Copenhagen Climate Summit Is Near, Climate Treaty May Not Be
A team of 26 scientists has warned that global emissions of greenhouse gases must decline rapidly for the world to have a reasonable chance of avoiding the very worst impacts of climate change. The statement comes in advance of the much-anticipated United Nations' Conference of Parties meeting in Copenhagen that begins December 7.
In a report entitled the Copenhagen Diagnosis, the researchers point out that many observable impacts of climate change, including those affecting the ocean, are greater than models had predicted. For example, summer sea ice extent in the Arctic has declined by a rate 40 percent greater than forecasted, and scientists are revising estimates of sea level rise progressively upward—in some cases, as much as 80 percent above previous figures.
"The science is quite decisive," said Michael Mann, one of the report's authors who is a professor at Penn State University. "There is a very robust consensus about the reality of climate change and the need to confront it quickly."
Officially known as the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)—and more frequently referred to as COP 15—the Copenhagen meeting is intended to devise an international agreement that will come into force on January 1, 2013, superseding the existing agreement on greenhouse gas emission levels, known as the Kyoto Protocol, which was signed in 1997.
Kyoto bound the 37 richest nations to cut their collective emissions by 5.2 percent; the goal for Copenhagen is for industrialized nations to reduce their emissions still further, by up to 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050, while providing a financial package to developing countries to assist them in weaning their growing economies off fossil fuels and adapting to the impacts of climate change.
© Greenpeace / Nick Cobbing
The United States signed the Kyoto agreement under President Clinton, but the U.S. Senate has failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, a crucial step needed to legally bind the United States to meeting emissions reduction targets. Yet not only has the United States increased its emissions during the past 12 years, so have several of the industrialized countries that ratified the treaty. Between them, the United States and China are responsible for more than 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions; the next largest emitter, Russia, accounts for 5.5 percent. Many policymakers believe that any agreement from the meeting at Copenhagen must include the United States and China if it is to be effective.
Although observers are optimistic that the first steps toward a financial package will be agreed, a growing consensus is emerging that Copenhagen will not produce a legally binding successor to Kyoto. It therefore seems likely that Copenhagen will produce a framework agreement that is "politically binding" but not legally so, with individual nations committing to emissions targets but being under no international requirement to meet those targets. One widely raised possibility is the prospect that Copenhagen would instead kick-start a process that could result in a legally binding treaty being signed at COP 16 in Mexico in December 2010.
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