I have a column out today in the UMD newspaper The Diamondback about the upcoming Copenhagen negotiations, along with a call for the US to do more. It’s difficult to write about Copenhagen in only 550 words given the complexities, along with the reality that the readers don’t know a lot about the issue. A few of the takeaway points I wanted to hit on were
1. The planet is warming.
2. China is not an excuse for inaction.
3. We need to do more than we’re doing, and show leadership.
Copenhagen and climate: Going all-in
By Matt Dernoga
Less than a week from now, crucial international negotiations will take place in Copenhagen. At stake is the replacement of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, set to expire in 2012. The Kyoto Protocol is largely considered a bust, since major emitters such as the United States didn’t participate.
However, collectively, the European Union is on track to surpass its Kyoto goal of reducing emissions 8 percent below its 1990 levels by 2012 by achieving a 13 percent reduction. Contrary to arguments from detractors, the European countries that participated in a cap and trade scheme grew their economies and reduced emissions.
Unfortunately, many did not follow suit, and thousands of climate experts warn of an impending catastrophe if the world warms by more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), which would trigger an array of tipping points. We’re currently on track for 6 degrees Celsius of warming, referred to by scientists as the “doomsday scenario.” Not that governments need to rely on predictions or theory — temperature is currently trending upward with greenhouse gas emissions.
The past decade has been the warmest on record, eclipsing the previous decade, which had surpassed the one before that. It was recently reported that summer ocean surface temperatures were the warmest on record. Sea levels are rising at double the rate that had been forecast just a few years ago. One damning analysis for the United States compiled every daily record high and low temperature that had been set over the past six decades, finding that since the 1960s, the ratio of daily record highs to lows has increased from 0.77:1 to 2.04:1 during the 2000s. This is only a far off problem if you plan on dying young.
The United States and China are being far more proactive in the negotiations than they have ever been before. Both recently announced short-term 2020 emissions targets they would be putting on the table at Copenhagen, marking the first time both countries have come to an agreement over reducing emissions. One of the best-kept secrets finally coming out is that China has been installing wind and solar power at such a ridiculous rate, it has expanded its goals of producing wind and solar power to 30 gigawatts for wind and 2 gigawatts for solar by 2011, a sixfold and 15-fold increase, respectively. The argument that the United States shouldn’t act on emissions because China won’t is dead, and in many respects that country is moving quicker than this country is.
Despite circumstances in 2009 being much different than 1997, achieving success at Copenhagen is a challenge. It’s an attempt to align the energy and land-use policies of every country in the world to achieve steep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The current proposals by the United States and China, the two biggest emitters, are an unprecedented step in the right direction, but they fall short when measured up against what the science says is necessary.
Other countries are looking to the United States and China for leadership. When the United States put a number on the table, China followed. Given the stakes, it’s time to up the ante.
Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com