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What to expect at COP15

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AMERICAN president Barack Obama announced on 25 Nov 2009 that he would be attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP15, in Copenhagen after all, albeit just for a day. Over 60 world leaders including UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Australian premier Kevin Rudd are expected to attend the conference, which will run for two weeks from 7 to 18 Dec.

Additionally, the White House has said it would pledge during the conference to cut its carbon emissions by 17% by 2020. This figure is based on 2005 levels, equivalent to about a 5.5% cut based on 1990 levels. The next day, China announced its own plan to reduce the intensity of its greenhouse emissions per unit gross domestic product (GDP) by 40% to 45% in 2020, compared with 2005 levels. Premier Wen Jia Bao also confirmed his attendance at COP15.

With such announcements from the two biggest carbon emitters in the world, are things looking good at COP15 for a successful new international treaty to address climate change?

Gauging success

Why is COP15 so important? The treaty in Denmark at COP15 will determine how to improve the implementation of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol goals. The Kyoto Protocol was the first binding international agreement which set greenhouse gas emission targets to address climate change.

So, COP15, in a sense, is the world’s “What are we going to do next since we really are not doing enough to save our planet?”

Climate Action Network International has released a checklist to help observers measure and judge the outcomes at Copenhagen. The network says that a fair, ambitious and binding deal must include the following commitment:

Industrialised countries as a group must target to cut their carbon emissions more than 40% below 1990 levels by 2020.

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That would help to limit the rise in global temperatures to below two-degree Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels.

As a developed country, the Obama administration’s pledge is clearly insufficient. The US, unfortunately, is failing to provide much-needed leadership in this global crisis.

China’s pledge, however, has to be read differently. As a developing country, it is not obliged to commit to any emission cuts yet. By voluntarily cuttings its emissions, China is demonstrating its commitment in solving this crisis.

And China is not alone. Indonesia has said it was ready to cut its greenhouse gases by 40% by 2030 compared with 2005 levels; Brazil pledged to voluntarily reduce its emissions by at least 36% by 2020, close to its 1994 emission level; and India is seriously contemplating a 15% to 20% voluntary cut in carbon intensity.

Whose responsibility?

Developed countries such as the US bear a historical responsibility to cut their emissions. They have polluted the Earth for the past two centuries, and it is time for them to step up efforts to clean up the mess they have created.

Scientists claim we are already on course to a six-degree Celsius rise by 2100 — the worst case scenario in terms of climate change. The International Energy Agency estimates that every year of delay in tackling climate change will cost the world an additional US$500 billion to the investment needed between 2010 and 2030 in the energy sector.

Enraged by the industrialised nations’ lack of commitment and refusal to commit to a 40% cut by 2020 below 1990 levels, African negotiators stormed out of the inter-sessional climate meetings leading up to COP15 at Barcelona on 3 Nov. On top of that, Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed announced flatly on 9 Nov that vulnerable developing nations would not sign a “global suicide pact” at COP15.

“We cannot cut a deal with Mother Nature. We have to learn to live within the fixed planetary boundaries that nature has set … Copenhagen is our date with destiny. Let us go there with a better plan … We don’t want a global suicide pact. And we will not sign a global suicide pact, in Copenhagen or anywhere,” said Mohamed Nasheed at the Climate Vulnerable Forum.

If developed countries do not step up to the plate at COP15, they risk being humiliated, just as the US was shamed by a Papua New Guinea representative in COP13 at Bali:

Weary and angered by the US negotiators’ objection to the Bali Action Plan on the last day of the conference, Kevin Conrad told the world’s superpower: “We ask for your leadership. But if for some reason you’re not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us. Please get out of the way.” As a result, the US negotiators backed down within minutes and agreed to “join the consensus”.

Losing faith

Developing countries are not the only ones getting impatient with industrialised nations that keep evading making any commitments on climate change. Some civil society groups have already lost faith in the UN process.

Global Network Climate Justice Action (CJA) is planning a series of demonstrations in Copenhagen during COP15. On 16 Dec, they plan to take over Bella Center, where COP15 will be held, to hold a Peoples’ Assembly there.

“We are going to make that summit one the leaders will never forget … They are the few, yet the consequences of their actions affect every being on the planet. We are going to protest using Non-violent Direct Action because we cannot allow some delegates to endanger the face of the planet anymore. It is time to take the power back,” said CJA on its website.

(Pic by Spekulator /

Other civil society groups are gathering at Klimaforum, the global civil society counterpart of the official UN conference. Klimaforum aims to create an open space where people, movements and organisations can develop constructive solutions to the climate crisis. It will be running parallel to COP15 from 7 to 18 Dec.

World governments may or may not reach a successful deal at COP15. The reality is that reaching any meaningful treaty in Copenhagen will be a gargantuan task. But even if world leaders lack political will to show leadership, that should not prevent others from stepping up to the plate. Even if that means pushing out of the way the leaders who are not willing to save the day.

Gan Pei Ling will be 63 in 2050. She shudders to think about the climate catastrophes her generation will have to endure then as a result of the inaction of some political and corporate leaders today. She will be attending COP15 to work with other youths and activists to remind these leaders that they owe us and future generations a safe and healthy planet.

For other related stories, see In the Spotlight: Climate Change

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2 Responses to “What to expect at COP15”

  1. tzeyeng says:

    Thank you for featuring COP15. it would be interesting to see what Malaysia’s commitment will be. I am looking forward to reading the reports from Pei Ling! 🙂

  2. Hayabusa says:

    I must say, I’m indeed proud to have someone with such vision to be my classmate. You’ve added another inspiration [for me] to better myself as a person, and [reminded me] that that five or 10 marks are really nothing compared to this. Had I known this sooner, I’d have planned to go along. Again, thank you, for siding with Mother Nature.

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