I spent part of this early Antarctic morning on the back deck of the ship reading a summary of the past eleven day’s events in Copenhagen, a long story downloaded at very slow rate from the New York Times. Between readings I looked up, to remind myself where I was, surrounded in a narrow bay by miles of glaciers running down to the ocean’s edge; icebergs calved off the glaciers littered the blue-black sea. It is this very calving and melting of the glaciers which should have been on the mind of everyone who participated in the climate talks in Denmark, because if they continue to dissipate at the current rate, they will help raise sea levels around the world by ten feet or so.
Rather than being filled with optimism after this long-trumpeted confab, without much reading between the lines it’s clear that not a lot was accomplished in Copenhagen other than the expulsion of a lot more hot air.
Some highlights from the Times summary:
- “A grudging agreement to ‘take note’ … not a blinding pledge ….”
- “A compromise seen to represent a flawed but essential step forward many of the delegates of the 193 countries that had gathered here left Copenhagen in a sour mood, disappointed that the pact lacked so many elements they considered crucial …”
- “President Obama called it a ‘modest step.’
- “… The chaos and contentiousness of the talks may signal the end of reliance on a process that for almost two decades had been viewed as the best approach to tackling global warming.”
- “… Virtually impossible to forge consensus among disparate blocs of countries fighting over environmental guilt, future costs and who should referee the results.”
- “… Even if countries live up to their commitments on emissions, a stark gap remains between nations’ combined pledges and what would be required to reliably avert the risks of disruptive change in rainfall and drought, ecosystems and polar ice cover from global warming …”
- “The Copenhagen accord … hardly moved the treaty process from where it was in 2007.”
- “Speaker after speaker from the developing world denounced the deal as a sham process fashioned behind closed doors …”
- “As his motorcade idled in front of the conference center, Mr. Obama took to a rostrum …”
(Per an earlier promise, I tried to search out some figures on the carbon footprint of the event, but found few specific numbers, though I did find others, i.e 1,200 limousines, 140 private jets, 15,000 delegates, 10,000 environmental activists and lobbyists, over 100 world leaders and 5,000 journalists. According to summit organizers the 11-day conference, including the participants’ travel, created a total of 41,000 tons of “carbon dioxide equivalent,” equal to the amount produced over the same period by a U.S. city, population 225,000. Next time, perhaps, try tele-conferencing?)
It’s interesting to ponder all this debate, which seems very far away from where I sit, from a place that is pretty successfully governed by international treaty. The Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1959 by 49 nations, was and is clearly less complex than any international climate change agreement. But, amended in 1991 to exclude any exploitation of oil or minerals until 2041, the Antarctic Treay is proof that countries can come together to try and protect a place. Whether or not they’ll ever do that regarding climate change also seems a long way off.