The Issue Edit

COP15 is the fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The conference will take place from December 7 to December 18, 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The COP is the highest body of the UNFCCC and consists of environment ministers who meet once a year to discuss the convention’s developments. At least 10,000 people, including those from countries with observer status, industry groups and non-government organizations are expected to attend the conference.

The official goals of the climate change convention “” The overall goal for the COP15 is to establish an agreement for ambitious global climate action to commence after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

The challenge of preventing climate change is formidable but not insurmountable. To avoid a level of climate change, which the European Union (EU) defines as an increase in the global mean surface temperature of 2°C or more above pre-industrial levels, developed countries will be required to stabilise and then cut their current greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions between 60 and 80 percent by 2050. Developing countries will have to stabilise their emissions while finding new, low carbon pathways to development. Timing is also critical: the longer action is delayed the steeper the reduction track will become and the harder climate change will be to manage (see climate change predictions).

Put simply, there are three ways to prevent climate change:

  1. Reduce GHG emissions by using less carbon based energy through greater efficiency - eg. higher miles per gallon in automobiles, better insulated housing, better land use, etc.
  2. Reduce GHG emissions by using something else which is less harmful to climate, ie substituting carbon based energy for energy produced from the sun, hydroelectricity, nuclear power, wind power, tidal power, etc.
  3. Reduce GHG emissions by capturing and storing carbon emissions through processes such as carbon sequestration and reforestation

However, the approaches needed to implement these measures from the level of the household all the way to that of nation states are very complex.

It is by no means certain that a post-Kyoto agreement will be reached at the COP15 meeting. Central to the prospects of reaching an agreement is whether the developed Annex I countries, including Canada, which have emitted the bulk of the human-induced carbon dioxide currently in the atmosphere, will agree to deeper cuts in their GHG emissions than emerging or lesser developed countries. The EU has taken the stance that it will unilaterally reduce its emissions by 20% below 1990 levels by 2020 and up to 30% if cooperative agreements can be reached with other developed countries (EU Communication, Jan. 28,2009). By contrast, Canada has committed to reducing its GHG emission to between 45 - 65% below 2003 levels (which were 22% already higher than 1990 levels) by 2050.

The Debate

Key issues which will be under discussion in the lead up to and at COP15 will include (

  • The baseline year that specified reduction targets will be measured against and the duration of the second commitment period.
  • The proposed greenhouse gas reduction targets for both the second commitment period and beyond.
  • Whether the agreement will be expanded to include greenhouse gases that are currently excluded from the Kyoto Protocol.
  • Whether a new agreement will be expanded to include Greenhouse gas emissions from the international maritime industry and Greenhouse gas emissions from the international aviation industry, both of which are currently omitted from the Kyoto Protocol.
  • Whether the rules governing the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) will be tightened to ensure the environmental integrity and avoidance of greenhouse gas emissions or whether they will be relaxed.
  • Whether the CDM will include the as yet unproved Carbon Capture and Storage technology being promoted as a way of allowing coal-fired power stations to continue operating and new ones to be built.
  • Whether the agreement will include measures to curb the rate of deforestation, especially of tropical rainforests in developing countries - otherwise known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD).

There are no silver bullets in developing a climate change response.Countries will have to draw from a portfolio of policy and technology options in the areas of renewable energy, power transmission/control systems, alternative fuels and carbon capture/storage, as well as flexible and complementary policy options -- including some mix of carbon taxes, cap and trade systems, setting emissions standards and penalizing offenders,and encouraging voluntary changes of behaviour -- to gain the greatest leverage from their energy use.
World Energy Consumption 2006-2030

Yet while most climate change actions are directed at 2030 or later, there is real evidence that well before that time the price of energy, particularly the price of oil and natural gas, will begin to rise dramatically as the supply of oil and gas dwindles and the scale conversion to alternative energy sources lags behind demand. Between 2006 and 2030 the Energy Information Administration projects ( International Energy Outlook 2009, EIA May 27, 2009) a 44% increase in the total demand for energy (from all sources), thus increasing the pressure to utilize all forms of energy regardless of their climate impact. In the short term energy is likely to get a whole lot more expensive (much as it did in the summer of 2008) and that means everything that uses energy in its production or distribution -- including manufacturing, agriculture and food, transporation and travel, heating and cooling, most everything really will become more expensive as well. The pressure of peak energy adds urgency to the need to change the manner in which we produce and use energy as well as curb our GHG emissions.

This will mean encouraging greater energy efficiency where voluntary/ regulatory actions

can make an impact; implementing price mechanisms as incentives to substitute or switch to alternative energy sources; and investing in research and innovation to ensure that new technologies are developed quickly to make new GHG efficiency, substitution and capture solutions commercially viable.

Avoiding the conflict between reducing emissions and compromising lifestyles is essential for building public support for mitigation. To achieve this, climate change policy needs to be framed in terms of an investment rather than a cost. In 2006 the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, for instance, estimated a 5-20% reduction in annual global GDP depending on the climate change scenarios that came to pass. It recommended an investment of 2% of global GDP to offset the challenge. In addition, communications are needed that explain that the prudence in rapidly reducing emissions can also foster new progress, prosperity and quality of life.

An important message of the COP15 Conference is that grave and potentially irreversible climate impacts are likely to result from indecision, inactivity and a lack of global cooperation. This message however should be delivered together with a transformational vision of increased employment, less pollution, better health, food security, more stable energy prices, less pollution, better health, stronger more resilient communities and sustainable development.

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