On December 7, representatives from all 192 United Nations member countries will meet in Copenhagen for two weeks to try to come up with a plan to stop climate change. President Obama will deliver a speech there on December 9, then bolt town for Oslo, where he’ll accept his Nobel Prize. What’s the state of the climate change debate going into Copenhagen?
Will the climate-change email scandal affect things?
In early November, hackers obtained emails from the Climate Research Unit of the Climate of East Anglia in Britain—messages that they claim proved climate change was a hoax. In the emails, the center’s director Phil Jones and Penn State’s Michael Mann attack work that questions climate change and discuss pressuring an academic journal into not publishing such papers. In another email, Jones mentions a “trick” to “hide the decline” in temperatures. Jones has now stepped aside from his post while an inquiry is conducted into the affair.
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Brad Plumer at The New Republic argues that the emails shouldn’t affect the debate on climate change. There is no evidence, he writes, of scientists fudging data—the “trick” that Jones mentions is, in fact, an openly discussed method of linking two data sets that has been used in journals like Nature since 1998. The paper, meanwhile, that Jones and Mann attacks was so controversial when it was published in Climate Research in 2003 that half of the journal’s editorial board resigned in protest.
• Richard Wolffe: Obama’s New Climate PlanWhich country is doing the most to combat climate change?
For the past three years, Sweden has topped the environmental group Germanwatch’s “ Climate Change Performance Watch.” It owes its success largely to a carbon tax introduced in 1991. Between 1990 and 2006, Sweden reduced emissions by 9 percent, exceeding the targets set by the Kyoto Protocol. Over the same time, the country enjoyed economic growth of 44 percent in fixed prices.
Which country is doing the least?
At the bottom of the “Climate Change Performance Watch” list is Saudi Arabia. According to a 2007/2008 United Nations report, Saudi Arabia is second only to the United States in carbon-dioxide-emissions per capita. (The United States was third to last on the Performance Watch list.) It accounts for 1.1 percent of global emissions and only 0.4 percent of the world’s population. Many of its problems result from its government’s opposition to any global action that would affect the price or supply of oil.
Where is the best place to go to survive climate change?
According to Maplecroft’s Climate Change Risk Report, Canada is the best place to survive climate change. Says Andy Thow, one of the report’s authors, “This is because of the low pressure on natural resources resulting from a low population density and large land area, combined with high agricultural capacity, a healthy economy, few development and health challenges and excellent public institutions."
Where is the worst place to be?
Maplecroft says the Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean is the worst, though the Maldives—whose government recently held a cabinet meeting underwater in order to practice for the oncoming catastrophe—might disagree. According to the Maplecroft report, 15 of the 20 most at-risk countries are in Africa.
What have the main parties to Copenhagen pledged so far?
Denmark’s draft proposal for the Copenhagen meetings proposes a 50 percent cut from 1990 greenhouse-gas levels by 2050, with 80 percent of the cuts coming from rich countries. How are the nations doing at meeting these goals?
United States: President Obama is arriving in Copenhagen with a pledge to reduce U.S. emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. That matches the target set by the House climate bill, which passed in June. But any promises might be meaningless if the Senate does not pass climate-change legislation with similar targets. The Senate is not expected to take up the issue until early 2010.
China: The world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases has pledged a 40 to 45 percent reduction by 2020 in carbon intensity, which is not the same thing as carbon emissions. Carbon intensity is the average emission rate per unit of energy produced. Essentially, China’s pledge is to improve energy efficiency but not to reduce overall emissions: Any savings per energy unit will be outweighed by China’s huge increase in gross energy production in the coming years. Chinese President Hu Jintao will not attend Copenhagen; he is sending Prime Minister Wen Jiabao in his stead.
European Union: The European Union has pledged to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by up to 95 percent by 2050 and 30 percent by 2020 if a climate-change pact is sealed at Copenhagen.
Russia: At a European Union summit in November, Russia pledged to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to 22-25 below the 1990 level by 2020.
Brazil: South America’s largest economy is preparing to pledge to voluntarily reduce greenhouse gases by 38 to 42 percent by 2020, based on projected 2020 emissions levels. Brazil is the fourth-largest greenhouse-gas emitter in the world, largely due to the deforestation of the Amazon. Half of the pledged cuts will come from reduced deforestation.
India: The world’s second-largest country has pledged to reduce its carbon intensity by 24 percent over the next decade.
Will they get anything done?
Don’t count on it. President Obama has already ruled out the possibility of a legally binding climate deal at Copenhagen.
What good then can we expect will come of the conference?
Climate-change activists are hoping now that Copenhagen lays the groundwork for a deal in 2010. Speaking to The New Yorker, Eileen Claussen, the president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said “I think the likely outcome in Copenhagen is a ‘political agreement’ that contains the following: commitments (but not legally binding ones) from all the developed countries on what targets they are prepared to meet; a series of actions from developing countries that they are prepared to take; and a small amount of ‘prompt start’ financing, particularly for adaptation and forestry and capacity building. Also important would be some agreement on the framework that is needed for a legally binding agreement, which would include the nature and form of those actions and commitments. … . I do not believe governments in Copenhagen can come to closure on these questions, but some progress is necessary if we are to move expeditiously to a legally binding treaty.”
What do the climate-change deniers have planned?
The United States Senate’s loudest climate-change denier, Senate Jim Inhofe (R-OK), announced in September that he would bring a “truth squad” to Copenhagen in order to “make sure that those attending the Copenhagen conference know what is really happening in the United States Senate.” He revised that downward last month to a “one-man truth squad” who will say “They don’t have the votes. We’re not going to pass it.”
Europeans, meanwhile, are outraged that Nick Griffin, a member of the European Parliament from Britain, will be representing the body at the conference. Griffin said that those who warn about climate change have reached an “Orwellian consensus … based not on scientific agreement, but on bullying, censorship and fraudulent statistics.”