Copenhagen Begins

The long-awaited Copenhagen climate conference began today. The conference doesn't matter quite as much as was initially anticipated, given the fact that it is now dedicated to producing a politically-binding rather than legally-binding agreement. Nevertheless, it's still an important first step in the long process towards a global reduction in unhealthy greenhouse gas emissions. President Obama's personal attendance next week is one sign of the conference's importance. This post will give a brief recap of the first day's speeches and ceremony, quote columns and speeches from the Pope, James Hansen, and Paul Krugman, and provide some links responding to the CRU e-mail "scandal" that many conservatives are using to try and discredit the conference.

To help readers follow the conference, 11 major news organizations, including the AP, have banded together to form the "Climate Pool" on Facebook. The Columbia Journalism Review, generally a fierce media critic, is fairly enthusiastic about the project. As for the conference itself, from the New York Times's article on day one, things are off to an "impassioned" start:

While the critical action will unfold much later in the process, when higher-level ministers and, ultimately, heads of state arrive, the opening day of the conference was an opportunity for the United Nations to nurture a sense of mission and for delegates to begin staking out their positions.

Among the most difficult hurdles, many participants acknowledged throughout the day, are achieving adequate cuts in greenhouse gas emissions -- particularly from big polluters like the United States and China... Several countries announced new emissions goals in the days leading up to the meeting, including China, Brazil, the United States, India and South Africa -- although many participants have noted that the targets are far too low to keep rising temperatures in check in coming decades...

Still, speakers at the conference's opening plenary session -- which began with a video appeal from children across the world to save them from what looked like an apocalyptic future of deserts and rising seas -- were clearly aiming to spur negotiators forward...

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.

In preparation for the conference, virtually everyone who matters released some sort of statement over the past few days. The AP says that developments over the past week show that "the possibility of an agreement may be improving". Nobel laureate Paul Krugman seems to agree in today's column, arguing that signs from China and India are encouraging and that the record on acid rain is proof that cap-and-trade will work. He also adds that "an agreement in Copenhagen would probably help the economy recover." James Hansen, a leading climate scientist and head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, isn't so bullish about cap-and-trade, also writing in today's New York Times that Washington and Copenhagen should abandon cap-and-trade in favor of "fee-and-dividend."

Because cap and trade is enforced through the selling and trading of permits, it actually perpetuates the pollution it is supposed to eliminate. If every polluter's emissions fell below the incrementally lowered cap, then the price of pollution credits would collapse and the economic rationale to keep reducing pollution would disappear....

There is a better alternative, one that would be more efficient and less costly than cap and trade: "fee and dividend." Under this approach, a gradually rising carbon fee would be collected at the mine or port of entry for each fossil fuel (coal, oil and gas). The fee would be uniform, a certain number of dollars per ton of carbon dioxide in the fuel. The public would not directly pay any fee, but the price of goods would rise in proportion to how much carbon-emitting fuel is used in their production.

Below the fold, a statement from the Pope and some links responding to the vapid criticism of the East Anglia CRU e-mails and the lie that they discredit climate science.

Stepping back from actual policy but encouraging concrete action on principle, is Pope Benedict XVI:

During his regular Sunday audience on December 6, Pope Benedict XVI sent a message of support to world leaders meeting at the "climate summit" in Copenhagen. The Pope said that he hoped the meeting would "identify actions that respect creation and promote development in solidarity, based upon the dignity of human beings and oriented to the common good."

Preservation of the environment, the Holy Father continues, "requires the adoption of sober and responsible lifestyles, especially with respect to the poor and to future generations." Toward that end he called upon all the world's peoples to "respect the laws established by God over nature and to rediscover the moral dimension of human life."

Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Holy See's permanent observer at UN headquarters in New York, heads the Vatican delegation taking part in the Copenhagen meeting.

Of course, it's not just the scientists and economists speaking out about Copenhagen. The deniers and skeptics are in full swing, too, and most of their statements are based on gross distortions and lies about the leaked e-mails from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit. Rather than debunking their criticisms and what actually is - and isn't - in the e-mails, I will just refer you to several other webpages with great content on the subject. First is Think Progress's "ClimateGate: Hacked Emails Reveal Global Warming Deniers Are Crazed Conspiracy Theorists" says, "vidently due to this e-mail conspiracy, Arctic sea ice is at historically low levels, Australia is on fire, the northern United Kingdom is underwater, and the world's glaciers are disappearing. Oh yeah, and it's the hottest decade in history." Also valuable are Real Climate's ""The CRU Hack" and "The CRU Hack: Context", any one of the many, many posts on the subject at Greenfyre, and the IPCC's statement on the hack and the underlying science.

Tags: Climate change, Copenhagen, Environment, James Hansen, Paul Krugman, Pope Benedict (all tags)

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