COP 15: What Just Happened?

December 22, 2009 · Posted By Amanda Stupi · Filed Under environment, international news, news, politics, Uncategorized 

87638111By Molly Samuel

Christmas is looming, New Years’ plans are starting to take shape, and the best song, movie, and book of the decade lists are too numerous to count. Not to mention the fact that the Senate seems to be on its way to passing its version of the health care bill. It all makes the climate talks in Copenhagen seem like they happened so long ago. But the talks went on into weekend. World leaders stayed up all night Friday night trying to reach an agreement, and everyone else is still trying to sort out what it all means.

The hope was that the climate conference in Copenhagen would result in a legally binding agreement on the global response to climate change. That didn’t happen. There’s no legally binding agreement. President Obama worked with other world leaders to create a document, now being called the Copenhagen Accord, and other countries, officially, will “take note” of it. There are some good things in the document: developed nations will give $100 billion dollars to poor nations to help them weather the effects of climate change. Countries will work together to try to keep the world from warming more than two degrees Celsius. Money will go to countries that have historically profited from deforestation to help them preserve their forests. Countries will monitor their emissions.

That all sounds pretty ambitious, so why has the response around the world been mostly disappointment? Well, most importantly, again, it’s not legally binding. In a backwards way of softening that blow, Obama mentioned that the Kyoto Protocol was legally binding, and that didn’t work so well anyway. Activists say the emissions goals are not ambitious enough to preserve our world and climate as we know it. Small island nations are concerned that they’ll end up underwater if we can’t keep the globe from heating up more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. The UN process is being called into question: since any agreement has to be unanimous, is it actually possible to reach one, or does the future of climate change discussions lie in smaller groups of nations working together?

So the climate conference wrapped up with a lot of questions, a non-binding document, and wilted fanfare. But it’s not the end of the world (yet). Smaller entities like states, cities, provinces, and regions can continue to make their own headway on reducing their contributions to climate change and preparing to survive any ill effects that can’t be avoided. And the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meets again for COP16 this time next year in Mexico City.

To learn more about what happened and didn’t happen at Copenhagen, visit KQED’s Climate Watch blog:

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