Friday, December 18, 2009

Latest Word from Copenhagen: Greenwash


I just happened to be up in the middle of the night, sleepless, when the latest word from Copenhagen came in.  It is not good, but it's best we know the real truth, I suppose, than a story designed to make us feel good.  We can watch a film if we want that--like this one, or if you don't care for quality, try something from these guys.


Before you read latest update from the "Legal Adviser to an international environmental organization", don't forget, you can still call or write the President of the United States to demand a real deal.  You can read how my call went here.  And for those of you who would like some more background on the issues, here are a few resources:

If you are confused about "emission intensity" or "carbon intensity", we explain them simply here. For the Green Light Dhaba's introduction to the Copenhagen talks, including our five decade forecast, go here.  For a very good response to a recent piece in the Times of India, check out "Weather ain't the same as climate, Mr. Aiyar." by Suvrat Kher.

If you are reading from outside of India, and wonder how it is possible that we have such low per capita emissions, you might want to check out: "The World is Not Fair and the GDP is Stupid: economics for 9 year olds"; and our photo essays on pedal power and animal power.


Here's one more plug for Beyond Copenhagen ("A collective action against climate change from India"); it has interesting photos and blog posts from Copenhagen. And of course, the Indian Youth Climate Network have all kinds of things going on both on the ground in Delhi and on line.  

Now here's the latest news from Copenhagen. 


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Twenty-four hours from now, you will likely be reading news stories about the final agreement in Copenhagen. Until a few minutes ago, I assumed that those stories would include glowing quotes about the miraculous final deal that 194 nations reached to stop climate change and save the world. Sure some details were going to be left to be worked out later, but leaders would have agreed to a plan that put the world inextricably on a path, they would say, to avoiding dangerous climate change.

But something truly miraculous really did just happen. Someone broke the rules and the story of these talks is now forever changed.

The Guardian has just received a leaked draft internal document from the United Nations Climate Secretariat’s office, where I worked until two weeks ago, that clearly shows that implementing all of the promises leaders have made thus far to reduce emissions clearly puts the world on a path to nothing less than climate disaster.

The debate among most scientists today to identify a global target for greenhouse gas concentrations generally ranges between 450 and 350 parts per million. The 350 ppm camp is gaining support, with some calling for even lower numbers. We are now at about 387 ppm and rising fast, meaning rapid reductions are needed immediately.

Here at the U.N. negotiations, most countries originally had supported an upper limit of 450 ppm, but now more than half of countries support a target of 350 ppm or lower. Unfortunately, the powerful countries like the U.S. still support a global deal that aims at 450 ppm and a temperature rise of no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit). We are at about 0.8 degrees and rising now.

The deal that world leaders planned to sign tomorrow was likely going to claim that it would result in limits of 450 ppm and a 2 degree temperature rise. But the leaked document tells a very different story. Analysts within the U.N. aggregated all of the promises and pledges made by all countries thus far. They looked at a number of economic scenarios and calculated the result of a deal that assumed all promises made were honored. The analysis shows that our leaders were prepared to sign a deal that condemned the world to a possible concentration of 550 ppm and a global temperature rise of 3 degrees. I don’t have the time to tell you how horrible it would be if the global warming we have now were allowed to almost quadruple. The deal would truly be a global suicide pact.

But now the miracle has happened. Some gutsy U.N. bureaucrat broke the rules. Maybe he or she saw the tears in the many eyes of the international youth delegation that sat down in the middle of the convention center yesterday and read for hours from the millions of names on the petitions they had circulated around the world begging leaders not to leave them a ruined world. Maybe he or she has a child too.

All day our strategists and communications people have been discussing how we are going to overcome the powerful public relations apparatus of the world’s richest nations, ready to spin a Copenhagen story of success with smoke and mirrors. Their job just got a lot tougher.

Of course, as I last wrote, President Obama still has the power to lead the U.S. to a commitment that unlocks a deal that truly addresses the problem in a scientifically defensible way. But few are now expecting that to happen. Instead the overwhelming evidence points to a deal that, no matter what our leaders say, is a total failure to address the severity of the climate problem.

Now we have the proof.

Read the Guardian story and review the analysis yourself here.


This battle to protect our climate is going to go on for many decades. We are going to lose this round. But at least we aren’t going to kid ourselves that we have won and stop fighting.

2 comments:

  1. yes, well - as naomi klein says, it's better to have no deal than this one.

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  2. If deal makes us complacent, but doesn't solve the problem, then I suppose it does more harm than good. I've got to actually read what Naomi Klein wrote; I read The Shock Doctrine last year and I've seen links to some recent stuff on this by her, but it's gotten lost in the shuffle. Good thing there is google.

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