Saturday, December 19, 2009

The final hours

On Friday, as all sorts of political wrangling was occurring at the Bella Center, I attended 2 panel sessions discussing reactions to what had occurred over the past two weeks. The first was a panel at the Klimaforum Panelists included Bill Becker, Presidential Climate Action Plan; Bill McKibben, Middlebury College, author, activist with; Mike Eckhart, American Council on Renewable Energy; Polly Higgins, International Environmental Lawyer and advocate for planetary rights (from the U.K.); David Orr, Professor of Environmental Studies at Oberlin; and Chip Comins who moderated the session from American Renewable Energy Day.

The panel discussed their thoughts on President Obama's speech from earlier in the day. They seemed to think it fell far short in what was needed especially with respect to acknowledging specific duties (in the ethical sense) of countries like the U.S. in paying for and admitting responsibility for the past 150+ years of dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. They were adamant that the U.S. and others should end the policy of giving subsidies to industries that are the polluters. Several references were made to past examples where emergency legislation was enacted (WWII, the Bush administration coming to the rescue of the banks in crisis, etc.), and the panelists felt that such urgency was needed now to deal with climate change and climate debt.
In general, the attitude was very negative and, amongst the audience, quite anti-American. I have always thought that Bill McKibben's writings were pretty negative (e.g. just consider the title The End of Nature). His comments in person confirmed my impression.

The rather disappointing panel session ended with Polly Higgins reading the draft of "the Peoples' Declaration: Planet Earth Trust" (you can read and even sign on to this declaration at ). There was also positive support (finally, a positive thought about something) from the panel members for the Klimaforum Declaration that was signed earlier in the day and delivered in a 2 minute talk to the UNFCCC.
I read this alternative declaration carefully and found it to be against a lot of things (many not related to climate change) but quite lacking in creative and substantial alternatives and solutions. The document calls for a "complete abandonment of fossil fuels within the next 30 years; recognition, payment and compensation of climate debt; a rejection of purely market-oriented and technology-centred false and dangerous solutions". The document is very anti-large corporation and pretty anti-technology as well. Riding bikes, growing food locally and sustainably, and the promotion of community-based actions are great things, but are not going to go very far in addressing a global problem as large and as complex as climate change.

HB and I then went to the Fresh Air Center ( ) to gain a different perspective amongst the "top global bloggers and digital campaigners" at the rapid response media center. A big thanks to this group for their support and wonderful programming throughout the time in Copenhagen. HB and I were lucky to have been accepted into this forum.
A panel consisting of Ben Winkler (AVAAZ), Phil Gluver (Oxfam, Great Britain), and Tara Row (WWF) all expressed disappointment over the draft texts that have emerged saying that they consisted of "hollow text with hollow promises". However, there was much positive acknowledgement of the global campaigning efforts that arose over the past few months, the energy of the grassroots movements involved with the causes of climate change and climate justice, and the recognition that new leaders were emerging in the climate change battle. Almost 15 million people have now signed on to the global petition for a "real deal now" (; ) and there are now 3.8 million members of AVAAZ (

In discussing where to go next, the panelists referred to climate change as the "apartheid of our time" and called for nonviolent conflict. There seemed to be a message of hope rather than the depressing cloud of negativism at the other session. The final talking points was centered on the question of "What will human resilience look like" and a plea to those in the audience and readers of the blogs to choose a cause and stick with it "to be transformed and to transform the world".
Rumors of an unscheduled press conference by President Obama were circulating so we waited a bit but only saw this:
Exhausted, we headed back on the train to our little cottage exhausted. By coincidence, we ran into Laura on the train platform, and enjoyed a final chat about the experience of the past two weeks.
Our humble abode for the past two weeks:

After a long night of last minute negotiations and rumors of all sorts, the COP15 process produced a non-legally binding accord. There are many spins on what this all means, especially since many countries did not sign on to it. If you are interested, you can read the document:
To get a sense of the non-U.S. spin on all this, you can go to sites like or or even the BBC.

More photos from our second week in Copenhagen

From Alex Binford:

The King of Denmark -- leaving after a service on Sunday with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Protests outside of the King's Palace and Gardens on Sunday.  These groups were protesting immigrant rights -- suggesting that Denmark should be more welcoming to immigrants.

On Monday night, we were able to see Al Gore and others speak in a small venue seating 140. Sarabeth (pictured here) asked the last question.

 Tuesday morning, before the sun was fully out, hundreds were lined up to enter the Bella Center. This was the first day of formally restricted entry for the NGOs (hundreds if not thousands weren't able to register the day before). Security was much more intense -- this is one of the water canon trucks prepared to take action if the crowd got out of control.

The Bella Center accommodates 15,000, and this hall was mainly used for the cafeterias and gathering places. There were also several impromtu mini-protests and press conferences.

At one point, many of the delegates marched out of the Bella Center in solidarity "with the people" who were outside.

Despite the excitement down the hall, work continued in the Bella Center.
It wasn't easy to get into the high-level plenary on Wednesday -- this was the crowd, and all had special pass.  After the first session, all NGOs were excluded, even if they had passes.

There were still some great speeches to be heard, though! Senator Kerry addressed about 500 people in the Hans Christian Andersen room.

This was our last formal event in the Bella Center on Wednesday. Only 300 NGOs were given special passes for the Thursday and Friday sessions.
Several of our delegation visited the Ecological Inspiration House in Frederiksberg with Ellen (the Moravian Seminary alum) who lives in Denmark. This is a house built by Jytee AbildstrØm – who according to Laura and Ellen is quite a celebrity in Copenhagen. She runs a children’s puppet theatre. Her inspirations are many: Hans Christian Andersen’s Klods Hans, her time spent living on a farm, and her deep belief in having a minimal footprint on the planet by reducing consumption and recycling. The house has many innovative “green features” ranging from solar (passive solar, solar-heated water circulation for heat, and photovoltaic cells), composting toilets, a root zone purification network for waste water, etc. The home is used for education – mainly for visiting school groups who learn through hands-on activities and demonstrations.
Jytee AbildstrØm

Children's demonstrations of solar and wind power.

Mini washing machines to generate waste water that is then purified through a series of fish tank set-ups mimicking the system of the house. The children also create compost containers and learn about composting toilets. They make puppets out of all natural materials and mini playhouses with real gardens to take back to their school.

A two story "waterfall" that actually serves to filter water in the house and keep the humidity levels appropriate for the plants in the house.

The group then went out for the traditional holiday drink of gløgg (spiced wine with almonds and raisins soaked in rum) and a delicious snack called æbleskriver.

Ellen and Laura - our Copenhagen guides and Moravian alumni.

A lovely evening.

Images from Denmark

Since we didn't have access the the COP15 events at the Bella Center for Thursday and Friday, I divided my time between attending events at the Klimaforum and seeing a bit of the region. We will post our thoughts on the final days of negotiations after we have had a chance to reflect a bit, but I thought I would share some images.
The streets and canals in Christianshavn. We did also go through Christiania (basically a squatters-like commune area that doesn't pay taxes) but don't have pictures since they don't allow them. It is certainly an alternative area in terms of lifestyle; if you don't know about this area, you can look it up to see what I mean. The food is great there by the way. And yeah for having Laura as a guide (since she lived her for her study abroad); she knew where to find the best bakeries in town!

City Hall square - the final night of activities including a concert (Danish hip hop).

Saturday in KØge:
Since there wasn't much to celebrate in terms of a Copenhagen treaty, people have turned to celebrating in some unusual ways and are out shopping. It is the season of consumption as usual.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Obama's Speech to the U.N. Climate Summit in Copenhagen

Text of President Barack Obama's remarks Friday at the U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen:

Good morning. It's an honor to for me to join this distinguished group of leaders from nations around the world. We come together here in Copenhagen because climate change poses a grave and growing danger to our people. All of you would not be here unless you, like me, were convinced that this danger is real. This is not fiction, this is science. Unchecked, climate change will pose unacceptable risks to our security, our economies, and our planet. This much we know.
So the question before us is no longer the nature of the challenge. The question is our capacity to meet it. For while the reality of climate change is not in doubt, I have to be honest, I think our ability to take collective action is in doubt right now and it hangs in the balance.

I believe we can act boldly, and decisively, in the face of a common threat. That's why I come here today. Not to talk, but to act.

Now, as the worlds largest economy and as the worlds second largest emitter, America bears our responsibility to address climate change, and we intend to meet that responsibility. That's why we've renewed our leadership within international climate negotiations. That's why we've worked with other nations to phase out fossil fuel subsidies. That's why we've taken bold action at home by making historic investments in renewable energy; by putting our people to work increasing efficiency in our homes and buildings; by pursuing comprehensive legislation to transform to a clean energy economy.

These mitigation actions are ambitious, and we are taking them not simply to meet global responsibilities. We are convinced as some of you may be convinced that changing the way that we produce and use energy is essential to Americas economic future that it will create millions of new jobs, power new industries, keep us competitive, and spark new innovation. We're convinced for our own self-interest that the way we use energy is essential to America's national security, because it will reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and help us deal with some of the dangers posed by climate change.

So I want this plenary session to understand: America is going to continue on this course of action to mitigate our emissions and move toward a clean energy economy. No matter what happens here in Copenhagen, we think it is good for us, as well as good for the world. But we will all be stronger and all be safer and all be more secure if we act together. That is why it is in our mutual interest to achieve a global accord in which we agree to certain steps, and to hold each other accountable to certain commitments.
After months of talk, and two weeks of negotiations, after innumerable side meetings, bilateral meetings, endless hours of discussion among negotiators, I believe that the pieces of that accord should now be clear.

First, all major economies must put forward decisive national actions that will reduce their emissions, and begin to turn the corner on climate change. Im pleased that many of us have already done so. Almost all the major economies have ... and Im confident that America will fulfill the commitments that we have made: cutting our emissions in the range of 17 percent by 2020, and by more than 80 percent by 2050 in line with final legislation.

Number two. We must have a mechanism to review whether we are keeping our commitments, and exchange this information in a transparent manner. These measures need not be intrusive, or infringe upon sovereignty. They must, however, ensure that an accord is credible, and that we are living up to our mutual obligations. Without such accountability, any agreement would be empty words on a page.
I don't know how you have an international agreement where we all are not sharing information and assuring that we are meeting our commitments. That doesn't make sense. It would be a hollow victory.

Number three. We must have financing that helps developing countries adapt, particularly the least-developed and most vulnerable countries to climate change. America will be a part of fast-start funding that will ramp up to $10 billion in 2012. And, yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made it clear that we will engage in a global effort to mobilize $100 billion in financing by 2020, if and only if it is part of a broader accord that I've just described.
Mitigation. Transparency. And financing. It's a clear formula, one that embraces the principle of common but differentiated responses and respective capabilities. And it adds up to a significant accord, one that takes us farther than we have ever gone before as an international community.

I just want to say to this plenary session that we are running short on time. And at this point the question is whether we will move forward together, or split apart. Whether we prefer posturing to action. I'm sure that many consider this an imperfect framework that I just described. No country will get everything that it wants.

There are those developing countries that want aid with no strings attached, and no obligations with respect to transparency. They think that the most advanced nations should pay a higher price. I understand that. There are those advanced nations who think that developing countries either cannot absorb this assistance, or that will not be held accountable effectively, and that the worlds fastest-growing emitters should bear a greater share of the burden.

We know the fault lines because we've been imprisoned by them for years. These international discussions have taken place now for almost two decades. And we have little to show for it other than increased acceleration of the climate change phenomenon.

The time for talk is over. Here is the bottom line: We can embrace this accord, take a substantial step forward, and continue to refine it and build upon its foundation. We can do that, and everyone who is in this room will be part of a historic endeavor, one that makes life better for our children and grandchildren.

Or we can choose delay, falling back into the same divisions that have stood in the way of action for years. And we will be back having the same stale arguments month after month, year after year, perhaps decade after decade, all while the danger of climate change grows until it is irreversible.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is no time to waste. America has made our choice. We have charted our course, we have made our commitments, we will do what we say. Now, I believe its the time for nations and the people of the world to come together behind a common purpose.

We are ready to get this done today but there has to be movement on all sides to recognize that it is better for us to act than to talk. Better for us to choose action over inaction; the future over the past. With courage and faith, I believe that we can meet our responsibilities to our people, and to the planet.

Thank you very much.

Final Hours -- In-Between Hope and Despair

This video from yesterday's Climate Action Group captures the beginning of the day in the plenary sessions -- no agreement. It was not a promising beginning to the day.

Things were a bit more hopeful when Secretary Clinton addressed the conference, especially making progress on the financial commitments piece for mitigation and adaptation for the developing countries.  Her comments are here:

Last night, I had the privilege to gather with about 30 other Climate Project presenters who are all here in different capacities.  There were a few young people, including one of the Climate Justice Fast youth -- today she'll finish her 6 week fast! And Stuart Scott -- who had an audience with the Pope and delivered 350 personal letters (including one from me). It was great to meet colleagues from India (working on adaptation in villages), Canada (environmental law) and the USA (Yale and Middlebury College).  These are just a few of the 3000+ presenters that have all been personally trained by Al Gore.

Al Gore came to the reception as well, and said that of all the agenda items that he had this week, being with us was the closest to being with family.  He started by acknowledging that, for him, just as for us, there is always a sense that we are in-between hope and despair. The day had started badly, but hope has begun to rise. He credited the Prime Minister Meles Zanawi of Ethiopia as a tremendous positive force, working with the G77 and Hillary Clinton on the long term financing piece. The forest agreement is also within reach and would be, by itself, cause for great celebration.

Realistically, Gore noted that there will still be work to do, and that the grassroots movement is essential. Change is made one person at a time.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The climate scoreboard

Not long after we began this blog site, we added the climate scoreboard in the column on the right. If you have been following, you will notice that the gap between the line for the "business as usual" (BAU) and the "goals' has widened. It is not that our goal has become more ambitious but rather that new data seems to support that BAU will lead to even greater temperature increases sooner. The proposals to date, remain much closer to BAU than to the goals. Even the goal of keeping the average global temperature to less than 2 degrees C is controversial. Many here say that going above 1.5 degrees C will wipe out their culture.
This doesn't seem like a big increase, but paleoclimatology evidence indicates that the average global temperature of the planet hasn't ever been this much warmer since humans have been on the planet. National Geographic created a program that explores what the world would be like if the temperature increased by 1 to 6 degrees. Here is the link for that gives an insight as to what a 2 degree warmer world would be like. Some of these things are already happening.
By searching "National Geographic X degrees warmer", putting in a digit for X betwen 1 and 6, you can find the other video shorts.

A day of reflection

As with the majority of NGO observers, we are shut out of the COP15 proceedings today. For those of us staying on the outskirts of the city, ice, snow and drifting kept us from getting to events at other venues since, at least this morning, the train was not running out at this end of the line. So it has been a day of reflection (and some exam grading).

The videos and images posted with this CNN story (see link below) illustrate two aspects of the Convention besides the political discussions: The activism (I am really glad that our students were inside the Bella Center yesterday) and the real changes that are occurring in other parts of the world (check out what used to be a ski resort).
I don't know if the bold annoucement from Hillary regarding the U.S. offering $1 billion to a mitigation fund -- something the least developed countries and small island nations have been calling for -- will be enough of a breakthrough to get the negotiations to begin moving again.

Some of our group is headed tonight to a special program about the plight of indigenous peoples. HB is attending a reception for those involved with The Climate Project with Al Gore.
This stark contrast of venues (and perspectives) characterizes the time that we have spent in Denmark.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Images from our last day at the Bella Center

Sorry - no pictures of the police dogs and military! Call me a wimp. Or prudent.
Once inside, there were peaceful demonstrations by the indigenous peoples:

The press has been here for two weeks, but they were really noticeable today.

From the "high level" sessions in the limited access plenary. Was I supposed to take pictures? Speaking here is H.E. Ms. Penny Wong, the Minister for Climate Change and Water from Australia.

Notice who is being awarded the "Climate Fossil of the Day" this week:

As this person peddled, it powered the speakers and dvd player -- Asian music.

Against a snowy, dreary background, these climate refugees were even more haunting today. When I took the picture, I didn't notice the taxi sign. But where would they get a ride to?

Be sure to read the top banner:

A last look back at the Bella Center. I wish the heads of state and the planet good luck over the next two days.

Too dreary. Time to feel the holiday spirit at the City Hall Square. The tree whose lights are powered by people riding stationary bikes.

The next generation of "green" cars?

Happy holidays to all and best wishes for a sealed deal!