US Senators.
“Most importantly, we remain committed to comprehensive legislation that will create millions of new American jobs, power new industry, and enhance our national security by reducing our dependence on foreign oil. That effort at home serves as a foundation for our leadership around the world....The time has come for us to get off the sidelines and to shape the future that we seek.” http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2009/12/18/a-meaningful-and-unprecedented-breakthrough-here-copenhagen
In his report to the UN General Assembly, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that 130 national leaders came to the conference, and that “the Copenhagen Accord marks a significant step towards the first truly global agreement that can limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, support adaptation for the most vulnerable, and help to establish a new era of environmentally sustainable growth.” http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2009/sgsm12684.doc.htm
The elements of the Copenhagen Accord include:
1. An agreement to work towards a common, long-term goal to limit global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius and to review the adequacy this commitment in 2015 to take account of new scientific evidence (possibly reducing it to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as proposed by the vulnerable island states and poor countries already experiencing adverse consequences of climate change).
2. Commitments by developed countries to establish and implement targets for greenhouse gas emissions, and by major emerging economies (such as China, India, and Brazil) to implement nationally appropriate mitigation actions and communicate their efforts every two years.
3. Recognition of the importance of acting to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
4. Pledges of $30 billion a year between 2010 and 2012 (and a goal of mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020) to be disbursed primarily through a new Copenhagen Green Climate Fund, for mitigation and adaptation activities to assist the most vulnerable people in developing countries.
“I am aware that the outcomes of the Copenhagen Conference, including the Copenhagen Accord, did not go as far as some had hoped. Nonetheless, they represent a beginning -- an essential beginning. It will take more than this to definitively tackle climate change. But it is an important step in the right direction.” He also promised to work on streamlining the UN negotiation process going forward. http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2009/sgsm12684.doc.htm
For me, though, it was California Governor Schwarzenegger, speaking at the parallel Climate Summit for Mayors in Copenhagen, who best expressed what I would call the ‘Hopenhagen Challenge.’
“We cannot wait for national governments to fight climate change on their own, because then we would have to have wait for a long time. I also believe it is wrong to think of this as a top-down decision, so the only way we can be successful is by cooperating. All good things start on a grassroots level, so hopefully this meeting in Copenhagen will inspire citizens, mayors and state leaders, and help turn the fight against climate change into a hip movement.” http://www.climatesummitformayors.dk
With or without a legally binding international agreement, it is clear that state and local actions, combined with a variety of personal decisions and private sector innovations, will all inevitably be needed to cut our emissions, create green jobs and businesses, and build sustainable communities. Of course, all that is easier with the right national government policies in place, as the Danes were eager to demonstrate in their country's presentations and exhibitions, including high taxes on cars and fossil fuels, and major public investments in mass transit and renewable energy.
Meanwhile, we do not need to wait for the UN to organize another conference before taking our own steps to become more responsible citizens of Hopenhagen. The most important steps are to help build a constituency for sustainable development, starting with our own homes and communities and local governments, and to work politically towards counterbalancing the influence of oil and coal companies in Congress.