Editor's blog: Copenhagen: What next?

Posted: 29 January 2010

So, where do we go from here? Perhaps the neatest summing up of 13 days of climate talks in Copenhagen came from Andrew Pendleton, Senior Fellow of the Institute of Public Policy Research, who commented, "Leaders came to Copenhagen to rewrite history and left having made a few notes in the margin."

He was quoted by Robin McKie, Science Editor of The Observer, who in a brilliant article concluded that despite the feebleness of the outcome, a deal to halt global warning can still just about be done. See What Copenhagen did - and did not - achieve. In this he was not alone, with the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, and heads of UNEP, IUCN and WRI, and a number of mainly rich country leaders, all stressing the positive steps taken, and the need to press on urgently to agree a binding treaty. See Anger and despair follows climate deal.

Obama at COP15
Obama at COP15
More confidence building between "emerging economies, the least developed countries and the developed countries" is needed before a legally binding global agreement on climate change can be reached, says US President Barack Obama. Photo © Scanpix/AFP
We are left with a meeting of the UN climate body in Bonn, in May, which could tackle the emissions issue, and the annual meeting in Mexico next December, which could seal a legal deal. But there is only limited hope that the Copenhagen wrangling will not continue - though, hopefully, by then President Obama's hands will not be so tightly tied by the US Senate...

The critical test is whether the quite unprecedented gathering of world leaders and many thousands of climate campaigners in Copenhagen, will have marked a tipping point in the awareness of the perils ahead. And could this finally focus minds - not on how little and how late governments can act - but how quickly all must act in the self-interest of every country. It is a point raised by Mathis Wackernagel, President of the Global Footprint Network, writing in this website. For most countries, he points out, "it is in their self-interest to go beyond the most hopeful Copenhagen targets. Waiting for a global consensus would hurt their own ability to operate in the future." See Why were leaders ignoring their national interests?

He, like others, takes some comfort from the sheer effort that many negotiators took to try and achieve a breakthrough. He points to the progress on control of deforestation as one example of more careful resource management, and to the many other local initiatives that could fuel the global revolution needed to save the planet.. Others take heart from the fact that money was promised, both in the short and long-term, to assist poorer countries to adapt to climate changes. As Achim Steiner of UNEP said, "The litmus test of developed countries' ambitions will in a sense come immediately. If the funds promised in the Accord start flowing swiftly and to the levels announced, then a new international climate change policy may have been born".

If nothing else, Copenhagen showed how difficult, and revolutionary, are the fundamental changes that the global government system has got to bring about. As a Paul Ehrlich recently pointed out, 'it is crystal clear that the state system does not work any more. Most of our problems are utterly global and we have to find some way of dealing with them."

John Rowley

P.S. Bob Dylan's performance of A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall was the unofficial theme song for the conference at Copenhagen. It forms part of a book and exhibition, based on the words of Dylan's famous song with related pictures by award-winning photographer Mark Edwards. The exhibition has already been seen by 12 million people in 60 venues around the world. The exhibition, which opened in Copenhagen on December 6, is an unforgettable exploration of the state of our planet and its people. A new Hard Rain DVD and commentary by Lloyd Timberlake was also launched at Copenhagen.

Planet 21 has teamed up with the Hard Rain Project to provide a running News Feed and news archive on people and the planet on the Hard Rain Website.

To mark this Year of Biodiversity Planet 21 has also teamed up with International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to spotlight a different endangered species every day. You can see the latest photo and caption on the Biodiversity Overview page.