Monday, December 7, 2009

COP15 Copenhagen Summit has finally arrived: Are we still going to play ball?

In my past blog on August 29, 2009 on the current Copenhagen summit, I asked two poignant questions: Is America ready to play ball? Can we afford to continue to ignore the problem of climate change and global warming? Answers to these two questions would probably come to the surface in the current 15th Conference of Parties (COP 15), holding in the city center of Bella, Copenhagen, Denmark.

As we speak, delegates from 193 countries are talking over cups of coffee on the issue of carbon emission, rising sea levels in Island states and many parts of the poorest areas of the world. The concern in the following two weeks, December 6 -18th, was summarized in the opening speech of the United Nation’s Climate Chief, Yvo de Boer, that global warming does not discriminate against any nation, and it affects all of us. In his humble opinion, it is important that advanced countries and societies like United States establish emissions reduction targets and have a financial commitment to help many developing countries address the problem of climate change. This is hardly a high bar of expectation, considering that most countries that bear the greatest burden of carbon emissions, have a GDP that puts majority of their populace living on under $1 a day.

My rhetoric second question about three and a half months ago was answered this morning by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, Ms. Linda Jackson, that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions pose a danger to the public’s health and welfare. This statement probably lays down the groundwork for an economy-wide carbon caps initiative, even if congress fails to enact a climate legislation that has been working its way through congress in the past ten months. With this proclamation, it is safe to believe that the US does not intend to continue ignoring the issue of climate change and global warming.

With the horrendous problems associated with climate change, including rising sea levels that is pushing people away from their only known residences, hotter than usual summers and warmer winters that has been speeding up the melting of glacier ice in the mountains, it is just not normal to continue to look away or deny the obvious. Whether it is true or not that scientists are not in unison with the concept of global warming, it is probably safe to default on the assumption that the problem exists and provide some possible answers to ameliorate the problem, before it becomes a disaster. Now, if in the long run, we were wrong, it is also safe to say, we would have reaped some benefits from learning how to cope with adverse weather condition(s) or curbing excessive carbon emission that could destroy our ozone layers.

The Associated Press reported that President Obama is likely going to commit the US to substantial cuts in greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade. Although the Congress is worried about what this proclamation can do to production processes in our industries, hence business performance during this very trying economic time, activist environmentalists say, it is about time the US shows some leadership in the area of finding solution to the problem of global warming and curbing of carbon emissions and industrial pollutants.

The President, who has been careful in discussing the issue of climate change, and whose EPA has showed some spine in arranging two national conference or summits around the country has indicated some concurrence with the possible impact of excessive carbon waste emmissions and possible impact on global warming. To this effect, the President intends to attend the Copenhagen conference on his way from Oslo to collect his Noble Peace Prize. When he speaks at the conference on Tuesday, December 8, 2009, he is likely to make reference to the new order of choice which America may be coming to, to help combat global warming and carbon emissions. With this step, one can safely assume that the United States is ready to play ball. That despite all the relegation of the importance of this problem by the Bush’s administration, it is now probable that the environmentally conscious world is ready to hear from the big giant in the room, whose support and commitment to reduce carbon emission, is rather essential to the total effort around the globe.

One of the central questions of this conference is how to share responsibilities between developed and developing nation, regarding the cost of carbon emissions. The United States, European Union, China and India have all announced targets for reducing their emissions of carbon dioxide. It is estimated that if US can cut its carbon emissions by about one-sixth in the next ten years it may just be possible to cut down on the global warming experience. However the nation will have to confront other problems like increased cost of energy generation by utility companies, increased gasoline prices and increased cost of building more-fuel efficient automobiles if it totally subscribes to this notion.

While a country like the US is able to manage the challenges of its global contribution of carbon waste, many smaller countries around the world are not so privileged. Connie Hildegard, the Danish minister for the United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen, has admonished countries as the US and European Union to pony up some money to help our poorer neighbors curbing global warming. Such money would be needed for “mitigation, adaptation, technology, and capacity-building in developing countries.” As surmised by Ms Hedegaard. Whether the richer countries are going to live up to this pledge is another issue entirely. Currently, there are some debates regarding how much the poorer countries will need to address these concerns. The European Union is said to have estimated $150 billion and have asked their member countries voluntarily contribute $10 billion annually from 2010 to 2012 on a fast-track basis. Potentially, if the European Union Countries are able to reach an agreement on this pledge, the US would probably have to pony up a similar size in amount for the goal of assisting the less privileged countries combat the problem of global warming in the next decade.

The intricate commitment of the US to this laudable effort may not be buttressed by the ultimate resolution that will come out of this conference. In the recent past, it had become rather obvious that the original goal of the conference, to produce a new global climate change treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto protocol, may not be feasible. There are just too many “Ifs” and “buts” about the goal of the conference and it seems that the largest polluters are not willing to subscribe to curbing carbon emissions. Countries like China, Japan and some European countries, whose economy are now growing at exponential levels, are not willing to compromise to a larger degree to put a dent in the problem. Russia, which has a lot of carbon emission caps to sell, because it has not exceeded its carbon emissions limits under the Kyoto protocols, is probably going to be shopping for buyers of its unexpired caps. The toughest issue is building trust among the biggest polluters: China, USA and Japan, among others. The convolution of these problems and other issue that has to do with national interest as against collective international interest has made the goal of the current conference, probably unattainable during this two-week conference.