a bit of background

The Copenhagen Climate Conference is being held by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and is the forum for the 15th Conference of Parties (COP) that are members (192 nations) of that body.

The UNFCCC states that it “sets an overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle the challenge posed by climate change. It recognizes that the climate system is a shared resource whose stability can be affected by industrial and other emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.”

The UNFCCC was born out of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the “Earth Summit” held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. This historic meeting also gave rise to the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Commission on Sustainable Development and the related Agenda 21.

Things appeared to be in motion and people were optimistic. In 1997 the COP in held in Japan produced the Kyoto Protocol, an ambitious first stab at a new global order whereby human activities that impact the Earth’s climate would be valued, limited, and managed.

Progress has been halting since then. The Protocol did not enter into force until 2005 when its ratification by Russia put the group of adopting countries over a pre-set critical mass threshold. I was working at an environmental NGO very focused on the issue at that time, and still recall the champagne corks popping that day.

But here we are, 17 years after humanity and its leadership vowed to address climate change in earnest. The impact of the Kyoto Protocol has been limited at best, and is set to expire in 2012. The “roadmap” adopted at the COP held in Bali two years ago calls for a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol to be created at this meeting in Copenhagen. Everybody involved knows this is a real deadline for an agreement to be forged that lays the tracks of how we will confront climate change and our activities that fuel it. If not, there will be scant time for the details of a successive treaty to be ironed out and ratified by the worlds nations.

That is why Copenhagen is a big deal, and marks the biggest ever convergence on climate policy our world has known. For all the official participants there are more that have come to Copenhagen who can not get in, but will act on the margins and in the public eye. A parallel meeting, KlimaForum, has also popped up here to cover related climate issues. Urgency is in the air, and expectations are high.

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