Beyond Copenhagen: Prepare for Climate Chaos


Friday, December 18th, 2009 was one of the saddest days of my career. The Copenhagen Climate Conference had ended with a non-binding Copenhagen Accord. And no one knew what it meant. When I returned to the negotiating center, it was as empty as the Copenhagen Accord. The NGO and government leaders had abandoned the center. And the accord’s emission reduction commitments were blank.

On January 31st, we got to see what the pledges are. The small island nation of the Maldives has committed to 100% mitigation by 2020. The Maldives foreign minister announced, “The Maldives’ submission of its mitigation action is voluntary and unconditional…The Maldives looks forward to its mitigation action being registered and publicly available.” That’s leadership.

The United States has committed to reducing emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. While this is just 4 percent below 1990 levels, it is an important first step in moving the U.S. economy from carbon growth to carbon decrease. While the scale may be off, the direction is at least (finally) right. As a U.S. citizen, this commitment from the Obama administration is exciting; it means they are going to have find some way to reduce U.S. emissions.

Whether that is investments in wind and solar, or paying farmers to store carbon in their soils, I’m encouraged. The U.S. and Maldives expressed their commitments in terms of decreases in emissions.

Some of the other nations to ratify the Copenhagen Accord have used other mechanisms. China and India have pledged to reduce the carbon intensity of their economies by 45 percent and 25 percent, respectively. This means for every dollar of gross domestic product those countries produce, they will decrease the amount of greenhouse gas that they emit. One way to think of this kind of commitment is an increase in the greenhouse gas efficiency of the economy.

Indonesia and other nations have committed to reduce their emissions below projected levels. This means that if current rates of change were to continue, Indonesia (for example) would emit a certain level of greenhouse gases. They have committed to reaching a target of 26 percent less than that level.

So what does this all mean? According to the Sustainability Institute, it means 3.9 degrees of warming.

Well below the goal of 2 degrees, this political reality means that we’d better get ready for a physical reality of climate chaos. I’m looking forward to sharing my ideas, and hearing your ideas, of how to find hope in a changing climate.

For more information on climate pledges, visit the USCAN webpage.

Article by Eliav Bitan appearing courtesy Celsias.

photo: IronRodArt

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.


  1. I agree – business leadership, and also local/regional leadership. There is incredible initiative in several cities around the world to become the first “carbon-neutral” city. This localized spirit of competition and development may be our best hope in the face of insufficient action by policymakers.

  2. I agree with you that it’s disappointing but it reinforces a belief I’ve had for a while: leadership in addressing the climate challenge will not come from policy makers and political posturing. The only way we’ll see true change in a [mostly] capitalist world will be through business leadership. Businesses have played a major role in creating the problem and businesses have the ability–and responsibility–to craft the solution(s).

    Businesses, be responsible!

    Consumers, demand that your providers be responsible and vote with your dollars!