Copenhagen, Day Three: From Tuvalu to Todd Stern

Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson is reporting on the scene from Copenhagen during the United Nations Climate Change Conference.


The Tuvalu Protocol

At this morning’s plenary session of the Copenhagen climate negotiations, the tiny island nation of Tuvalu called for strengthening the Kyoto Protocol to limit warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, rather than the current standard of 2 ° C. Their proposal to amend the Kyoto Protocol with a new, legally binding agreement to set a target of 350 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere fractured the session, as Tuvalu was supported by other small island states and poor nations in Africa, but was opposed by fifteen richer developing nations, including Saudi Arabia, China, and India. Stabilizing carbon dioxide concentrations at 350 ppm would be 25 percent above pre-industrial levels, but is 10 percent below the present concentration of 390 ppm, so the targets would require significant and immediate reductions in emissions from both developed and developing nations. Tuvalu negotiator Ian Fry told the conference that “our future rests on the outcome of this meeting.”

The chair of the session, Danish conference president Connie Hedegaard suspended the negotiations because an agreement on whether to establish a “contact group” “” a new formal negotiating session “” could not be reached. Outside the plenary hall, activists rallied around the Tuvalu plan.

Developing Development

The negotiators then turned to the challenge of financing and governance of clean-energy investment for developing countries, including the state of the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism CDM). Much time was spent on whether the oil and coal industry’s development of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies should be funded through the Clean Development Mechanism. Saudi Arabia, which earlier endorsed Climategate to deny global warming, called CCS a “win-win” technology.

Meanwhile, forward progress came as the United Kingdom, Mexico, Australia, and Norway released a co-written climate financing governance paper, the first step in unlocking the post-Kyoto global investment needed to prepare nations from the damages of global warming while reducing the pollution that causes it.

United States

At a press conference, chief US negotiator Todd Stern said, “I completely reject the notion of a debt or reparations” in terms of moral responsibility on the part of the United States for its historical emissions, though he recognized the “historical role in putting emissions into the atmosphere.” Stern reminded the press that the United States would never join the Kyoto Protocol structure, instead working towards a parallel international structure that requires both developed and developing countries to make commitments to emissions reductions. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said that the greenhouse gas endangerment finding made yesterday was intended to “make up for lost time,” and would be complementary to whatever legislation Congress enacts.

The Washington Post further damaged its credibility as a paper of record by publishing a Climategate-vs-Copenhagen screed by Sarah Palin, as a climate-denial caucus of Republican House members announced their intentions to head to Copenhagen to tell the world they will work against their president on the international stage. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) stood on the House floor pledging to “fight the globalist clque.”

Pushing Around Targets

Yesterday, South Africa announced it would commit to significantly slowing the growth of their global warming pollution by 2020.

Canada and Croatia took the top “Fossil of the Day” award today for trying to change the 1990 benchmark baseline in the Kyoto Protocol, and Russia took second place because its negotiators announced that President Medvedev’s recently announced reduction targets were merely “political,” rather than a real commitment.

8 Responses to Copenhagen, Day Three: From Tuvalu to Todd Stern

  1. Nic Maclellan says:

    Small Island developing states like Tuvalu are on the climate frontline. Have a look at this recent report from Oxfam on the climate challenge facing the Pacific Islands:

  2. Wit's End says:

    “…Republican House members announced their intentions to head to Copenhagen to tell the world they will work against their president on the international stage”

    umm, isn’t that a violation of protocol if not worse??

  3. Marvelous!

    These small nations are not afraid to tell us the reality of GW.
    If we do not fight GW with all means we have our children would not be able to have a reasonable life. The unrealistic goal of 450 ppm would cause immense damage to the global climate in addition to posssibly triggering one of several catastrophic events we would not be able to control.

    We have a serious failure of the imagination, as the 9/11 Committee told us. It is very hard to comprehend the future under GW. It is beyond human experience. We want to believe it would not be serious and we could control GW.

    It is time to open our eyes and minds to the facts we already see and to the pending dangers ahead.
    We are continuing to wish for “controlled” and “limited” temperature increase. We are playing with fire and this fire is the future of a sustainable climate.

    We must do all that is possible to reduce GW. We have no other option that would not cause immense human suffering on a scale we can not imagine yet.

  4. Ivan S. says:

    How the hell is it possible to get to 350 ppm? Even if all cars, trucks, planes and power plants were shut down today, the best you could expect would be 388 ppm (the same level we’re at now). C02 will not go down, it’ll only stop increasing if all fossil fuel production stopped.

  5. to Ivan:

    actually, forests and oceans suck carbon out of the atmosphere all the time. if we stop putting more in, in the ways you suggest, the level will begin to drop. it will take a while, but we will get back to 350–damage done in the meantime, but less than if we keep going

    to brad–excellent reporting. why is it that we need to rely on tuvalu, a country of 12,000, to actually tell the truth about climate change?

  6. Cynthia says:

    To #3, you are so right! We are walking as if in a dream to the edge of a precipice and we can’t seem to wake ourselves up long enough to take the necessary actions to avoid disaster. I think it’s called cognitive dissonance: when events are so far beyond the ordinary experience that people can’t make sense of it.

    From the book, “The Long Emergency”, the author states, “…throughout history, even the most important and self evident trends are often completely ignored because the changes they forshadow are simply unthinkable. That process is sometimes referred to as “outside context problem”, something so far beyond the ordinary experience of those dwelling in a certain time and place that they can’t make sense of available information. The collective mental state preventing comprehension is also referred to as cognitive dissonance.”

  7. Cynthia says:

    To Bill McKibben: In response to your question– (why we should have to rely on the small island of Tuvalu to tell us the truth about climate change– the needed emissions reduction):

    Because that is the limit they need in order for their nation island to survive. I saw pictures awhile back of Tuvalu and when they went outside to do their every day chores, they were in water up to their ankles. Their island nation is being inundated. They won’t be able to stand more than 1.5 degrees of warming. Their very existence depends on it. And it’s dispicable that the rich nations will not agree to it!

  8. The arguments final targets are a diversion at his stage. World emissions have grown steadily since 1990 and show no signs starting to decline. In fact, the average annual increase was higher for 2003 to 2007 than it was foe 1990 to2006.
    So the first real challenge is to turn around this climb. ( It is not going to be easy. The 6 top contributors to this increase China (56%, India (9.3%), Iran (2.7), Saudi Arabia (2.2) and Australia (2.0) contributed a massive 75% of the climb in world emissions between 2003 and 2007. Both India and China and show no sign of slowing down. (It is worth noting however, that, on a per capita basis Australia’s increase was over twice that of China while India’s was the lowest of the 6 at 20% of the China figure. (The US was second lowest at 26%).

    Very few countries reduced their emissions between 1990 and 2006. Almost all of these reductions could be explained in terms of revolutions and similar. However, it is worth noting that a number of stable countries including all the Scandinavian countries and Europe as a whole reduced their emissions between 2003 and 2007.

    The second obvious challenge is to increase the number of countries that have started reducing their emissions as the result of climate action. Part of the problem at the moment is the widespread fear that reducing emissions will lead to job losses etc. The more examples of countries reducing emissions without the world as we know it collapsing the better. More effort should be made to identify the countries who have programs that are producing results for the right reasons.

    One obvious problem is that it is impossible to set a “fair” targets or agreed methods of auditing performance for each country. As soon as countries hear the words “legally binding” they are going to argue hard to avoid the risk of being disadvantaged. In general terms it is easy enough to give a rough idea of what each country should be aspiring to. We should be looking for commitments and tabulating how countries are going against these commitments – but legally binding?

    It may also help to seek tangible commitments rather than generalized targets. (EX: Install 30 gW of clean generation, introduce regulations to control the average fuel consumption of new cars etc.) Much easier to measure and much easier for countries to understand the implications.

    It may also help to seek things that the key countries can agree on. Examples might include efficiency standards, and the end of building new coal fired power stations.

    Tuvala wil have gained nothing if it’s actions contribute to a conference that commits to nothing.