Week Two

Delegation seating in main plenary hall, Bella Center.

Delegation seating in main plenary hall, Bella Center.

Week two of a COP conference is when the advance teams and assistants give way to world leaders, who lock the doors behind them and work out the deals that become a protocol. So far the prospects look dim for COP15: African and island state delegations boycotted the talks yesterday, arguing that developed nations needed to commit to deeper emissions cuts than had been offered. The U.S. and China have been trading accusations since the U.S. demanded that China submit to independent verification of its emissions.

So there may be a feeling of pessimism that this conference will produce anything solid, anything that will effect positive change. I see it a different way. I see progress coming from the periphery of this conference.  My hunch is that countries will come to embrace emissions reductions and alternatives to oil as a matter of domestic policy rather than as a means of compliance with international treaties. A China, for instance, might choose to stop investing its plentiful cash in U.S. bonds but instead put it into its own infrastructure. The global downturn could provide the breather the country needs to stop building coal-fired power plants at a weekly rate and raise the profile of wind and solar in its energy portfolio.

I see hope in the kinds of things that people ask questions about here at Bella Center. I’m thinking of the Kenyan researcher interested in the links between ocean acidification as a threat to tourism as coral reefs dissolve and die, becoming uninteresting to sport divers. No need to convince him that it pays to go green.

The issues that our scientists brought to COP15 — from the need to verify emissions to make carbon markets work to the rising threat of ocean acidification— gained traction among the media and high-ranking delegates. During COP15, NOAA Adminstrator Jane Lubchenco and London’s Sunday Times used the same term — “climate change’s evil twin” — to describe ocean acidification. Fresh from his time at COP15, our Veerabhadran Ramanathan attended the annual American Geophyscial Union meeting in San Francisco. His description of his Project Surya drew a packed audience.

Today, Tuesday, most of the Scripps delegation left town. The departed were fortunate to avoid a confusing United Nations scheme to address overcrowding that will progressively scale back the numbers of NGO members allowed at Bella Center. They are doing this to deal with an apparently unforeseen onslaught of press and delegates Even holders of the prized “secondary passes” issued this past weekend had to spend hours in bitter cold in queues outside the building before being separated from those awaiting basic credentialing. That was really the only downside of the event. Terrible planning.

COP15 Tourist

COP15 Tourist

But as the science is winding down, the conference and Copenhagen itself are gearing up for a final act that will involve most of the world’s heads of state. Climate change events and demonstrations continue and the city is draped in advocacy-group slogans. One gets the impression, though, that only a portion of this activism is for the conference. Copenhagen seems like a city that lives green all the time, not just when the world is watching. The public transportation is advanced, everyone rides a bicycle (naturally the people are all the fitter for it), the country gets 21 percent of its power from wind. Somehow these people are happy even without using foreign oil. Mystifying.

The beautiful city’s remarkable commitment has made it a model during the conference. Can other cities be like this?

Of course — though I think Mexico City has its work cut out for it before it hosts the next Conference of the Parties.

Signing off from Copenhagen.

–Robert Monroe, Scripps public information officer and editor of explorations

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