COC

Much Work Lies Ahead on the Road to Copenhagen

Center of Concern | Tue, Jul 14, 2009

By Alicia Donner
Vague language and time scales are the last thing our planet needs, especially as there is concern that the so-called “point of no return”—the point where climate change becomes irreparable—may lie within the next decade

After a disappointing summer as far as domestic policy is concerned, President Obama’s time at the annual Group of Eight (G8) meeting in L’Aquila, Italy—especially his chairing of the sideline Major Economies Forum (MEF) — was encouraging, but also a reminder of how much work needs to be done.

President Obama’s remarks at the closing of the MEF, though in many ways positive, were also tainted. Although the new administration’s willingness to participate in dialogue regarding climate change as well as support of the “2 degree” goal was a welcome change from that of its predecessor, something is lacking.

President Obama made great strides in admitting that developed countries do have a historic responsibility to the rest of the world, as well as the rallying cry “those days are over” as far as avoiding the aforementioned responsibility is concerned.Further, the G8 expressed willingness to agree to concrete emissions cuts by 2050: 80% for developed countries and 50% for the world overall. Even though this statement offers a target, it also offers some troubling inferences.

Although the G8 does not represent a global decision making body, this proclamation begs the question of their legitimacy: why do the leaders of the top eight developed countries get to decide what is right for the world as a whole? Further, it is with this statement that what is desperately lacking becomes shockingly obvious: all these goals are too farsighted—what about that much closer, much more critical date, 2020? The G8 have offered statements and solid numbers for cutting back emissions, but for forty years from now—nothing in the short term. In fact, all President Obama can remark on the short term relates to the developing, not the developed, world: “developing nations…agreed to take action to meaningfully lower their emissions relative to business as usual in the midterm—in the next decade or so.” Vague language and time scales are the last thing our planet needs, especially as there is concern that the so-called “point of no return”—the point where climate change becomes irreparable—may lie within the next decade—no “or so” there.

Unfortunately, the planet—and those who inhabit it—can no longer afford to put off dealing with climate change. When the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference occurs in less than five months in Copenhagen I hope that the dialogue there reflects this necessity. The UNFCCC will decide what occurs when the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 as far as mitigating climate change is concerned, and the focus needs to include the next decade. It is critical to the survival of life as we know it. We can no longer afford to wait; in fact I would venture to say “those days are over.”