Brazils Lula turns Copenhagen pledge to cut CO2 emissions into law

Plus a review of the best analyses on the UN climate conference

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva signed a law Tuesday requiring that Brazil cut greenhouse gas emissions by 39 percent by 2020, meeting a commitment made at the Copenhagen climate talks.

Brazil announced at the summit a “voluntary commitment” to reduce CO2 emissions by between 36.1 and 38.9 percent in the next 10 years.

For me, the Copenhagen “glass” is 2/3 full, since the point wasn’t just the meeting, but the remarkable commitments that countries made leading up to the meeting by the biggest emitters, the ones who hold the fate of the planet in their hands (see “What Bill McKibben doesn’t like about the Copenhagen Accord is precisely what I like about it“).

Since so much of the reporting and analysis on Copenhagen has been dreadful, I’m going to review below what I think are the best essays on it (with links).  I’ll start with the key point CAP’s Andrew Light explained about those commitments:

When you add up everything that the 17 largest economies have on the table, not for a treaty mind you, but awaiting domestic action that could happen regardless of a treaty such as the US legislation, then we are 5 gigatons away from commitments that should get us on a 450ppm stabilization path by 2020, essentially 65% of the way there.  Given that the world has managed to get on a potential track in that direction with the world’s largest historical emitter pretending nothing was happening in the mean time and, only trying to catch up recently, isn’t bad at all.

Here’s Jeremy Symons, Senior VP for Conservation and Education at the National Wildlife Federation, on the Copenhagen Accord:

I am encouraged by five things from the Accord agreed to here in Copenhagen: The China breakthrough, President Obama’s leadership, new initiatives to protect tropical forests and provide humanitarian aid, and a way forward to a better, more complete deal in 2010. The discouraging part is that the Accord is incomplete and did not convert this rare gathering of world leaders into an ambitious plan for action. Here’s more on why the dramatic rescue of the Copenhagen Accord over the last day was important….

Here’s the NY Times editorial on Copenhagen:

For the moment it is worth savoring the steps forward. China is now a player in the effort to combat climate change in a way it has never been, putting measurable emissions reductions targets on the table and accepting verification.

Here’s the bottom line from NRDC’s David Doniger, who was director of climate change policy at Bill Clinton’s EPA (see “The Copenhagen Accord: A Big Step Forward“):

Give up the sour and grudging reviews. The Copenhagen Accord is a significant breakthrough that signals a new era of effective cooperation between all major emitters, and opens the door to finally enacting U.S. climate and energy legislation next year.

Here’s the bottom line implications for the U.S., from Dan Weiss, CAPAF’s Director of Climate Strategy:

The newly inked Copenhagen Accord, along with other factors, increases the odds for Senate passage of clean energy jobs and global warming legislation.

For more on what this means for U.S. action, see Top staffer for Lugar (R-IN) labels Copenhagen Accord a “home run”; Murkowski (R-AK) says “China and India stepping forward “¦ is progress.”

And finally, here’s the conclusion from the extensive, must-read analysis, “What Hath Copenhagen Wrought?” by Robert Stavins, Director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program:

We may look back upon Copenhagen as an important moment “” both because global leaders took the reins of the procedures and brought the negotiations to a fruitful conclusion, and because the foundation was laid for a broad-based coalition of the willing to address effectively the threat of global climate change.  Only time will tell.

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5 Responses to Brazils Lula turns Copenhagen pledge to cut CO2 emissions into law

  1. espiritwater says:

    From what I’ve read on Peak Oil, there won’t be enough time to make the transition from Petroleum-based society to one based on Clean Energy. Hopefully, they’re wrong, but that’s what all the websites on Peak Oil are saying. When one thinks about the enormity of the situation— almost 7 billion people, all with fossil fuel based lives, how in the world can we make such an enormous transformation, especially considering that Peak Oil has most likely already occurred?

  2. NFJM says:

    Peak oil is a very “US centered” problem as most other nations, including industrialized countries consumed half the oil the US do per capita.

    Let’s keep in mind that the real dangered is the resurgence of a coal based economy combined with a low efficiency infrastructure (=a lot of coal for a low level of energy service).

    The transition away from oil can happen in two (perhaps simultaneous) directions. The first is toward unconventional oil sources, the second is through substition by energy efficiency and low carbon sources. Avoiding the unconventional oil sources which are likely to be very CO2 intensive (oil shale, tar sands, coal to liquid etc.) requires political will. Nothing else.

    The transition will happen whether we like it or not. The sole difference is in terms of planning as 1) if we do not plan the transition will happen as result of skyrocketing oil prices(short supply) while 2) if planned the transition can be achieved in a sustainable manner without peak in costs.

  3. Stephen Watson says:

    ‘Peak oil is a very “US centered” problem as most other nations, including industrialized countries consumed half the oil the US do per capita.’


    If the world needs X million barrels per day to function as it does today, then what happens when only (X – 1) barrels are available? Answer – the world will have to go with less oil. So let’s say your country currently runs using 20% of X barrels per day, you’re going to have to make do with, say, 18% of X. What cuts are you then going to make? Less power generation, less food transport, less aviation, less heating? Any or all? Something has to give. If your country could run on less oil than it uses today then it obviously would otherwise you’re just buying/using it for the hell of it.

  4. David B. Benson says:

    Stephen Watson — Sunday drive in the country? Too lazy to convert your heating oil furnace to natgas+solar? Don’t bother to schedule your trips to the store, just go whenever you run out of something?

    And on and on…

  5. NFJM says:


    The US is with Saudi Arabia and some others one of the few to still have quite a substantial share of oil in power generation. In most other countries, oil in power generation is minimal (see IEA figures).

    I am just making the point that for an energy efficient economy, more of the expense is in the energy conversion equipment and its financing (Capital expenses) and variable costs for the production of the energy service (Operating expenses) are smaller. This is why the US is much more vulnerable than other economies to an increase in oil prices.

    When high oil prices hit again the US SUV will stay at home while the bus bringing 20 Indian IT engineers to work will still be an economically viable expense in relation to the creation of wealth.