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12.20.2009 - 09:41PM

Category: Environment

Not Done Yet: Climate Talks End Not With a Bang, But A Whimper

Francesca-1_0

By Francesca Rheannon

Some have tried to put a good face on it, but many of those who care about saving the planet from climate catastrophe were sorely disappointed by the non-outcome of the talks in Copenhagen. Yet they saw reason to hope.

Friends of the Earth (whose international division chair, prominent Nigerian environmentalist Nnimmo Bassey, was barred from the talks despite having a badge to enter), warned “against the false conclusion that the UN Climate Conference had adopted a 'Copenhagen Accord’,” as was announced by President Barack Obama. Instead, FOE said, “delegates merely 'noted' the agreement's existence, giving it no force whatsoever.” The Accord was an interim agreement hastily put together by Obama before he left the talks for Washington. But after he left, Sudan and Venezuela opted out. Since any UN accord must be unanimous, that scotched the deal.

The deal itself was greatly watered down from what even the conference leaders -- albeit behind closed doors -- understood is necessary to avert runaway climate change. In one of the strangest moments of drama, a memo was leaked admitting that all the current targets now on the table would add up to an actual increase in global temperatures of about 3.5 C degrees -- 3.5 times the temperature increase the climate scientist James Hansen says is safe. (He says two degrees C. of warming -- the goal of the COP15 talks -- would put the climate back to where it was 2.5 million years ago, when alligators frolicked at the subtropical North Pole). What was strange, alas, was not that the leaders had lied to the world, but that environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben’s name was scrawled over the top of the memo.

McKibben is the force behind 350.org, a global movement to bring atmospheric carbon dioxide down to 350 ppm. President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed called it the most important number in the world. At the 2 degrees C. scenario, his country will disappear beneath the rising waters. But he said he “refused to give up hope,” pledging his nation to carbon neutrality by 2020, fueled entirely by renewable energy.

Perhaps the most hopeful sign was the engagement of civil society all around the globe in pressing the case for effective action. Nearly fifteen million signatures were gathered in a few days for a petition to the world leaders gathered in Copenhagen asking for a “fair ambitious and binding deal”. McKibben’s 350.org reported 5200 events in 181 countries for the Week of Climate Action coinciding with the talks.

Some of those millions of concerned citizens around the world made their voices heard on the UN’s COP15 website. 15,447 sent poignant pleas addressed, “Dear Leaders of the World”, like this one: “don’t let us down. Our future is in your hands.” But the one that summed it up the best was this one: “Dear Leaders of the World, years from now when you look back at this conference and the role you played in it, will you stand proud or will you be wrought with guilt?”

The great visionary Mahatma Gandhi led a popular movement against impossible odds to wrest independence from one of most powerful empires in human history. Perhaps, like he said, “if the people lead, the leaders will follow.” Because, as 350.org put its conclusion about COP15: “Needed: 350ppm; Negotiated: 770 ppm; Verdict: not done yet.”

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