COP15: Essential Beginning or Failure? (By Pat)

UN chief Ban Ki-moon described the accord from COP15 as an “essential beginning” and U.S. President Obahma, called it “ a meaningful agreement” while critics labeled the accord a sham and a failure. Having spent the week in Copenhagen focusing on climate change issues, do I view the conference with positive hope for the future or not? Was COP15 worth the time, cost, and carbon emitted from the travel miles of tens of thousands of people?

I fall into the ‘glass is half full’ camp. I have hope because of the variety of people I saw in Copenhagen deeply engaged in the issue of climate change: from the managing directors of the major Wall Street firms to presidents of international environmental groups to country delegates from across the globe. The issue of climate change has smart, passionate people across multiple sectors— government, private, and public— ready to tackle what they know will take years to address. Tracy R. Wolstencroft, Managing Director at Goldman Sachs, reminded the audience in a session organized by the International Emissions Trading Association, that successful firms look ahead, and both a low carbon economy and policy changes related to climate change are part of that future. He quoted world-famous hockey player, Wayne Gretzky, who said that, ”I skate to where the puck is going to be—not where it is.”

The negotiations at Copenhagen are part of a long series of meetings and conferences organized by the United Nations that span years. It was well know before the doors to the Bella Center opened and COP15 began, there were significant differences between countries. Perhaps, in addition to poor planning for the massive number of prospective participants, the UN was guilty of setting expectations too high, and we all had hoped for too much progress. Despite this, there are positive results to note from COP15. Both developed and developing countries have set a mitigation target of two degrees Celsius, declared a finance mechanism to support developing countries, and agreed to share information on the implementation of their actions. Lars Josefesson, President and CEO of Vattenfall, the Swedish energy company serving 4.7 million customers in northern and central Europe, said in another meeting I attended, “We are in the process of re-engineering the entire world. We need to move systematically forward. COP15 is one step.”  Slow but steady progress is being made and for that reason alone, I am hopeful.

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