Copenhagen summit may not be effective

We're all crossing our fingers for next week's Copenhagen summit to be more successful for the U.S. than the disastrous and embarrassing Kyoto Protocol. Refreshingly, the Obama administration is steps ahead of the previous administration, releasing a statement last Thursday promising a reduction of U.S. greenhouse emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050. We have finally stepped up to plate for our responsibility to the environment - however, what do our long term year-2000-something goals mean in the short term?

From Dec. 7 to 18, the city of Copenhagen will host the 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15). At the summit, a framework for climate change mitigation beyond 2012 is to be agreed upon. Summit participants include United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) member countries. The UNFCCC is an international environmental treaty produced at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in June 1992. The treaty's objective is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level preventing dangerous anthropogenic effects with the climate system. The UNFCCC has 192 member countries.

With the U.S. on board to cut emissions by 2020, China has vowed to reduce its greenhouse gas "intensity" by nearly half over the next decade. Different from reducing overall emissions, greenhouse gas "intensity" is a measurement of carbon dioxide emissions per unit gross domestic product, compared to 2005 levels. This seems like an ambitious goal, especially for a country previously indifferent toward emissions reduction. Is China now taking the future of its environment seriously? And is this at the risk of decreased productivity and reworking its cutthroat capitalistic drive? Yes, Chinese industries have been exploring green technology and products, but I have yet to hear anything about regulating coal power plants or installing catalytic converters in its automobiles.

The announcement of President Obama and China Premier Wen Jiabao's planned attendance at Copenhagen made front page news last week. But are we expecting too much and setting our standards too high? Yes, their presence will confirm that climate change is a priority. However, Obama's energy and climate bill has yet to even grab the Senate's attention, and China has in the past expressed bitterness towards developed countries for having to clean up a mess that they did not start.

The UNFCCC's goals for stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions is noble - no one can argue that. However, a summit involving 192 countries all pointing fingers at the two biggest greenhouse gas emitters, China and the US - countries which only recently expressed interest in even participating in the summit - does not sound like the most productive or constructive event. Promises will be made and goals set - but do any of us remember what happened to the Kyoto Protocol goals?

If the Copenhagen summit is to achieve anything, then realistic short-term goals must be made. Long-term plans may be grandiose as they get postponed and ignored until the last minute, when solutions are not even viable. We all know what happens when we have a paper due in 2 weeks as opposed to this coming Monday. Even CWRU administrators solve problems with long-term solutions, such as the problem of student space and the resolution in the plans for a new student center. Reading over the Obama administration's ambiguous and unimpressive long term emissions reduction goals, I'm not completely convinced that Obama is attending Copenhagen to actively participate in clear and ambitious commitments which will be proposed and perhaps accepted. It's possible he may be considering Copenhagen a stop on the way to picking up his Nobel Peace Prize in neighboring Oslo.

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