The UN Climate Change Conference opened in Copenhagen this morning, with conference President Connie Hedegaard of Denmark telling delegates from 192 nations that they must take action now or risk putting off for years a crucial agreement to curb global greenhouse gas emissions.
“This is our chance,” said Hedegaard, Denmark’s former minister for climate end energy. “If we miss it, it could take years before we get a new and better one — if we ever do.” After weeks of pessimistic forecasts about what the 12-day conference might accomplish, the mood among participants was more upbeat following news that U.S. President Obama will appear at the end of the conference and that China would agree to reduce by nearly half the so-called carbon intensity of its economy — the amount of energy used per unit of gross domestic product. Today’s opening session featured video clips from children around the world urging delegates to act to stave off catastrophic global warming. A 24-year-old from Fiji wept as she presented a petition from 10 million people asking the conference to forge a deal to save low-lying islands like hers from rising sea levels.
This week, delegates are expected to work on a draft of the treaty, but any major decisions will be made next week when environment ministers, as well as heads of state from 110 nations, descend on Copenhagen. “The time for formal statements is over,” said Yvo de Boer, the UN’s top climate official. “The time for restating well-known positions is past. Copenhagen will only be a success if it delivers significant and immediate action.”
The most important challenges at Copenhagen include coaxing countries to commit to firm emissions reductions targets and bridging the divide between industrialized nations and developing countries. One key issue, according to Hedegaard and de Boer, is the need for developed countries to immediately create a fund to help poorer nations adapt to global warming and adopt renewable energy technologies. The Web site, Politico, lays out what it calls “Five Keys to Copenhagen,” which also include persuading China to commit to more aggressive emissions cuts, securing a commitment from the Obama administration that Congress will pass climate legislation, and using Obama’s presence to catalyze an agreement.
Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said that even without Congressional action, Obama could take administrative action to regulate and sharply reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Meanwhile, numerous officials led a counterattack against global warming skeptics, who have capitalized on a controversy over purloined e-mails from climate scientists to dismiss the risks of global warming. Ed Miliband, the UK climate change secretary, called global warming deniers “profoundly irresponsible,” while Pachauri said that the vast majority of the world’s climate scientists are in agreement that global warming is an urgent threat caused by the burning of fossil fuels.
Article appearing courtesy of Yale Environment 360