How should we interpret last week's climate conference? Nearly everyone agrees that the "Copenhagen Accord" falls far short of what we need. Carbon prices have dropped since Friday, reflecting the sentiment that the result was worse than people's expectations. Most blame either Obama or China, but I believe the likely culprit is the system of the negotiations that requires 193 countries to reach an agreement.
Despite the disappointment, the accord does have elements of a meaningful deal that we should not overlook. For the first time, all major emitters--including China and the U.S.--have made pledges to reduce their carbon emissions.
At the end of the conference I interviewed attendees and asked if they had hope we would solve the challenge.
The longest response came from Dr. Stephen Schneider, who has been studying climate science for 39 years. He lobbied the Nixon administration on this issue. Needless to say, Schneider is frustrated by progress on climate change. Nonetheless, he argued that the Copenhagen agreement is better than most people are saying.
Although the accord is a political agreement and isn't "legally binding," it was negotiated between heads of state face to face, meaning it has strong political backing. Secondly, it has "knobs that we can crank up." In a few years, if politics allows, we can use the framework of this deal to ratchet up our goals. Until then we must "stay vigilant, and maybe even a little angry."
Below is an edited version of Schneider's response.
On Saturday I also spoke with Aimee Christensen, the executive director of the Global Observatory. As she has engaged on climate issues for 17 years, like Schneider, she has a long term view. Aimee argued that the political agreement between heads of state was meaningful and she said she was pleased with the outcome. She remarked that the relationship between NGO's and politicians during these negotiations was better than during other similar conferences, and she said that she found hope from President Nasheed of the Maldives. Nasheed's country will likely not exist later this century if we have "business as usual" climate change; sea levels will engulf the small islands that make up his nation. Aimee said it was inspiring to watch Nasheed claim that this issue is not just about targets and timetables, but about people and our connection to the planet.
Below is a collection of additional responses: from Michael Eckhart, the president of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), Bill Becker, the Executive Director of the Presidential Climate Action Project; and from three young people who are about to light candles to begin a candlelight vigil in downtown Copenhagen.