Conservation in Copenhagen

Going Green
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  November 4, 2009

In about a month, representatives from almost 200 nations will converge on Copenhagen, Denmark, for what could be the most meaningful meeting on climate change, ever. Summit attendees will come up with a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement aimed at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and slowing global warming.

Policymakers will debate four major issues starting December 7:

-What are hard emission-reduction targets for industrialized countries (like the US)? By how much, and when?
-What are developing countries (like India and China) willing to do to limit their emissions?
-How will those countries be affected economically by such adaptation, and how will they pay for it?
-What do the accountability and money-management structures look like, on an international scale?

Underlying each of these concerns is the elephant in the room — to achieve these climate-change goals fairly, all countries will have to make sacrifices. Who should make them, and what should they be? Who should carry how much of the burden of fixing global warming?

Bolivian president Evo Morales has been quoted saying that developed countries (whose development is the very cause of climate change) should annually put a minimum of 1 percent of their annual national Gross Domestic Product into a United Nations fund for poor countries. Several other countries endorse this concept, which some reporters and activists have labeled “climate reparations.”

Former president George W. Bush bowed out of the Kyoto Protocol, citing its projected effect on the US economy, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in April that “the United States is fully engaged and ready to lead and determined to make up for lost time both at home and abroad . . . the US is no longer absent without leave.”

To that end, the Obama administration and US lawmakers are struggling to come up with a comprehensive approach to global warming that they can present in Copenhagen. Some Senate Democrats and administration officials support an enormous piece of legislation that aims to reduce US greenhouse-gas emissions to 20 percent below their 2005 level by 2020 through a complex “cap-and-trade” system in which polluters would pay for emissions permits sold by more environmentally friendly industries and organizations, or by the government. It’s unclear whether this or any cohesive American plan for addressing global warming will be ready by December.

One strategy is to reduce deforestation — the second-leading contributor to worldwide carbon emissions — by paying countries large sums of money to conserve their forests. This type of program is being explored in Latin America and Africa, facilitated by partnerships between huge corporations (such as General Motors and Chevron) and eco-organizations like The Nature Conservancy (TNC).

If all this seems a bit remote, consider that one Mainer is traveling to Africa next month to practice what will be preached in Copenhagen. David Banks, the 42-year-old director of TNC’s Africa Program, is moving from Auburn (yes, Maine) to Tanzania with his wife and two children in December. He sees big connections between the work he’ll do there and the Copenhagen talks.

“There are things about Africa . . . that for us really defines wildness,” Banks says of the untouched tracts of African land whose conservation would prevent further release of tons of carbon dioxide. “Whether or not we get a chance to see it in person, we still want to believe that it exists. I don’t think there’s another place on Earth that really defines wildness . . . in the way Africa does. More and more, we’re realizing that we live in a global community, and that we can’t just act and live in Maine, because the things that happen outside Maine impact us.”

Deirdre Fulton can be reached atdfulton@phx.com.

  Topics: News Features , Barack Obama, Science and Technology, General Motors,  More more >
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