“Nothing Happend in Copenhagen. Why?”

The e-course I am taking, “Global Warming in a Still Unequal World,” taught by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in India, opens with this assignment:

Write an essay of approximately 500 words on: “Nothing happened at Copenhagen: Why?”Alternatively, you could submit cartoon strip made by you.

As I am not much of a visual artist I opted for the essay. Here is my response, which I posted to the CSE website on Wednesday. (No comments have been made so far, but I joined the class late so most of them have likely moved onto the later assignments).


Nothing happened in Copenhagen. Why?

The fact that nothing happened at Copenhagen was terribly disappointing, but hardly a surprise. In the weeks that followed this failure, numerous analyses attempted to pinpoint why the much-anticipated meeting failed to produce a meaningful, binding climate agreement. Many focused on
individuals: what Wen Jiabao did, Obama said, etc. But these reports fail to acknowledge that much of the damage was done before anyone even left home.

Perhaps it started in Bangkok, when the Europeans echoed the Americans and refused to make further commitments under Kyoto. Then, African delegates walked out of the Barcelona meeting, threatening to do the same in Copenhagen if rich countries refused to make meaningful commitments. For months, US and UN officials made statements aimed at lowering expectations for the summit (Brian Tokar, Alternet, December 4, 2009). Much of the blame lies with the United States. For years American industries closely linked to emissions (coal, oil) have worked to undermine action on climate change. When errors were discovered in the 4th IPCC report, and leaked emails from East Anglia University suggested that scientists were suppressing results, U.S. conservatives used these opportunities to undermine confidence in climate science among the American public. Without the support of the public, Obama can do nothing.

However, none of this explains why Copenhagen and previous attempts have failed. The reason is far more fundamental than any one person or statement. The fact is that the North and South are speaking difference languages. The North speaks of economics, while the South speaks of equity. The North speaks of future emissions, while the South speaks of historical emissions. The North speaks of national targets, when the only economically, and morally significant measure is per capita emissions – the development-linked carbon emissions that each individual is entitled to by virtue of their inherent right to a life of dignity. Although both India and China are on track to surpass the United States in overall national emissions, neither will ever surpass the per capita emissions of the U.S. (This is true even for black carbon, supposedly a developing nation problem). Until we can speak the same language, nothing will be accomplished.

Rally for Climate Action, Copenhagen Dec. 12, 2009
Up to 100,000 people rallied for climate action in Copenhagen, December 12, 2009.

Did anything good come from Copenhagen? Yes. Developing nations negotiated on equal footing with developed nations, highlighting the lack of transparency of some of the negotiating tactics, and demanding visibility and inclusion in the final talks. Second, an active international climate movement was present throughout the proceedings, communicating to the negotiators and the world, that even if the politicians cannot come to agreement, the people of the world can act – and will. This was on display at the recent World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, in Bolivia, which included more than 35,000 delegates from social movements and organizations from 140 countries. Action like this is critical to ensure that the next time world leaders meet, the people will have moved the discussion forward so that meaningful work can be done.


My fellow students haven’t left any comments (yet) but that doesn’t mean you can’t. What do you think about what did or didn’t happen Copenhagen? E-learning? My first school assignment in 15 years? Let us know below!

PS – while I wrote that I would blog about what I am learning, I mean only the highlights.  If you want to learn more about “Global Warming in a Still Unequal World,” sign up for the e-course yourself, here.

Write an essay of approximately 500 words on: “Nothing happened at Copenhagen: Why?”Alternatively, you could submit cartoon strip made by you.

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