Many global warming activists at the UN Climate Change Conference were reeling at the start of day three after a second scandal opened up last Tuesday, casting serious doubts on the prospect of reaching agreements by the end of the two-week meeting.
For many, hopes were high when diplomats from 192 nations convened in Copenhagen Monday for the beginning of COP15, the 15th global conference for combating climate change. Conference president Connie Hedegaard remarked in an opening statement that this summit might be the last, best chance for governments to make a deal to safeguard the world from the infamous global warming threat.
Opening events at the conference supported the tone of this ultimatum. AP reported Monday on the introductory ceremonies from Copenhagen:
The conference opened with video clips of children from around the globe urging delegates to help them grow up without facing catastrophic warming. On the sidelines, climate activists competed for attention to their campaigns on deforestation, clean energy and low-carbon growth.
Mohamad Shinaz, an activist from the Maldives, plunged feet-first into a tank with nearly 200 gallons (750 liters) of frigid water to illustrate what rising sea levels were doing to his island nation.
"I want people to know that this is happening," Shinaz said as the water reached up to his chest. "We have to stopglobal warming."
The agreements hoping to be reached by the December 18th close date, will serve as a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which was never ratified by China or the U.S., but introduced legally binding carbon emission caps amongst nearly 200 nations. They intend to map out each country's plans to cut CO2 emissions and other pollutants with greener energy sources based on the theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), also known as global warming, which blames human CO2 pollution for climate change. Also at stake are the billions of dollars of future funding to developing nations to help deal with the effects of global warming.
However, recent developments on the soundness of AGW rocked international scientific and political communities and put a thorn in the side of the COP15 agenda. The Climatic Research Unit email hacking incident, dubbed “Climategate,” hit the media just days before the summit opening in Denmark. The controversy began when thousands of emails suggesting climate data had been forged to support AGW were leaked from the UK's University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit (CRU).
Aside from the manipulation of data, allegations against the CRU evidenced from the emails include efforts to subdue scientific research that challenges the notions of AGW andworld-wide motions to re-evaluate records of temperatures on earth have been undertaken following the email leaks.
The AP reported on December 1st the decision by Phil Jones, director of the CRU at East Anglia, to step down while independent investigations of the department's integrity take place. Days later the UK Met Office announced its plans to reassess data from the past 16 decades from labs all over the globe.
Nonetheless, the controversy did not seem to interfere much with the passionate calls to action and attitude of hope at the COP15 opener in Copenhagen. The New York Times initial report on the summit captures the slant that most media outlets reported echoing from Copenhagen on Monday.
Rajendra K. Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, spoke before delegates of the urgent need for action. And, alluding to a recent controversy over e-mail messages between scientists hacked from a university computer server, he had pointed remarks for those who “find it difficult to accept” climate change science.
Climate change skeptics have argued that the e-mail shows that the evidence for global warming is less unequivocal than scientists assert.
But Dr. Pachauri ticked off a list of trends that robustly reflect the warming of the global climate. “Internal consistency from multiple lines of evidence strongly supports the work of the scientific community, including the individuals singled out in these e-mail messages,” he said. […]
Meanwhile, 56 newspapers around the world published the same editorial calling for “decisive action” in Copenhagen.
“In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage,” read the editorial, which was widely distributed in a campaign led by Britain's Guardian newspaper. “Yet so far the world's response has been feeble and half-hearted.”
Continued inaction will ravage the planet and wreak havoc on economies and livelihoods, the editorial's authors warned.
“The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history's judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it,” the editorial said. “We implore them to make the right choice.”
The recent Climategate events preceded President Obama's announcement last week that he would not attend the Copenhagen conference until the end. Obama's decision was followed by Monday's official statement from the EPA declaring carbon emissions to be harmful to humans. The US is seen as a key player in the success or failure of the COP15 agreements and Obama's delay sparked some fears in Copenhagen that he will not end up offering enough in the way of carbon emission caps in the US to meet summit expectations. Still, some AGW supporters took the EPA's proclamation as a sign of Washington's intentions to cooperate with the conference agenda and commit to the environmental reform AGW activists deem vital.
But, that was before the second scandal hit the stage in Copenhagen. Tuesday, a draft of a private agreement from under the table at COP15 that supposedly aims to give richer countries the upper hand in all future climate change discussions was leaked to the UK's Guardian. The document, referred to as the "Danish Text", was put forth by the conference's host country and was intended to be signed by world leaders next week (including the US and the UK). It has caused fury amongst delegates from developing nations expecting to gain significant concessions from the developed world out of the COP15 bargains. The Guardian reports,
The document is also being interpreted by developing countries as setting unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for developed and developing countries in 2050; meaning that people in rich countries would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much under the proposals. […]
The agreement, leaked to the Guardian, is a departure from the Kyoto protocol's principle that rich nations, which have emitted the bulk of the CO2, should take on firm and binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gases, while poorer nations were not compelled to act. The draft hands effective control of climate change finance to the World Bank; would abandon the Kyoto protocol – the only legally binding treaty that the world has on emissions reductions; and would make any money to help poor countries adapt to climate change dependent on them taking a range of actions.
Poor nations outraged by the document call it an assertion of imperialism, though leaders hosting the conference and other climate change advocates emphasize the preliminary nature of the leaked document and insist nothing would be official without formal talks to come. According to Wednesday's CNN article, AGW campaign activist and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore had a cool response to the document leak:
"It's not unusual during international negotiations for there to be multiple texts that are floated or leaked. I think it ought to be kept in perspective," Gore said.
"From my point of view the Danish government hosting this conference has done an extraordinary job to try and ensure that the conference and the result turns out well. I wouldn't put too much emphasis on the leaked text this early in the process," he added.
UN leaders are working to re-focus discussions to make agreements by the December 18th deadline, but the trust issues caused by Climategate and now the leaked Danish text, may result in a less than ideal end for climate change activists hoping for global cooperation at the 2009 conference.