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News, opinion and analysis from the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

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Debatewise: Hot air in a cool climate

Posted by Copenhagen
  • Thursday, 17 December 2009 at 03:00 pm
Maybe it’s because it’s the pantomime season, but the Copenhagen climate change conference is sliding slowly towards farce. The rich countries, major developing countries and the small island states can’t agree on who should cut emissions, how deep those cuts should be, and how much aid should go where – which just about sums up the whole basis of the agreement.

This is despite efforts including Gordon Brown arriving at the summit days earlier than planned to try and sort things out, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying the US was prepared to work with other countries towards mobilising $100bn a year to help meet the needs of developing countries.

Japan has already promised poorer nations $10.6bn over three years, while and a six-member group, of Australia, France, Japan, Norway, the UK and US will also commit $3.5bn over the same period to combat deforestation. Most of the proposed funding is dependent upon an agreement being signed at Copenhagen. However China has said that, even though it remains committed to negotiations, it sees no possibility of a detailed agreement to tackle global warming coming out of Copenhagen.

The problems seem to be not just about the money and a 2C, 1.5C or even 1C limit, but the fact that the talks have descended into a labyrinth of talks about the talks, rather than about the agreement itself – a point raised by Ed Miliband, the UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary. After more than 12 meetings in 24 hours – and after waiting more than 20 hours for one group of nations to assemble – he voiced his frustration that the main problems were over ‘procedural wrangling’: “It would be a tragedy if we failed to agree because of the substance but it would be a farce if we failed to agree because of the process”, he said. The final two days of the conference should be the part where the agreement is nailed down by heads of state and government.

Some 130 world leaders are due to join the talks today, hoping to sign the climate change agreement tomorrow, when President Obama arrives also. In answer to rumours that he might not attend, Hillary Clinton said: “The President is coming tomorrow. Obviously we hope there will be something to come for”. A non-result would be a major embarrassment for all kinds of reasons. Not the least of which is because of the subject of this conference.

It would mean that all the extra energy and CO2 generated by the hundreds of flights to and from the conference, all the commuting, heating the conference and hotels, the food and other consumables, not to mention the amount of waste produced and the paper used – was all generated for nothing more than a load of hot air.

So what do our Debatewise Global Youth Panel debaters think? When it started to become clear that there was a very real threat of the target of the summit not being reached, we posted the debate: ‘Can leaders manage a deal in the last two days?’ And, even after almost two weeks of observing the climate change conference, so far the majority of our GYP (64%) remain optimistic that a deal will be done, against 27% who think it won’t. The last word should then go to one of our ‘Yes’ debaters: “I still have hope, and it’s the hope that will make me go on and keep hoping for a fair climate agreement”.

Global Youth Panel.
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