Copenhagen: What is the outcome?

December 30, 2009

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl

President and Vice President

Illinois Renewable Energy Association

One of the bigger surprises heading into the climate change summit in Copenhagen last week was that James Hansen felt the likely outcome from the negotiations would be so deeply flawed that it would be better to abandon them and start over. Since 1988, Hansen has informed politicians about the causes of climate change and the need to implement solutions to avoid a major catastrophe. He argues against a cap-and-trade program to control carbon, as he suspects its implementation will merely result in business as usual.

He prefers a system he calls “fee and dividend,” which imposes a fee on fossil fuel sources of pollution with the fees returned to the public to enable them to cut their carbon consumption by buying more efficient cars, insulating their homes and buying more locally-grown foods.

The results of the Copenhagen summit are being met with mixed reviews. While President Barack Obama (D) claimed success in persuading China to act on global warming, Hansen and others are skeptical the U.S. offer of raising $100 billion per year to help developing countries will ever materialize.

While last-minute sessions at Copenhagen led to an agreement to limit carbon emissions, many interests see it as falling far short of the carbon reduction essential to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, considered it a complete disaster. However, Andrew Light of the Center for American Progress sees the agreement as a good thing, which should halt warming more than 2 degrees Celsius. For Light and others, its success will depend on achieving a legally-binding agreement at the 2010 followup meeting in Mexico City.

Most interesting are comments attributed to Richard Black of BBC. Black indicates many participants are unsure whether the agreement was within the U.N. system or outside it. The accord was reached in behind-the-scene negotiations among the United States, China, India, Brazil and South Africa. The majority of nations merely agreed to “take note” of the document. Black wonders if the private agreement involving the U.S. and China could mark the end of a vision of global, negotiated climate governance under the United Nations.

A New York Times editorial noted that the agreements mark a step forward. For others, such as the San Francisco Chronicle, the failure to reach a binding international climate agreement creates an opportunity for California to accelerate its efforts to transition to a clean energy economy.

According to an interview with Madeline Ostrander, Hansen believes the talks in Copenhagen will provide an opportunity to step back and look at what is really needed and that actions in the United States will determine the direction for the world. He feels public pressure on politicians to act on behalf of the public rather than campaign donors is essential.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sees forthcoming congressional negotiations on climate change as even more contentious than those just experienced with health care reforms. Some leaders in the Midwest fear climate agreements will adversely effect economic prospects for their area.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. The Vogls and the IREA are members of the Environmental Hall of Fame. Dr. Robert Vogl is vice president of Freedom Field, and Dr. Sonia Vogl is a member of Freedom Field’s Executive Committee. The Vogls consult on energy efficiency, renewable energy and green building. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are active in preserving natural areas and are retired professors from Northern Illinois University. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the Dec. 30, 2009 – Jan. 5, 2010 issue

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