What to Expect from Copenhagen
by Benjamin Leard, Ph.D. student, Department of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University
In a few weeks, the results of the United Nations Climate Conference (COP) in Copenhagen, Denmark will influence the future path of climate change policy. December seventh marks the opening of the 12 day event. Those involved are expected to make progress toward an international agreement on combating global warming. The results should be a function of several factors, including the political will of the attending nations and the strength of the scientific evidence at hand – making it difficult to predict the conference’s outcome.
Nevertheless, the conclusion from the 2007 COP event in Bali includes a short list of key goals for the 2009 conference, providing a sharper sense of what we can anticipate. Thegoals include:
- Setting emission reduction targets for developed countries
- Appropriating national mitigation actions of developed countries
- Increasing financial and technological support for adaptation and mitigation
- Creating an institutional framework that addresses the needs of developing countries
Goal 1 will likely be the most important and controversial topic during the conference. While every industrialized country besides the United States has already made an offer on emission targets, nations will find it difficult to agree on a target without having other significant players – especially the US – doing the same.
Goals 2 and 3 influence how those constrained by policy (e.g. energy producing firms) will be affected. The current Kerry-Boxer climate change bill in the Senate would force companies under a cap-and-trade system to handle permits for emitting CO2. Participants expect the US climate change bill and similar foreign legislation to be debated to attain a greater awareness of individual country mitigation strategies. In addition, carbon offsets stand as an international method for alleviating the burden of adapting to cleaner and/or more efficient technologies. The conference intends to find the best mechanisms for making emission reduction programs less economically straining by holding events that discuss issues with carbon offsets and other similar tools.
Goal 4 encompasses defining an agreement among developed countries to finance green technologies and to provide incentives for abatement in the developing world. One new incentive program is the United Nations Collaborative Program on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD). The REDD program subsidizes developing countries that reduce deforestation, an activity that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates contributes to 20 percent of yearly greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere. REDD and other similar programs will contribute to the discussion and agreement on reaching this goal.
Copenhagen could be a turning point in human history if countries commit to agreements that exhaustively meet all four goals. Some believe that this is unlikely and do not expect any new progress. On the other hand, others think that the upcoming conference will finally set in stone an international agreement - a feeling elevated by President Barack Obama’s attendance announcement. No matter what happens at Copenhagen, however, we can be confident that the results will be a step toward ultimately securing an international agreement on collectively confronting the climate change problem.
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