Copenhagen: Is there dawn after this dark hour?

Mon, 2009-12-07 08:57Richard Littlemore
Richard Littlemore's picture

Copenhagen: Is there dawn after this dark hour?

There is a darkening sky hanging over Copenhagen.

It’s not that things are looking worse on this first day of the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change - COP15. If anything, there seems to be an unlikely optimism at the sprawling and crowded Bella Centre.

Rather, it’s just Denmark in December. This is a northern capital - at a higher latitutde than Moscow, not quite so high as the Canadian tar sands capital of Fort McMurray. The city enjoys a scant seven hours of daylight at this time of year, an amount that will continue to diminish for the duration of the conference.

Of course the question, at this dark hour, is whether it will be followed by a new dawn. Organizers would like you to think so.

For the determinedly optimistic view, the newly elected COP president and Danish COP15 Minister Connie Hedegaard kicked off the cautious cheering: “We have reached the deadline and there is no going back. Copenhagen will be the city of the three C’s: ‘Cooperation’, Commitment’ and ‘Consensus’. Now is the time to capture the moment and conclude a truly ambitious global deal. This is our chance. If we miss this opportunity, we will not get a better one.”

Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, also tried to sound bullish on the podium, but he was more restrained on the subway earlier in the day. (You have to like UN officials at this level who would have the modesty to actually take the subway.) Asked directly about whether the COP could come to a useful conclusion, he said, “I am mildly, but not wildly optimistic.”

Pachauri deserves credit for maintaining any optimism whatever, given that he felt compelled to spend part of his opening statement defending the quality of science that has marked the IPCC process. It is as if the emails stolen from the University of East Anglia were actually lying around in the room, smoking. At least, they were invoked again and again, raised in press conferences and, as in Pachauri’s statement, referred to directly or obliquely in virtually every session.

The reliably unreliable Christopher Monckton was also in evidence, wandering about, pestering those journalists who are still willing to add “balance” to a story of epic human irresponsibility. Monckton, who was also a special guest at the denial conference staged in the Danish Parliament Sunday, was overheard claiming, again, that the very concern about climate change is overblown, a position he says is confirmed by the stolen emails.

It was, perhaps, not a surprise that Canada’s bloated profile caught everyone’s attention on the first day, as well. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was sending mixed messages while travelling in Asia, calling for a “binding agreement,” while suggesting that his was disinclined to do anything at all about the environment until the world economy improved

In Copenhaggen, Harper’s Chief Negotiator Michael Martin tried to strike an optimistic tone, but reiterated Canada’s intention to stick - under every circumstance - to its target of reducing greenhouse gases just three per cent from 1990 levels by 2020. For his flexibility, he won Canada the first Fossil of the Day award - fr refusing, on the first day of a negotiation, to actually negotiate.

So, the day began pretty much as predicted - forced optimism, guarded skepticism and a slim hope that somehow the coming of U.S. President Barack Obama might change everything, even though we know it cannot. Thanks to TckTckTck and Greenpeace’s aggressive airport advertising, all visitors to Copenhagen are greeted by the above image of an imagined older Obama, apologizing to the world for the failure of the world’s government’s to have taken the necessary action to address climate change.

The point, of course, is to encourage Obama and the other leaders to prove them wrong. We need wait only two weeks to find out whether that will be the case. Come the winter solstice, we’ll know whether the will be more light on the environmental horizon to match the gtoo-gradual return of sunlight in the Danish sky.


This is the first major climate conference with a U.S. adminstration that actually believes in science, so we see progress at least in that regard. The deniers will continue to hype their nonsense about emails and talk about how the agreements will be watered-down, or certain countries are not quite on baord, etc. But we now have a U.S. President who treats science with respect, so it will be progress.

Harper seems to be there to shake hands and be part of the group and to give up nothing. I suspect all of the 192 governments have a similar mindset.

For once I am inclined to agree with James and, more surprisingly, he would find that James Hansen would agree with him as well.

I saw him yesterday being interviewed on the (Australian) ABC’s Lateline. Hansen apparently thought that what was happening at Copenhagen was so much windowdressing. Governments are not seriously planning to curb the use of fossil fuels. As examples he gave the recent signing of an agreement between the US and Canada re a pipeline to the US for the tarsand oil and, as far as Australia is concerned, its improvement of harbour facilities for the export of coal.

This was a point that resonated with me. We live near a mining area and we can hear the immensely long coaltrains going by day and night on their way to the harbour at Newcastle.

Australia’s carbon emissions trading scheme, about which there has been a bitter political fight here, he judged to be a terrible idea. It would only make the banks richer and do nothing about curbing the use of fossil fuels.

He very summarily sketched a scheme for doing something real about restricting the use of fossil fuels: gradually pricing these out of the market by a tax imposed at the source.

Hansen also came with the for me surprising news that not 1998 but 2005 was the hottest year on record. British data had pointed to 1998 because the polar regions had been left out. He believed that this year would be between the second and fifth hottest year on record because we are having the first effects of the El Nino cycle. Next year that will be in full swing and 2010 could turn out to be one of the hottest, if not the hottest, year on record.

The data on temperatures will of course be dismissed by most of the denialist crowd. These folk will just keep insisting that the world is cooling. Even Fred Singer had enough sense left to ask such a character whether he was fighting with the thermometer (see the second Sinclair video on this blog).

In the process Hansen, at the request of the interviewer (Tony Jones), reacted to some other denialist myths. The “urban heat island” effect (McKitrick’s brainchild that was so effectively demolished at Deltoid) does not affect the data because they are not taken from those stations. Watervapour is not a forcing that varies independently. The amount of it is dependent on temperature and thus it works as an amplifying feedback.

I heard David Keith, U of Calgary scientist a few weeks ago on the radio. His take on Copenhagen (which appeared dead at that time) was that its failure would mean that countries would start taking action on their own, then negotiate bilateral treaties, and then make a world treaty. He said this is how agreement was reached on dealing with the ozone problem.

I would agree with most of what you and hansen have to say. Perhaps their is some common ground upon which common sense transends global warming doctrine.

Internation carbon credit agreements have little to do with limiting C02 emissions and have much more to do with international finance. Hansen is a kooky alarmist but at least he sees the reality that shifting c02 production between regions in exchange for money is simply a recipe for economic ruin and few possibilities for reductions. All that will happen is that a few people will be in control of the worlds economic production (carbon traders) and money will shift from economically successful regions that are growing (North America,asia) to areas that are not (Europe, Africa). This is simply another form of a bank bailout and now financial institutions will control the capital and the means of production. (IE c02 emissions)

I am not surprised at the short period of time in which the green movement has been co-opted by financial concerns.

a new mechanism for moving money around. How exciting! What opportunities there will be for spectacular wealth acquisition via gaming of the system! Why should anyone work? We can all get in to the international money flow interception game!

Just send me $19.95 and I’ll send you all the details.

However the global framework is based on carbon trading which simply doesnt work, too much potential for cheating, a dodgy derivatives market and the use of clean development mechanism,

What has given me hope is how the indigenous people of the Peruvian Amazon have built a powerful political organisation which has used non violent direct action to prevent the forests being demolished by oil companies.

Why dont you report on Aidesep, on June 5th this year world environment day the Peruvian President Alan Garcia had over a 100 indigenous people protesting against Amazon destruction killed.

However despite paying in blood Aidesep won, sadly environmentalist never seem to recognise their role.

So I think Copenhagen will fail but I have immense confidence in indigenous people to combat climate change.

please report their successes and support their struggle, Elinor Ostrom in her Nobel Prize speech will I am sure praise the indigenous contribution to fighting climate change.

Please do too! and be a bit more sceptical about events in Copenhagen.

I wonder whether the timing of the conference was planned to take advantage of this symbolism? There’s a stone age site in the Orkneys where the sun only penetrates to the heart of the shrine during the solstice. Fingers crossed it works at Copenahgen as well as at Maeshowe!

I’m very envious of you, being there and watching it all take shape. It’s one of those moments in history that could go either way, isn’t it?

Cheers Fern