World leaders are gathering in Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen, from December 7-18 to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference — perhaps the most high-profile environmental meeting of the past fifteen years.
Worldfocus recently spoke with Scott Barrett, a professor of natural resource economics at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs & Earth Institute. He gave us his thoughts on the conference and what leaders hope to achieve.
Worldfocus: What is the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference?
Scott Barrett: It’s a meeting of the parties that are signatory to the framework convention on climate change –the Kyoto protocol — and others who are not, such as the United States. The parties are supposed to come up with a framework to succeed Kyoto. The Kyoto Protocol came into force in 2005 to tackle global warming and applies to some countries from 2005 to 2012. The big question is what comes after 2012.
Worldfocus: Who are the key players?
Scott Barrett: Participation by the United States is central. The world went ahead with Kyoto back in 2005 but they realize it did no good. The United States will not engage any framework seriously unless other countries such as China enter it as well. China is shorthand for fast growing developing countries like India. China and the US are the key players.
Worldfocus: So, does India not matter?
Scott Barrett: India matters, but if a deal can be agreed upon with China, India will get on board.
Worldfocus: What’s at stake at the conference? What does the conference hope to achieve?
Scott Barrett: If success means we have to meet target timetables to meet target emissions, I’m not sure that is success. We used this framework for the Kyoto Protocol and that did not work. Success is defined as if an agreement is reached it changes behavior. It has got to change what countries do and how they operate in regards to climate change.
Worldfocus: Is there any hope that a new treaty will be agreed upon?
Scott Barrett: I think what we are going to get most likely is political agreement. The U.S. has not issued firm goals to curb climate change. President Obama simply cannot pledge to do something unless he can be sure the Senate and Congress will ratify it. At the Copenhagen summit President Obama will affirm his concern for climate change and his conviction that the US has to play a part in addressing the problem but I don’t see how he can make a firm commitment to a new treaty.
Worldfocus: At the end of the day will a deal at Copenhagen effectively address climate change?
Scott Barrett: There will be meetings on climate change for the rest of our lives. No matter how much you achieve these meetings will go on.
Worldfocus: The grandfather of global warming, James Hansen, recently came out saying that the Copenhagen Summit should fail. What is the motivation behind this statement?
Scott Barrett: I assume what he means is that there is a legitimate concern that politicians are so eager for a decision they will agree to pledges and these promises will only be a distraction and not be achieved. Governments have to be moved to tackle climate change by how they spend money, what technology is developed, etc. This is how success should be defined, not just agreements.
Worldfocus: Where do developing nations fit in?
Scott Barrett: The poorer, smaller countries are in a difficult situation because they themselves cannot do much to fundamentally address their situation. However, they are the most likely to feel the effects of climate change, and the developing nations feel they should get assistance.
Richer countries have accepted they have a responsibility to poor countries. While they [richer nations] acknowledge their role, their response to development financing is much more muted.One of the things we are going to have to do is adapt. Developing nations will have an uphill battle. But the idea is to convert responsibility to meaningful developmental assistance.
We need to rethink development to highlight this. As we see our future unfold, climate change has the ability to exacerbate current difficulties. Climate change is not just an environmental problem. It has a profound impact on whatever we do.
– Connie Kargbo