January 14, 2010

Events from Around Town: Post Copenhagen Outlook

The UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last month received more anticipation and optimism than New Coke, and much like the long forgotten beverage, once it was finally here, disappointment ensued.  To assess the Copenhagen aftermath, yesterday the Center for Strategic and International Studies held the first of what they announced would be a series of such events, titled Post Copenhagen Outlook.  I attended the event in hopes of learning just what happened, and the implications it has for our country and its foreign relations.

The featured speaker for the event was the State Department’s Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing.  Pershing wasted no time in making known his three key points:

  1. Climate change is happening.
  2. The science shows that people aren’t helping the situation.
  3. This is really important.

Pershing described the past and future role that climate change-focused international agreements (like what many had hoped that Copenhagen would generate) have had on diplomacy and development. He compared the refusal by the United States to ratify the Kyoto Protocol to the same stance of San Marino (a landlocked country found entirely within the borders of Italy, approximately one-third the size of Washington, DC) as a poor decision which has had real ramifications for U.S. support abroad.  As an example, he explained how American green energy scientists find themselves basically blacklisted by some Kyoto signatories.  He also highlighted the fact that the states that are currently most susceptible to conflict are often the most exposed to environmental issues such as drought and rising sea levels.  Some of the issues which already stoke the flames of conflict and instability may be further exacerbated by climate change.

Though the product that finally came out of the conference was a short twelve paragraphs and two appendices, Pershing offered some much needed optimism.  He explained that, much like Henery Hawk, even though the document was small it was strong enough to address climate change in real ways.  It received the support of all but a handful of nations (he unashamedly named Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua), which he saw as voting no purely in resistance to the agreement not serving as a mechanism to redistribute global wealth.
Though what did come out of Copenhagen may not have been ideal to some constituencies, it was certainly a step forward.  That step lays out clear requirements that can be tailored by each country. And more important, it outlines requirements which demand regular measurements and reporting, so that a mutual bond of trust can make firm this accord.