Three Elephants in the Living Room at Copenhagen

This post was contributed by Meg Lowman, ESA Vice President for Education and Human Resources, who just recently returned from the Copenhagen climate summit.  With good intentions, delegates arrived from 192 nations in Copenhagen, Denmark last week for the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework for Climate Change Convention). Their goal was to meet, talk, draft, edit and finalize a document to limit carbon dioxide emissions into our atmosphere, a resource that every country shares. Although the meetings were primarily political in nature, scientific underpinnings served as drivers to seek an international solution.  It was generally assumed that the major powers would dominate the conversation as they usually do, and the rest would meekly tweak the agreement as it was drafted. Following conventional diplomatic wisdom, the expected result was a piece of paper with technical language and many signatures; yet as with previous UNFCCC meetings, a piece of paper can gather dust instead of inspiring political will. Without binding language and enforcement, no agreement on paper can guarantee actions back home. America is an example of a country that not only fell short but has also altered its emissions targets midstream. A major global time-bomb exists – how can countries negotiate a binding agreement that will actually inspire action by all the signatories, and will be quick because poorer nations can not afford adaptation? Three elephants crowded into the living room at Copenhagen, not only taking center stage but also driving the conversations. These elephants represented emotion, ethics, and ecosystems. COP15  took on a new sense of urgency as small voices told their stories; as citizens around the world become aware of the imminent losses of life posed by rising emissions into our atmosphere and oceans, and as the scientific evident becomes stronger. Meg Lowman in front of a ballon the size of one ton of CO2.  Photo: Gary Braasch.   a. Emotions ran high early in week 1, when the Tuvalu delegation tearfully explained that their islands are inundated by the sea with every political delay, and that Mother Nature will not wait for paper-pushing exercises. This brought a reality check to the seriousness of COP15, and galvanized many activitist groups into action worldwide. The notion of citizens losing a homeland their ancestors had occupied for thousands of generations brought a heightened sense of emotion to COP15. Other small-nation voices joined their outcry, and the AOSIS (association of small island nations) became a large voice at the conference. b. Ethics has escalated, especially with the understanding of imminent tolls of climate events on poorer nations. African countries, lacking funding and technology face large-scale famines, infectious diseases, droughts and desertification, and...

Read More