Despite the great snow in DC last week that halted just about everything else, a talk on climate change was still held in downtown DC.  Of all meetings to be held amidst the record-breaking snowfall, it was appropriate that one discussing climate change would still be held.  Though individual weather events are not climate, as climate changes, more extreme weather events are predicted to happen.

Todd Stern, the Special Envoy on Climate Change who represented the US in UN negotiations in Copenhagen, spoke to a packed room at the Center for American Progress about what happened in Copenhagen, where we are now, and where we will go.

Essentially two narratives of Copenhagen have emerged.  Some people say that the COP15 was a failure, as they didn’t accomplish what they set out to do within the UN process.  No fair, ambitious, and binding treaty was signed.  Others call the climate change conference a last-minute success, as many countries agreed to the Copenhagen Accord, which is a politically–not legally–binding document.  The Accord quantifies climate change with the goal of limiting change to 2 degrees Celsius.  For the first time, countries agree to reduction targets, which they successfully submitted by the end of January.  Countries need to “sign on” or indication an association with the Accord.  Some people are concerned because this was accomplished outside of the UN process, though others applaud that something, anything, happened.

The reality is that countries came into the meeting with deep gaps in their positions on climate change within the UN process, and these gaps didn’t narrow prior to the meetings in Copenhagen.  There is clearly a difference in opinions about how much the developing countries should do in terms of their commitments to climate change in comparison with how much the developed countries should do.  This is partly based on the weight that is given to historic contributions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, as the US has contribute a significant proportion of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere today.  Todd Stern made it clear that the US position is that both developing AND developed countries need to share the burden dealing with climate change.  He also made it clear that it is vital for congress to pass climate change legislation this year, both because of the need for emissions reductions but also so China doesn’t dominate the emerging green economy.

I think that is something that Todd Stern has right on.  We need climate legislation, and we need it now.  It gave me hope that that so many people turned out the meeting amidst all the snow in DC.  We need to continue these conversations and move them into action.  The Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice in the Greater Washington area are having a program called “After Copenhagen: How Should Our Chesapeake Region UU Community Take Action?” on March 6th.  If you’re in the area, come check it out!

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Rowan Van Ness

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