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The Green Life: What Happened in Copenhagen?

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December 22, 2009

What Happened in Copenhagen?

What Happened in Copenhagen Okay, so maybe the world-saving climate agreement that we prayed would emerge from the 12-day Copenhagen Climate Summit did not materialize after all. High hopes for the negotiations between heads of state near the end of the summit and the gathering of over 190 countries were quickly deflated as world leaders stumbled to come up with anything concrete. Many people perceived Copenhagen as a failure for its inability to take steps toward a global climate solution. But despite the frustration of politics, Copenhagen did produce a wealth of drama, including a questionable non-binding agreement called the Copenhagen Accord that at least keeps the ball rolling for climate talks in Mexico City 2010.

After a pretty quiet first week, the summit started to heat up with a vast number of memo leaks such as this, which detailed potential commitments from countries on cutting emissions that would only result in a 3-degree warming. The infamous Yes Men dropped by to play a little prank on Coca-Cola and Canada. Even climate skeptics got in on the action.  Lord Monckton, a former economic adviser to Margaret Thatcher, called American youth protesters “Hitler Youth” (click to see video), while US Senator James Inhofe made an appearance, but without his “truth squad”.

Copenhagen was definitely an opportunity to stress the impact climate change will have on the developing world, as well as highlight the need for climate justice. Developing nations staged a five-hour walkout, unhappy that the developed world was not shouldering enough of the burden. But as things looked shaky, people were refreshed and rejuvenated by a speech from President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, right as leaders were starting to land in Denmark.

And there was much, much more. But there is no way to cover in this post all the detailed, confusing politics and the impact Copenhagen will have for the future. Discussing the summit’s frustration with China, the world’s top polluter, could take one post alone.

The Sierra Club had several members travel out to Copenhagen and blog about all that was going on. You can look back at all the week’s coverage on the Climate Crossroads Copenhagen site. To go along with the Sierra Club’s coverage, The Guardian has a summary of what played out in the final moments of the summit while Grist.org also has significant coverage and analysis of the two weeks.

In the end, the US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa headed a list of 28 key countries that adopted the Copenhagen Accord, a new framework for addressing global warming. What was actually in agreed upon? The accord promised $100 billion for poor nations that could suffer the most from climate change and set a commitment to limit global warming to two degrees. However, the most pressing issues remain, as there was no set target for greenhouse gas emissions cuts and the accord is not legally binding.

After years of build-up to Copenhagen, two weeks of negotiations brought a very weak agreement. One important aspect is that China and India are on board, which shows they are willing to take steps forward. How big those steps are and how long they take remain to be seen. Here is hoping for 2010.

--Michael Mullaley

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