Copenhagen. You’ve probably heard the name of the Danish capital about a thousand times in the past month or two. Or maybe you haven’t, and it’s just starting to pop up in your local nightly newscast.
What happens at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this month could very well alter the future of businesses and lifestyles around the globe. No matter where you fall on the spectrum of environmental concern (or if you’re on it at all), Copenhagen is going to be a big deal.
More than 10 years ago, countries around the world joined an international treaty, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), working to reduce global warming and to cope with whatever temperature increases are inevitable. Representatives from these 192 countries will meet at the Conference to work toward a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
The Convention on Climate Change establishes a setting to discuss legally binding means of addressing these issues, and it “recognizes that the climate system is a shared resource whose stability can be affected by industrial and other emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.”
The Copenhagen Diagnosis: 2°
The recently released Copenhagen Diagnosis is a compendium of the most current, peer-reviewed science behind climate change theory. Its research is an update of the information previously released in the groundbreaking Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report published in 2007.
According to the Diagnosis, “The atmospheric CO2 concentration is more than 105 [parts per million] above its natural pre-industrial level. The present concentration is higher than at any time in the last 800,000 years, and potentially the last three to 20 million years.”
Additional findings from the report:
- Satellite and direct measurements now demonstrate that both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass and contributing to sea level rise at an increasing rate.
- Sea level has risen more than 5 centimeters over the past 15 years, about 80 percent higher than IPCC projections from 2001. Accounting for ice-sheets and glaciers, global sea-level rise may exceed 1 meter by 2100, with a rise of up to 2 meters considered an upper limit by that time.
- In 2008, carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels were approximately 40 percent higher than those in 1990.
“The reconstruction of past climate reveals that recent warming in the Arctic and in the Northern Hemisphere is highly inconsistent with natural climate variability over the last 2000 years,” said Dr Alan Haywood, reader in paleoclimatology at the University of Leeds, U.K., and one of the authors of the Copenhagen Diagnosis.
The take-home message: The report concludes that global emissions must peak then decline rapidly within the next five to 10 years for the world to have a reasonable chance of avoiding the very worst impacts of climate change. This means that global temperature changes should not exceed a 2 degree Celsius increase above pre-industrial values.
OK, so all this jargon sounds great, but what does it mean for us?
Climate Change Policy and You
Even though polar bears on melting ice, and even Denmark, may seem too far away to be relevant to life here in the U.S., the decisions reached at the Conference will have resounding effects across the global economy.
The Diagnosis recommends that to stabilize the climate, “a decarbonized global society, with near-zero emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, needs to be reached well within this century. More specifically, the average annual per-capita emissions will have to shrink to well under 1 metric ton of CO2 by 2050.”
To put it in perspective, this figure is 80 to 95 percent below the per-capita emissions in developed nations (that’s the U.S.!) in 2000.
At this point in time, educated speculation is our only means of guessing, but one thing is for sure, change is in the air.
Governments have cautioned that the conference is unlikely to produce a binding agreement to substantially cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases at this point.
However, others disagree with this forecast. “To me, there is enough reason to have a sense of optimism right now that a deal could be made in Copenhagen that is not just a political deal, but is meaningful in terms of the scientific targets,” said Achim Steiner, director of the UN Environment Program.
“We just hope we can work together in a way to avoid the mistakes that we made that have created a large part of the problem that we face today,” said Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Systems to mitigate carbon emissions may be put in place here in the U.S. New technologies and cleaner power will probably be in the mix with these adjustments. However, what will actually happen here at home is still part of a cloudy future.
Even if the environment doesn’t fall on your top 10 list of priorities, discussions about climate legislation at national and international levels will affect your lifestyle in the long run. The important factor is to be as educated as possible about the politics, policies and science at hand, and to decide what aspects are most important to you.
“Global climate change is by far the most complex issue we’ve taken on,” said Kevin Tuerff, president of EnviroMedia, a green marketing firm. “But we have faith Americans will contribute to the solution if they take time to understand the connection between our everyday lives as consumers and important issues like cap and trade being discussed in Copenhagen at the United Nations climate change conference.”