World leaders say Copenhagen to be a steppingstone to final climate deal

Some very good news on the international front, as the UK Guardian reports today:

During a hastily convened breakfast meeting in Singapore, the US president supported a Danish plan to salvage something from the moribund negotiations by aiming for a broad political agreement and postponing contentious decisions on emissions targets, financing and technology transfer….

The deferral plan was outlined to 19 leaders, including Obama and Chinese president Hu Jintao, who were in Singapore for a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

“Given the time factor and the situation of individual countries we must, in the coming weeks, focus on what is possible and not let ourselves be distracted by what is not possible,” the Danish prime minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, told the leaders after flying in overnight for the unscheduled discussion. “The Copenhagen agreement should finally mandate continued legal negotiations and set a deadline for their conclusion.”

… This would give breathing space for the US Senate to pass carbon-capping legislation, allowing the Obama administration to bring a 2020 target and financing pledges to the table at a UN climate meeting in Mexico or Germany in mid-2010.

This is no big surprise to CP readers or anyone who follows international negotiations or domestic politics.  For 8 years, U.S. negotiations were run by hard-core anti-scientific conservatives, who not only blocked any domestic action and opposed any international deal — but the Cheney-Bush negotiators actually actively worked to undermine the efforts of other countries to develop a follow on to the Kyoto Protocol.

It was never possible that team Obama — in just a few months — could undo that and simultaneously develop a final international deal and pass bipartisan U.S. climate legislation — a very slow process, given the experience with our last major domestic clean air bill, the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments.

As the NYT’s Revkin blogs this morning, “Many seasoned participants in nearly two decades of treaty negotiations aimed at blunting global warming had predicted this outcome.”

The new plan for Copenhagen makes the prospects for a successful international deal far more likely — and at the same time increases the chance for Senate passage of the bipartisan climate and clean energy bill that Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen Lieberman (I-CT) are negotiating with the White House.  The NYT print story reports:

“There was an assessment by the leaders that it is unrealistic to expect a full internationally, legally binding agreement could be negotiated between now and Copenhagen, which starts in 22 days,” said Michael Froman, the deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs. “I don’t think the negotiations have proceeded in such a way that any of the leaders thought it was likely that we were going to achieve a final agreement in Copenhagen, and yet thought that it was important that Copenhagen be an important step forward, including with operational impact.”

Indeed, had leaders gone into Copenhagen without this recognition of the obvious and let the whole effort collapse under the weight of unrealistic expectations, that would have been all-but-fatal to the domestic bipartisan climate bill.

Now it will be obvious when the Senate takes up the bill up in the winter that the rest of the world is prepared to act — that every major country in the world has come to the table with serious targets and/or serious commitments to change their greenhouse gas emissions trajectories.  Every country but ours, that is.

The few key swing Senators will understand that they are the only ones who stand in the way of strong US leadership in the vital job-creating clean energy industries and stand in the way of this crucial opportunity the world now has to preserve a livable climate through an international deal.  Their role in history will be defined by this one vote.  And, yes, I do think that matters to people like Dick Lugar (R-IN) and perhaps even John McCain (R-AZ).

UPDATE:  One can expect those who have long opposed serious action on climate change to trumpet this good news as bad news.  The WSJ, for instance, writes, “International efforts to combat climate change took a significant blow when the leaders of the APEC forum conceded a binding international treaty won’t be reached when the U.N. convenes in Copenhagen in three weeks.”  What do you expect from a paper that has long trumpeted disinformation on climate science and the economic impacts of climate action?  Yes, this was a “news” story, but consider this line from the story:  “The election of Obama, a believer in strict limits on greenhouse gas emissions, had raised hopes among environmentalists that Copenhagen would produce a tough, binding treaty to follow the Kyoto accords of 1997.”  Notice how Obama is framed not as someone who believes in climate science, but merely in regulations.  And again, notice how for the WSJ, the only people who care about those regulations are “environmentalists” rather than, say, all of humanity or even those who understand the climate science laid out by the IPCC that sets the basis for international climate agreements.

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55 Responses to World leaders say Copenhagen to be a steppingstone to final climate deal

  1. Greg Robie says:

    Good (by social convention) Morning Bright Green Joe,

    I wondered how you would positively frame a blog post on this development. Well done. The Dark Green in me is roiling in what feels like, rational anger and cautious hope that this failure may yet lead to a sober assessment of what science, not politics, defines as rational. Unfortunately (by the same social convention), there is a role for both in what is unfolding. What hope I have relies on what is “dark” yet trumpping what is “bright” in what is felt to be politically possible. The comment at doteath afforded an “Editors’ Selections” citation touches on some of what I mean. In any event, here is my edited contribution to this thread that puts the NYT and eco-freaks in its cross-hairs:

    There was little on the table, including the framing of 450ppm/2 degree C goal, that had any current scientific relevance. The “science” reporting at the NYT deferred to economic fears/sensibilities/craziness to obfuscate the truth of this. The consequence is that the NYT’s pragmatic approach to what constitutes balance news coverage disingenuously framed the crisis as a scientific muddle.

    Even so, how us DE-commenting, ecologically pious, 1st World eco-freaks live is a BIG “why” of the failure of leadership by the Whitehouse and Congress. The continuation of Kyoto this decision represents means China prevailed: the functionally non-binding continuation of Kyoto is their position. (I wonder why this political ‘win’ is not how this breaking story is framed; is not how the “’politically’ binding” doublespeak of this announcement is critiqued/explained?)

    The problematic “living” that feed all these failures is one informed by the current iteration of global capitalism. Global capitalism is an economic paradigm that our (US) unconstitutional fiat currency (denominated in consumer debt) is the reserve currency of (for now anyway). Who, but a loony fringe, are concerned about this—wait, I think there are 300 cosponsor of H.R 1207 that might be a small step toward redressing this Constitutional crisis . . . and the NYT coverage?The environmentally unsustainable wealth global capitalism’s paradigm creates is accomplished through fractional reserve banking. But for accounting rule changes, extra-legal interventions, and monetizing debt, it has collapsed—except for the reported ‘recovery’ (thought with any number of muddling qualifiers that are not clearly explained in depth—any pattern here?) . It is the height of non-rational hubris that in a pursuit of the ‘happiness’ afforded by the wealth of this failed economic paradigm we allow global capitalism to enslave both ourselves and the planet, and delude ourselves the we are secure; that we are free.

    This ‘delay,’ which even dated science says is a death sentence, means about all we are free to do now is help our children and grandchildren plan for the unspeakable suffering we have differed, yet again, onto them. My we yet learn to rue the various iterations of denial and motivated reasoning that have systemically combined to made this news possible; inevitable; and someone else’s fault!

  2. Phil Eisner says:

    You (J.R.) have put the very best face on the present Copenhagen situation that you could, I suppose. But I do not gain much optimism from your article and the one the NYT had early this morning that I read first. What are the issues that caused the preliminary talks to bog down? Are those issues independent of the present U.S. legal efforts in the Senate? How will the very mild goals that will finally pass and be signed by Obama help solve the developing nation’s dilemma of energy development versus low CO2 emissions? And at least another six months has been lost! Probably a year will be lost before the world signs a comprehensive agreement.

    In my mind I have pushed up the +2 degrees C to +2.5 degrees C as the best the world can expect.

    [JR: Remember that Kyoto is in force limiting emissions for the relevant parties through 2012. This deal was always about the 2020 target and beyond. So I’m not certain how this changes one’s projection of future temperature rise. Remember Kyoto took years to finalize and even more years to go into force. If there is a bipartisan Senate bill in 2010, there will be a global deal in 2010. This just made both of those more likely.]

  3. Jeff Huggins says:


    I see the present situation as a massive failure of the media. Massive!

    Just as one (of many) examples: To this day, as far as I can tell and according to a search I did just now, I believe that The New York Times hasn’t even covered the letter from eighteen (18!) leading scientific organizations to members of the Senate — didn’t cover it at all, let alone give it prominent front-page coverage.

    I have raised the issue to CJR’s “The Observatory”, by Curtis Brainard. I’ve raised it with Andy Revkin more than once. I’ve raised it here (CP did a great job covering the letter on its first day out). I have also called and spoken to The American Association for the Advancement of Science itself.

    So, somebody is dropping a ball — and perhaps more than one person and organization. Is the AAAS trying, more than once, clearly, to get coverage by The New York Times? Is The New York Times saying “no”? Is Andy Revkin saying “no”? Has Andy gone upstairs to the editor(s) and explained why such coverage is key? Has Curtis and CJR raised the issue or tracked it?

    When such a letter is released diligently by eighteen scientific organizations and is not covered prominently in the media, it’s time to start asking questions and naming names, repeatedly. Is the AAAS at fault? Andy Revkin? Erica Goode? Bill Keller? And what about Curtis Brainard and the role of improving the media?

    Let us hear some answers from those folks — all of them — so we can figure out exactly — EXACTLY — what the problem is.

    I’m serious. Let as ask those folks for answers, repeatedly, until we get them. Period.


  4. Hope imprisons and cripples us with inaction. It is a mechanism of our own optimism. But like monetary credit, as it extends it loses power.

    A great essay is the “Myth of Hope” – at the blog of the Secular Conservative.

  5. Richard Miller says:


    I have been critical of the Obama administration for taking up health care over the summer instead of pushing climate legislation through the Senate, which was all that was required to go to Copenhagen in good faith.

    You seem to suggest that an international agreement at Copenhagen was never in the cards for the US in 2009 because of the Bush legacy. If the international agreement is completed in 2010 does it still go into effect when Kyoto expires (i.e. 2012)? If that is the case, then doing it in 2010 is not a failure. It gives us more time to educate people about the magnitude of the problem.

  6. Right. Copenhagen is a lead up to Mexico City, which is a lead up to [wherever] Germany. Which is a lead up to some place else. The whole Zombie process never ends. It’s a moribund system of endless jockeying for position that is designed to delay, put off until something else happens. To call this pre-emptive abortion of the Copenhagen process “hopeful” is utterly delusional bordering on propagandist.

    The US Senate is controlled by Democrats–right now. By Nov. 2010, both the Senate and H. Representatives will be hit hard by Republican victories in the mid-term elections, and one or both branches will lose their Democrat Party majority (if that ever made any difference). After Dec. 15, there will be no further progress from the United States. You can kiss it goodbye.

    They’re cutting off negotiations in Copenhagen now because they don’t want anything to change. Secondly they know the activists are getting ready to attack at Copenhagen and they want to squelch that kind of protest. No one is going to risk their lives on the street in Mexico City, except a few hardy souls from Latin America. Our next kick at the can–as activists–comes later in Germany. SO ITS NOW OR NEVER, COPENHAGEN.

  7. Frank White says:

    And will the US next “lead” the world to a reset of the 2020 emission reduction targets to a puny 20% from a 2005 baseline or whatever legislators may finally agree to? Please spare me more “good” news.

  8. Strothi says:

    Hey Joe,

    well, you are certainly right in that it is more likely to get a “better deal” in 2010 than now, but I highly doubt that the deal to be achieved will be in any way sufficient enough :-( Moreover the targets in the discussion in the US are a bad joke, to be honest. Thus I don’t see any reason to believe in an agreement to be achieved in 2010 that is progressive and brave. As I just posted as a response in my blog, what I don’t see is the political will to achieve what is necessary. It’s all about “future visions” and “willingness” and all these empty phrases. I’m a very optimistic person, but when it comes down to the climate change issue, I’ve lost my optimism. I think our politicians have so far, are and will fail us.

  9. Cynthia says:

    Richard, I’ve felt the same disappointment as you concerning Obama’s priorities. (Health Care Bill when our whole civilization is about to crash)! However, this may have come about because of his deep feelings for the late Kennedy, who wanted a comprehensive health care plan so badly. Hopefully, Obama will now set his eyes more firmly on climate change issues. He’s been in office only a year and has actually accomplished a lot. We may get there yet!

  10. I’m grateful to Joe for trying to cheer me up about this. It doesn’t feel like good news.

  11. [JR: If there is a bipartisan Senate bill in 2010, there will be a global deal in 2010. This just made both of those more likely.]

    I agree, but I have some doubts about whether the Senate will ratify that global treaty in 2010. If it is delayed into 2011, there may be trouble: the majority party generally loses seats during the non-presidential election, so there may not be a large enough Democratic majority to push ratification through in 2011.

    [JR: No ratification will be needed!]

  12. Jeff Huggins says:

    Dear Bill (Comment 8),

    What can be done and what might we help with? I’m very frustrated. I went to the 350/climate event in San Francisco, and it was great, and then I came home to see a page-six (or was it seven?) article in The New York Times that was negative and nitpicky and missed the importance and “point” of the whole thing.

    And, as you know, a couple weeks ago, eighteen scientific organizations sent a great letter to Senators. It was covered here, on CP. But, as far as I can tell, The New York Times never even covered it, at all. It should have been on the front page, with an excellent article, and it wasn’t even covered.

    I am also growing convinced that mere (hollow) optimism is actually holding us back. By hoping that things will get better four months from now, we do less today.

    I am trying to figure out what to do next, with all this. And I think that the media are a HUGE part of the problem.

    In any case, I applaud your work, but I tend to agree with you: the news today is not what it should be.

    Be Well,


  13. Jeff–aside from the NYT, the media was great, and the 350 movement is burgeoning around the planet. (check out today for a picture of Bangladeshis signing a 350-foot long letter to president Obama). Dec. 12th is the next big date–working with a bunch of other groups, there will be marches all over the world, and we’ll be organizing candlelight vigils, many of them at US embassies and consulates (or senatorial offices) because it’s pretty clear we remain one of the big big obstacles.

    Our messaging is about a “Survival Pact”–we’re working hard with leaders like Pres. Nasheed of the Maldives. As Nasheed said the other day, for his country and many others “Survival = 350.”

  14. David Lewis says:

    At Kyoto, the EU made a fundamental change to their position at the 11th and one half hour on cap and trade to come into line with with the developing world and the US, because they believed Clinton could get the US to ratify. The way the US government works was not as widely understood then. That deal was dead in the water the day it was signed, because the US Senate was not going to ratify it.

    After that experience, no one is going to agree to anything until it is understood what the Senate is going to do. Everyone knows that the US Senate cannot pass an international treaty unless there is a 2/3 majority. So 34, maybe its 35 Senators, can block any international agreement they want. The fact that the Senate hasn’t even been able to come up with some climate legislation so far is only part of the problem.

    Everyone believes that the US Senate is not going to ratify any treaty that does not bind China to a target for its own emissions. People believe China will not accept a dictate from the US, that it cannot be seen to accept this dictate from the US. From the Chinese perspective, this is too great of a difference from what it had under Kyoto. Under the terms of Kyoto, China, as a developing nation, was entitled to be compensated for any action it took, however small.

    [JR: That’s why the final international deal won’t require 67 votes. So your analysis doesn’t work.]

    More than 50% of the money generated by the international offsets Kyoto allows developed world nations to buy flows directly into China, because China is where the cheap opportunities to reduce emissions are. The net effect is to help China modernize, enhancing the rate at which it looms ever larger as the most feared international competitor the US has. The Senate isn’t going to contribute to this.

    The US, if it were to accept binding emissions now, would only be accepting what it accepted at Kyoto but failed to later ratify. China sees no big movement in the US position, whereas it sees demands that it move a tremendous amount. Hence there will be no last minute 11th and one half hour negotiations at Copenhagen, or anywhere else at any time, until either China or the US Senate changes its position.

    These positions were laid out and were clear to all at Bali, years ago now. The differences were supposed to be worked out by this time in Copenhagen. This is a failure in the first degree. We are in limbo.

    Until more Americans decide they want their Senate to do something to break up this impasse, we can expect no agreement.

    The problem isn’t just the US and China. The view from India was explained recently by Edward Luce, the Washington Bureau Chief of the Financial Times. After explaining that India emits 1.5 tonnes of CO2 per capita, China about 5, while the US emits 20, he noted “in spite of this, the West is putting great pressure, ahead of Copenhagen which is now only five weeks away, on both countries, as the ‘spokescountries’ for the developing world, to agree to some kind of national emissions reduction target. And both countries are vehemently resisting agreeing to this. …even if America did agree to set a national binding legal target, which is what President Obama would like Congress to do, that would involve what, it would involve downgrading from your SUVs and getting a normal gas guzzling car, or perhaps gradually phasing out your coal fired plants and replacing them with more expensive nuclear plants.

    In India’s case, let’s just think through what this would involve. 40% of Indians do not have electricity. If you do not have electricity, what do you downgrade to? It’s an insupportable target to sign up to, if you are a government in a democracy. It would finish you….”

  15. David Lewis says:

    Why is no ratification needed?

    [JR: Because the final deal won’t require it. It’ll require us to do what Congress has approved combined with the other measures Obama has committed to, like tougher fuel economy standards.]

  16. Greg says:

    Not clear how how successful derailment of Copenhagen by entrenched economic interests is a good thing. The recent dramatic reduction in global warming believers didn’t happen by chance; it was by the well funded and orchestrated efforts of Wall Street, K Street, and Madison Ave. It is the triumph of immediate monetary gratification over long term planning for the safety of future generations. One is reminded of the fate of Easter Islanders as king after king ordered the ravaging of the island to quarry and build stone monuments, only to ultimately render the island uninhabitable. As us planetary islanders engaged in a similar death spiral, I for one do not understand your apparent sigh of relief that any chance of significant progress in Copenhagen has been successfully thwarted, and your assumption that this lack of political will is going to change soon.

    [JR: Huh? So you were simultaneously operating under the belief that Copenhagen was going to solve the entire climate problem, but that entrenched economic interests have now killed it. I think you need to pick one. If the interests were so powerful, then there was never going to be a meaningful deal. But I think your entire analysis is wrong, and we’ll find out soon enough. That doesn’t mean that the 2010 deal will prevent catastrophic global warming — although I actually think we now have a fair chance of doing that — only that this short delay will ave no bearing on the best outcome we could have ever hoped for. Quite the reverse.]

  17. Gail says:

    Foremost in my thoughts are the many idealistic young people, such as these

    (you really have to see their interview)

    who actually still have enough faith that the elder statesmen and corporate overlords will heed their desperate pledge to fast until we have a global agreement that will eliminate carbon emissions and put us on a safe path that ensures a habitable climate.

    I am so worried about their health in light of this postponement.

  18. Jeff Huggins says:

    Dear Bill (Comment 13),

    Thanks for the message, and I’ll visit the site again and look forward to Dec. 12th.

    I’m glad that the other media coverage of 350/climate day was good, aside from The New York Times. Yet, to be clear, my criticism of the media is regarding climate change in general. At least, that’s my main concern.

    Regarding what I’m feeling here, in California, one way to express it is this: What am I not getting? In other words, for example, I was a Chem E. at U.C. Berkeley. At commencement, I delivered a speech called something like “Life BEYOND The Equation”, about the responsibilities of scientists and engineers to the well being of humankind and etc. And, I know that Berkeley has scientists that are very concerned about climate change. So, the question I ask is this: Given the science and the stakes, why isn’t a place like U.C. Berkeley completely, voluntarily, and eagerly “shutting herself down” for a WEEK to express concern over climate change and to get everyone on campus focused on it?

    In other words, rather than 200 students getting together for a half-day, the whole place should shut down and focus on climate change for a week, involving students, the media, businesses, and etc. At least, I’m not really sure what I learned there (even though I was second in my class) if not that. Harvard should be shutting down too (to express concern, that is, and to do something), and Stanford, and MIT, and Princeton, and so forth. These places all have excellent scientists. They are supposed to be centers of wisdom. They are supposed to be dedicated to the well being of humankind and the planet. To that, based on what they’ve done so far, I say “phooey”. I went to Berkeley and Harvard, so I feel OK being critical about them. I know that they are doing “a lot”. But, the “a lot” that they are doing is enough to get us nowhere.

    So, I feel like I’m missing something. As much as I applaud you work, and Jim Hansen, and Al Gore, I must be from another planet, yes? Because when the world’s leading scientific organizations express huge concern over something, we ought to take the matter very seriously. And, although some people are trying hard, by this time, entire universities should be “expressing themselves”, that is, if they want to have any credibility left and take themselves seriously in the future.

    Am I from another planet?

    Seeing the news today, about the delay, despite Joe’s positive approach to it, causes red lights to go off for me.

    U.C. Berkeley should (voluntarily) shut herself down for a week, to express herself, students and faculty and local concerned citizens, and (instead of going on vacation) focus that time on expressing concern, gathering students and faculty to specifically discuss the issue, work on plans to address it, and etc. etc. etc. — all positive, and civil, of course, but focused and genuine and serious, to match up with the importance of the problem. A week. U.C. Berkeley, and hopefully others. That is the sort of thing that is necessary, I’m feeling, at this point.

    Cheers and Be Well, and I look forward to the 12th,


  19. Frankly I am inclined to agree with Joe Romm on this. We are finally making real progress but given how ambivalent both the People’s Republic of China and America remain on this challenge we are probably just about on schedule– making real progress –but still relatively slowly. Of course the climate system seems to be operating on quite a different schedule and we may very well pay a huge price for that delay. About all we can really do now is keep pushing our leaders and expanding our base through education. Because, Copenhagen aside, we are going to be dealing with this issue for the rest of our lives.

  20. David Lewis says:

    No 2/3 Senate vote required?

    I assume Joe refers to the talk around what an Obama aide, Nigel Purvis, has done. He has written that he thinks Obama can sign something as big as an international climate treaty binding the US to terms the US Senate would not pass by a 2/3 vote and call it an “executive agreement”. “Executive agreements” are indeed allowed under the Constitution, but only for “minor matters”. The question would become, is something like a Copenhagen climate treaty a minor matter?

    Now it is true that the US Senate did ratify the overall climate convention under which the Kyoto agreement is a mere Protocol,(The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the UNFCCC), in 1992.

    There are some people who seem to think Obama can slide a Copenhagen or subsequent agreement by as some “decision of the parties” of the already ratified UNFCCC treaty claiming he only needed domestic implementing legislation, i.e. 60 Senate votes. Aside from the fact that there have been problems getting 60 votes in support of a mere climate bill, consider how hard it might prove to be to get 60 votes in the Senate to interpret specific wording climate opponents will say violates the US Constitution in word and spirit, in addition to binding action on climate.

    The Convention “encourages” signatory nations to take action on climate, whereas the Kyoto Protocol “commits” nations. Because the US did ratify the UNFCCC but didn’t ratify Kyoto, supposedly there were problems to US participation, legal gibberish, in the run-up to Copenhagen. These legal problems were swept away from the international stage or ignored and US negotiators have been welcome. But there is no Constitution governing what happens between nation states.

    Here is a quote from the Constitution of the United States, Article II, Section 2:

    “The Constitution gives the Senate a share in foreign policy by requiring Senate consent, by a two-thirds vote, to any treaty before it may go into effect. The president may enter into “executive agreements” with other nations without the Senate’s consent, but if these involve more than minor matters they may prove controversial.”

    How is Obama supposed to sell an agreement that binds the US to take action on climate as a detail the Senate understood might happen when it ratified the UNFCCC which only “encourages” the US to take action, and call it a “minor matter”, seems ridiculous.

    I’d like to hear that Obama had this power, but even I don’t believe that an international binding climate agreement is a “minor matter”.

    [JR: You are looking at this the wrong way. It’s not what he has to sell to the Senate — he won’t be committing us to more than they decide we can do. It’s what he has to sell to the rest of the world!]

  21. Cynthia says:

    There are so many of us (the whole world) and so few of them (the fossil fuel industry). How odd that we sit so quietly while they bilk us for all they can while our civilization crashes. Patiently, patiently. They are winning– yet all we do is talk and and wait. In the youth of our country, the American patriots did not sit quietly. They burned ships and overturned sacks of tea. They did not stand in designated areas with little papers saying, “Please Stop Climate Change”. No. They said, “give me liberty or give me death!” WHEN are we going to take what is rightfully ours? There are so many of us and so few of them! Is it O.K. for our planet to be destroyed because we’re too polite to demand justice. The Constitution of the United States guarantees us the right of unrestricted protest. Where are our leaders?

  22. Leif says:

    I to share the frustration of those above. At this point all I see is education and activism. A difficult pill to swallow considering the dereliction of the main stream media and the rapid closing of the window for prophylactic action.

  23. [JR: Because the final deal won’t require it. It’ll require us to do what Congress has approved combined with the other measures Obama has committed to, like tougher fuel economy standards.]

    Joe, you make an important point that I hadn’t thought of: the world can see the limits of what the US can do, so the treaty will not require more emissions reductions than Congress and Obama have committed to, so US ratification is a moot point.

    However, there is one other thing that the treaty will have to include. The developing nations have said repeatedly that they won’t accept an agreement unless it includes funding to help them make the transition to clean energy. It won’t require treaty ratification, but it will require an act of Congress to appropriate that funding.

    If the treaty is adopted at the end of 2010, Congress will have to approve that funding in 2011, which may be difficult because the Democrats will probably have a smaller majority.

    [JR: The funding will be in the climate bill.]

  24. David Lewis says:

    I see the possibility of the US committing itself to some sort of action then coordinating with the rest of the world in a less formal agreement that would not amount to a binding treaty that required formal ratification from emitters representing 55% of the developed world’s emissions, for instance, as Kyoto did.

    I don’t have an understanding of what could be achieved this way. A binding agreement undertaken by reluctant partners who sort of want to do something, as is the case in the EU more or less, did cause the region to do far better than a less formal agreement might have done.

  25. Jeff Huggins says:

    I agree with Cynthia (Comment 21) — well, let me be clear: I don’t suggest or consider overturning sacks of tea or burning ships, of course, but all difficult changes have involved more than e-mails, and blogging, and waiting, and waiting, and a few small gatherings here and there. I’m not sure that I agree that we are getting anywhere meaningful. After all, these are big problems. Small solutions can’t address big problems.

    I’ve heard it said that e-mails and blogging did not succeed in creating democracy, did not abolish slavery, did not get women the right to vote, did not end segregation, and did not stop the Vietnam War! Something a bit more was evidently necessary.

    The fossil fuel industries (and I’ve worked in one before) are TINY from an employment standpoint compared to other industries and the total population. To sit around and let them stall things, and water-down things, is foolish and wasteful in and of itself. I’m getting the feeling these days that we are enablers. I’m sorry to say that, but it’s true.

    And, our solutions should consider and help, and find great employment for, actual people in those industries. It’s the leaders of those industries — those who are blocking necessary change — that can sit on the sidelines or, where warranted, even be sent to jail if they are found to be misleading the public in substantial and detrimental ways.

    I’m starting to feel like I don’t even want to go to another event unless there will be 50,000 people there. I’ll go, if there will be 49,999 other people. That’s just the way I’m “feeling”.

    Except for the ship part, I agree with Cynthia. Indeed, it is hard to name a single person from history that we remember and admire, as a major change agent, who didn’t do something, civil of course, that caused some momentum and so forth. Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. George Washington. Martin Luther King Jr. Susan B. Anthony. Gandhi. Rosa Parks. Bertrand Russell. John Lennon. And so forth.

    To me, all of this delay delay delay, — and look at the health-care watering-down –, and now Copenhagen is merely a “let’s commit to a next meeting”; it’s getting a bit too much, or rather too little. Our leaders are going to lose me as an energetic follower, soon, IF they don’t actually lead harder, faster, smarter, and more.

    I agree with Cynthia — except for the ships.

    Be Well,


  26. Stephan says:

    It is time for this new climate deal and the forcasts have to be promising, otherwise our world will change too fast, negatively. Promising new news has to keep us positive, because a positive attitude is exactly what is necessary at this time.

    For more info on the environment, have a look at this Green News.

  27. Jeff Huggins says:

    A Confusion

    It seems to me that some people might be confusing two things, I think, or at least it seems that way sometimes — “positive” and “action”.

    Being “positive”, optimistic, hopeful, etc. while taking action that is actually sufficient to accomplish the task is a positive and productive thing. The two work together.

    On the other hand, being “positive” and optimistic while there is far too little progress, and while too little action is being taken, relative to the problem that needs solving, is about the most unwise thing possible, it seems to me. One of the many reasons is this: It is self-deceiving and it actually enables the problem to continue, insufficiently addressed. We can “hope for tomorrow” — all the way over the cliff.

    I have the feeling that that is just what is happening. Nature doesn’t care if we “try hard” in the way we like to think of ourselves as trying. She only cares about the CO2 (and etc.) we put into the air. Period.



  28. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    With only seconds to midnight, I fear any delay.

  29. Raleigh Latham says:

    Hey guys, I know all this news is horribly discouraging. I’m filled with rage, sadness, and despair when I read the news of this inaction, and when I hear the hundreds of comments by Teabaggers who would have us derail any effort to save our planet. However, The more we push, the more people we get on our side. I haven’t been a climate activist till I started reading this site; and now I try to donate about 1.5K a year from my non-existent student budget to reforestation programs, and I tell all my family to read this site. I’ve even switched to being mostly vegetarian because I know the ecological impact of beef production.

    I have seen despair, and I have seen hope. Driving back from Southern California, I saw thousands of acres of deserted, dry farmland, but I also saw a beautiful sight: hundreds, maybe thousands of windmills which lined the hills of the highway. I see sustainable technology being in use which could sustain entire cities without a drop of gas, and I know our country could make this shift if we put a World-War 2 effort into sustainability.

    It’s an uphill battle, but we should never stop fighting. This is the clearest ideological predicament humans have ever faced, and we must do everything we can to save the planet. Please call your senators NOW.

  30. Neven says:

    Cynthia, it is because we are utterly dependent on fossil fuels. ‘Give me liberty or give me death, but don’t take my iPod away from me!’

    It’s not so simple, unfortunately.

  31. Greg Robie says:

    Jeff (#12 . . . plus a few other #s),

    Without dismissing the point that the media is structurally part of the problem, how about considering the role the medium plays in the problematic dynamics of communication and effecting intelligent social behavior? As you mentioned in a couple of posts (mostly) agreeing with Cynthia, what passes as social discourse—like this commenting on blogs (that is possible due to the changes in the medium)—isn’t the stuff of social change. Isn’t it more like self-aggrandizing piousness?

    Regardless, and relative to your “what next” pondering, the culture us ‘do-you-own-thing’ boomers have effected is not the same one that Gandhi and King could shame into intelligent and enlightened behaviors. Ours is a moral meme shaped by enlightened self-interest, whatever that blindly trusted oxymoron may represent (mindless and systemic pursuit of klimakatastrophe?).

    The medium-driven trend toward the message being about words, speech, visuals—and publication of the same—is why an answer to your pondering has a high probability of being how one walks their talk. The venue for such walking/self-publication is, paradoxically (relative to the trend in the medium), ones local community. The unfolding environmental, social, and economic chaos of the collapsing paradigm of global capitalism means that what yet constitutes our local community is where effecting intelligent social behavior will become most possible as things continue to become worse—more just (more like the world global capitalism, fiat currencies, and fractional reserve banking relegate those we oppress to die in—so that we can live as we have; pursue the ‘wealth’ we have irrationally trusted.

    This point, that effective communication is one’s walk, is not meant to dismiss the networking and communication tools of the medium. After all, these communication tools have been leveraged very effectively to amplify our avarice. It is just that the Internet was designed to have the technical capacity to survive a nuclear strike, not a collapse of the social order. To the degree such is likely, one should not be strategically depended on the Internet to always be there; to be all but free.

    The spin of the essay Richard Pauli linked to (#4), concerning hope, has relevance for considering the medium’s role. While it posits ‘hope’ is an evil, and such, if prescriptive, could be an existentialist’s wet dream, it can also be observed that such impassioned non-hope functions, socially, as its own iteration of hope: in the sense of such being an addictive behavior around which there are voluntary social groupings within which there is a higher probability of feeling successful in effecting communication; effecting behavioral change.

    Hope, defined this way, means that as the means of communication have multiplied, individualized, and the cost of such has raced toward zero, we have arrive in a, pun intended, hopeless situation. Hope has functionally become little more than wishing, and as such, is evil. With ‘hope’ transformed into a wish, talk is rendered cheap, urbane secular intellectual’s existentialism becomes rational, and social discourse that effects intelligent social behavior, scarce as hen’s teeth . . . while a rah-rah rant-arrhea masquerades as entertainment.

  32. Raleigh Latham says:

    As a Rhetoric/Media studies major, I can see how Environmental Rhetoric shapes everything affecting policy. The mainstream Cable and Print media is awash with corporate interests who have no use for reporting “depressing” scientific news, despite its importance. Cable news media seems to rule the opinion of people who are 45+ years old. However, online news networking is extremely influential to audiences 15-30, and is the most important place to make an impact. Because we like in a 24-hour news society, Cable and print news relies on internet journals and newsblogs when they print stories. Instead of focusing on corporate media, we should focus on gaining a massive, active following among Internet communities like the Huffington Post and Media Matters.

  33. Ben Lieberman says:

    The Copenhagen date was never viable given the American political calendar, so both the pro-global warming crowd’s excitment about this and the story of pessimism among some environmentalists could have been written in advance. As for the likelihood that a bill is not goin to immediately make the necessary cuts the key step is to begin to price carbon and other greenhouse gasses as soon as possible.

    What is more worrying than the downgrading of Copenhagen is the letter signed by coal state Democrats where they seem to call for even more leniency toward coal.

  34. Richard Miller says:

    To Bill McKibben, Jeff, Cynthia, and all,

    My view on political action two months ago was that we needed to use the internet to communicate the seriousness of the problem (email everyone on one’s email list, facebook, etc.) and encourage people to write their Senators. Then I read Robert Corell’s study that said that what was presently on the table at Copenhagen was going to get us to 3.5 degrees Celsius. Agreeing to 3.5 degree Celsius, as people here know, is madness. It has become clear to me that we do have to educate people (using all the latest technology), still insist that they write their Senators, but also get people to start thinking in terms of mass demonstrations.

    In 1969 in response to the Cuyahoga river catching on fire 10% of the population (20 million people) went into the streets on Earth Day. These demonstrations were central to the emergence of the EPA and the Clean Water Act.

    I do not think it would be so difficult to get numbers over 20 million out in the streets on Earth Day next April, or even before then. has nearly 2.5 million members, the Sierra Club has 1.3 million members,, which is quite supportive of these issues, has 5 million members. There are other groups and there would obviously be overlap in memberships, but I would guess you have at least 8 million people who are very concerned about these issues and that are members of various environmental groups plus What if a request to demonstrate was put out to all the members. Each person was asked to bring three friends. I think you would get close to 20 million people on earth day. The location for the demonstrations could be decided upon by the local chapters of these groups, which would be in all the 50 most populous cities in the country. This is certainly doable.

    I think Bill McKibben’s organization (, which contrary to the NYTimes coverage, made a real breakthrough on Oct. 24, is already working on demonstrations and thus could be the organization best suited for pulling this off.

    I hope Bill returns to the blog to read this. What do the rest of you think?

    I appreciate all the wisdom from all of you on this site.

  35. Phil Eisner says:

    I see that most, if not all of the comments above displayed unhappiness over the postponement. The postponement appears to be a momentum slower and provides encouragement to the deniers, crucial things we do not need now. Meanwhile, oceans warm, CO2 is released from the hotter water, and this feedback among others like the change in albedo from snow and ice cover, will make it all the more difficult to keep our planet cool. Time is of the essence!!

  36. Leif says:

    Richard Miller, #34: On Nov 3rd at 3:09 p.m. on CP three of us were discussing these same points and have made an attempt to instigate what turned out to be called IMPACT DAY, (International Motivate the President to Act on Climate Day,) We, naively perhaps, picked Thanksgiving Day as a day to swamp the White-house with positive vibes via email, phone, fax, whatever to actively respond to global climatic disruption. We picked the internet as the preferred option as time was short and the logistics of organizing a large crowd was difficult at short notice. Not to mention the “carbon footprint” of such an endeavor. Another suggested day would be the day of transit to Stockholm by the President. Bill McKibben has been contacted by one of the original instigators, Roger, and a meeting was to have taken place today to, among other things, discuss the feasibility of global legs. I have not heard of any out come as yet. I have contacted Richard Cizik, of “Creation Care” to participate as well. (I have “shirt tail” access to him.) Another problem with a crowd is winter time is difficult traveling, which means another 6 months of wasted time.

  37. Jeff Huggins says:

    To Richard Miller (Comment 34)

    To me, that sounds like a very good idea.

    I would hope for more than 20 million, but 20 million is a start. (It makes me wonder what the other 280 million might be thinking, although many of them are less than 8 yrs old or over 70.)

    I’m for it.

    Be Well,


  38. zeleneye says:

    Good news? I think it is pretty naive to assume there will be any better chance of a meaningful binding deal in 2010.

  39. Aber says:

    # David Lewin (Comment 20)
    Before signing the UNFCCC one should look what it is saying:

    Article 1 of the FCCC providing definitions offers none on the term “climate”, and if it had been based on the common explanation on “average weather”, the word “weather” would have required a definition as well. That the drafters failed to do so is a clear indication that they either lacked the scientific competence to do so, or they knew it would make no sense, because ‘average weather’ is statistics, and remain statistics regardless of any name given to the set of statistics. Instead the FCCC defines in
    · Para. 2. “Climate change” means a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.
    · Para. 3. “Climate system” means the totality of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere and geosphere and their interactions.
    Both explanations explain nothing. It is nonsense to say: Climate change means the change of climate, while ‘climate system’ does not say anything more as the interaction of nature. Science is using layman’s terms without being able or willing to define them in a scientifically reasonable manner, or not to use them at all. A detailed discussion is available at:

  40. Joss Garman says:

    I’m surprised you’ve managed to spin this as a positive story Joe.

    It strikes me that the key thing though is that as Rajendra Pachauri said in November 2007, “If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment,” which means – as Obama’s own John Holdren admitted in this interview – – that it has to get done at Copenhagen.

    Holdren said: “We need those things in place no later than about 2012. And if you want those things to be in place no later than 2012, we really should get it done in Copenhagen. That’s the schedule.”

    [JR: We’re gonna get those things in place in 2010. This announcement by world leaders made that more likely. It is a positive story.]

  41. Chris Dudley says:

    October tied October 2003 as the second warmest month on record. September was the second warmest with no rival. Delay seems like something to avoid.

    [JR: I’ll do a post on this shortly.]

  42. mike roddy says:

    I appreciate your persistent optimism, Joe, but don’t see congruence with negotiations in the US Senate. Swing voters like Lugar, McCain, and Lieberman are only going to sign on if they give away more to the coal and natural gas industries. Included will be meaningless sops like including CCS by 2015, etc. If that doesn’t fly, their agenda will be to promote natural gas power, which produces 55% of the CO2 that coal does. Kind of like cutting the baby in half.

    Meanwhile, the very serious problem of North American deforestation is routinely ignored, as plantation biomass plants are planned and no changes to industrial clearcutting practices are even pondered. This has major CO2 implications, as detailed at Bali.

    Change is more likely to happen when the budding rage of the rest of the world is expressed as boycotts of US products, or other hostile actions. Our Senators only respond to what their wallets tell them.

    [JR: Actually, the U.S. climate bill will address domestic deforestation. And yes, I am considerably more optimistic than I was two months ago, based on everything I see happening in DC and around the world. That does not mean this is a done deal. Far from it.]

  43. Chris Dudley says:

    Mike (#42),

    Corralling them into natural gas seems like a good way to go to me. Natural gas generation works well with wind and solar so developing it as a backup infrastructure makes sense. California is already well developed in that sense. Then, as less gas is needed as a result of wind and solar development, biochar production can take over as the gas supply source. That makes a portion of the energy infrastructure carbon negative, which we likely need to get to 350 ppm. I know you worry about a gas price drop stalling solar development, but I see a price floor around $6/mmbtu longterm if shale becomes the main source for natural gas. Solar is on track to get cheaper than that.

  44. Adam Gallon says:

    No big surprise that a December meeting in Copenhagen isn’t too attractive. Needs to be somwhere nice & warm for all the politicians’ wives to go shopping.
    Why’s GISS so out of step with RSS & UAH? Anything to do with E.M. Smith’s ideas?
    The cull of GISS – reporting stations, fewer at altitude, fewer in Northern latitudes, potential for a warm bias when comparing with historic records.

  45. Peter Murtha says:

    I have been following the climate negotiations closely and it has appeared virtually inevitable that a final agreement would not be reached in Copenhagen since it became apparent that a bill would not pass the Senate in time for the negotiations. President Obama’s announcement merely acknowledges the consequence of the timing of the Senate’s work on the bill. That said, people should realize that even the scaled-down goals for Copenhagen will be very difficult to realize, particularly in the absence of the Senate bill. Indeed, I think that the thorniest issues before the negotiators — developed country 2020 targets, commitments by developing countries to GHG mitigation actions or targets, and developed country financing of mitigation, adaptation and technology transfer on behalf of developing countries — are within the ambit of the “politically binding” deal that is envisioned. Nobody should assume that these issues will be readily resolvable at Copenhagen even “in principle.”

    Two other points. I don’t think I agree with Joe with respect to the lack of need for Senate ratification. Even if the U.S. has its way and the agreement is premised on domestic GHG commitments on mitigation (and other issues) — and many observers doubt that this approach will gain consensus — it would still need to be embodied in an international environmental agreement, that is, a treaty. Otherwise, we would simply have 192 nations unilaterally “doing their own thing.” Needless to say, such an approach would raise a host of serious issues, including how to reach the necessary “aggregate level of [GHG reduction] ambition” to stay below 2º C as well as how to ensure that country commitments are in fact met.

    On my other point, I never expected to disagree with Bill McKibben on, well, anything, but I cannot agree that the U.S. media has “done the job” with respect to climate change reporting — though granted, much of the U.S. population seems remarkably resistant to learning. I actually would not single out the New York Times for criticism because they, at least, actively cover climate change issues — far beyond any of mainstream media outlet – though I certainly agree that in an attempt to produce the appearance of even-handedness, they at times ignore the overwhelming weight of the science and give far to much credence and attention to climate change skeptics. The underwhelming performance by the U.S. media is one reason why I regularly consult foreign media sources, especially The Guardian (UK), which sets the standard for environmental reporting.

  46. paulm says:

    Jeff Huggins et al,

    We can have a big direct impact if we had a few million buy a few shares in the emission allowances (EUA) scheme and retire the allowance.

    It cost at the moment around $20 for a ton. A few million people purchasing these would not only limit the CO2 emissions, but drive the price of carbon up in the EU and Europe. (also the best way to offset your private emission in a very accountable manner)

    Visit ….

    TheCompensators* collects money to buy and then delete emission allowances (EUAs) from the European Union Emission Trading Scheme (EU ETS). By doing this we decrease the number of emission allowances available on the markets.

    This process takes place in 4 steps. For further information please see “How to delete EUAs“.

    Furthermore TheCompensators* raises awareness on the problems of the current EU ETS, in which participate only large emitters whereas other important polluters such as traffic are not included.

  47. Anonymous says:

    1. India and China are NOT developing countries, nor are they THIRD world. They are DEveloped, but badly and they are SECOND world countries, not Third world countries. China and India are both Nuclear powers.
    2. The US could apply threats rather than donations to genuinely THIRD world countries to stop the building of fossil fueled electricity in those countries.
    3. Why would the US climate bill contain give away dollars to second world countries? They have no right to tax Americans. China already has a trillion US dollars from trade.
    4. What makes you think that whatever Congress passes in a climate bill is good enough? Clearly it will not be, and it could be repealed next time the repubilcans are in power. The treaty needs to be stronger than the climate bill AND ratified so that it can’t be repealed.

  48. To #44

    didn’t say the media had ‘done the job’ re climate–in fact, the journalistic method has failed about as thoroughly as the scientific method has succeeded in making sense of a complex problem. i just said that regarding our day of climate action at we got amazing coverage around the world, pretty much everywhere except the nyt. and the reason, i think, was that it was unexpected that people would turn out literally everywhere (except north korea) to rally around a scientific data point

    which leads to #34

    i have the feeling doing it on earth day would make it less significant because expected. and i hate to say it but getting millions out is a very hard venture. we’re all trying to figure out what comes next–but oct, 24 took 18 months of nonstop work all over the globe to pull off. organizing turns out to be harder than it looks (or maybe we’re just inefficient at it. I know I am–but my small crew of colleagues at is pretty amazing)

  49. mike roddy says:

    Chris, #43: I agree with you that there is a great niche for natural gas in serving as cloudy and nighttime backup for solar plants. Brightsource and a few other solar companies design on that basis. Biochar sounds promising, but I suggest that interested parties run it by Harmon from Oregon State or Schlesinger of Duke, who are the most credible forest carbon experts. This field is very complex.

    Joe, I’d be interested in the details of the US climate bill negotiations that are supposed to prevent deforestation in the US. I have long experience on this issue, including writing articles and appearing before Congressional committees, as well as being a builder/developer. I would be shocked if either demand side strategies or industrial forestry practices are addressed in the upcoming climate bill. If not, and the focus is on things like reducing deforestation from sprawl, it won’t do much.

    We consume 25% of the earth’s wood products, half of which goes into basically cardboard housing. The same is true for Canadian efforts- by setting aside a third of the Boreal, they just clearcut for paper towels and catalogs that much more in adjacent areas.

    If you think the coal industry is strong in Congress, it’s nothing compared to the timber people. Most Congressional districts have a homebuilder or timber industry presence, and their mantra has never been anything but Keep two by fours cheap and Let us get into the national forests. If they overcome that in the climate bill, I’ll be thrilled, but am not holding my breath.

  50. Peter Murtha says:

    To Bill (#48). Thank God; my record of agreeing with you remains intact. You’re certainly correct about journalism’s shortcomings on making climate change accessible to its readers — I unfortunately read the lengthy comment chain to this article far too quickly, and didn’t appreciate the very limited point (i.e., generally great coverage of 350 climate event) you were making in your earlier comment.

  51. Ric Merritt says:

    This post seems to have generated quite a few comments.

    Bill McK, Dec 12 is my birthday. Thanks!

  52. Jeff Huggins says:

    Hate to Say This, But . . .

    I’m actually coming to think that what we call the media are (with a limited number of exceptions) a much larger part of the problem than Big Coal and Big Oil combined. No joke. And, I’m glad and relieved to have a clearer understanding of Bill’s view of the media.

    I’m nearly at the point where I think it would be more wise, necessary, and just to stop buying The New York Times and, also, of course, to stop having anything to do with Fox and News Corp, and ANY of their products, than to stop buying ExxonMobil products (already done) and those of some other companies, such as Koch.

    But, on the other matter, how to get large numbers of people to do something? I’m thinking about that.

    Be Well,


  53. Richard Miller says:

    To Bill McKibben,

    My suggestion that it would not be so difficult to get 20 million people in the streets was not meant to belittle your considerable accomplishment. My word choice was not the best. What I meant is that it seems to me to be doable.

    I think 350’s approach is the best thing going. Do you think there would be real support from wecansolveit, sierra club,, etc., to pick a date and call on their members to get 3 other friends to join in major demonstrations?


  54. Cynthia says:

    To Jeff Huggins,(#25)– Thank you for understanding! During the Vietnam war, my friends and I were at the capitol, chanting “1,2,3,4, we don’t want your f— war!” They came on horses, chasing us down the hill, and a few people got hit over the head with billy clubs. Still, it wasn’t too bad. (Ha!) Nowdays, unfortunately, they have these little sting guns, what are they called?

    But Hansen has suggested that demonstrations is what is needed. And other scientists have said over and over, that the people have to get involved, the people have to demand change. For a long time I thought that meant education but then I realized, no. It means more. And I think if we wait for Copenhagen it will be too little, too late! Hansen said we can’t lose the arctic! They showed this special on tv, where there was ice in this flask, set over a heater. As long as there was just a little ice, the temperature didn’t change much. But when the ice disappeared, the temperature in the flask shot up dramatically, If this happens in the Arctic, the permafrost, which is already in a state of near collapse and emitting about 50 million tons of methane per year–well, you can imagine what will happen. We can’t refreeze permafrost! It will be over. Some scientists are already saying it’s over. Maybe we bloggers can get together and figure out a way to make this happen! (Mass demonstrations, that is!)

    (There’s an excellent paper on the Internet, by the way,called, “Killer in our Midst– Methane Catastrophes in Earth’s Past and Near Future”, by Dan Dorrite. Stops deniers cold in their tracks!)

  55. Cynthia says:

    Richard Miller(#34), Yep, I agree. I thought the same thing: “educate, tell everyone you know, plaster store walls with signs”, etc. Then, it dawned… time really is down to the last tenth of a second!! Thanks for all your suggestions! I guess the next step would be to get addresses and phone numbers of the organizations you suggested. Hope to keep in touch on this post board! Thank you!!