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Mad in Copenhagen

Environment | UN climate change conference generates mixed feelings as attendees await the arrival of President Obama

UN climate change conference attendees have mixed feelings as they await President Obama's arrival next week

The first three days of the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, where officials hope to produce a plan for fighting global warming, has so far produced mixed feelings. The leaked text of a secret treaty draft, intended to be used as a negotiation proposal, prompted anger among conference delegates. But U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa P. Jackson's appearance at the conference was met with optimistic applause hours after she outlined the EPA's new stance toward greenhouse gases.

Jackson announced Monday the EPA's decision to treat six greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, as "pollution" that "threatens public health and welfare." The expected move by the EPA comes two years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases could be regulated under the Clean Air Act. Now the EPA has the power to set carbon emissions rules for businesses without waiting for action by the U.S. Congress. In Copenhagen, Jackson dismissed concerns that the EPA would sidestep legislative efforts, saying she was committed to working with Congress to lower U.S. carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050: "This is not an either/or moment. This is a both/and moment."

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Copenhagen delegates took the EPA announcement as a positive sign from the United States, but the Tuesday leak of a draft treaty proposal apparently written by the Danish government clouded some brows. The draft-one of many said to have been circulated among select delegates in preparation for the conference-would by 2050 allow developed nations to emit twice as much carbon per capita than that of poorer countries, and would put more pressure on developing nations to reduce their emissions. It also calls for distancing the UN from the negotiations process.

African representatives responded to the draft angrily, claiming the so-called "Danish text" would allow rich nations to take advantage of poor ones. "Perhaps it is the Danish idea that maybe developing countries are not competent enough, not knowledgeable enough, to articulate their own views and their own solutions," said Sudan's outspoken envoy, Lumumba Di-Aping.

When Di-Aping suggested developing nations weren't negotiating with Africa's interests in mind, European Union delegate Artur Runge-Metzger responded tartly: "There is unequivocal support for Africa. Of course, Ambassador Lumumba is not part of that because he lives in New York, but those people that live in Africa know the intention of the EU."

Science & Environmental Policy Project president S. Fred Singer, a physicist who has participated in several of the UN climate conferences, spoke to me Wednesday from Copenhagen, where he said the city was "mad"-meaning crazy-about the climate meeting. He said the recent publication of emails from leading climatologists suggesting that global temperature data has been manipulated to improve the case for the types of controls contemplated at Copenhagen is having little effect on public debate there. (See "Cooking up a heat wave," Dec. 19, 2009.)

Singer expects delegates to accomplish little except "jabber away" until President Obama arrives on December 18th: "They're all waiting for Obama to come down from a cloud. . . . He will descend and say a few magic words, and they'll all say, 'OK, we've all agreed the climate must not change.' And then they'll go home."

Singer was part of Tuesday and Wednesday's "Climate Sense" conference, which opposed the UN negotiations and was hosted in Copenhagen by the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow. He co-authored Climate Change Reconsidered, an 868-page peer-reviewed report released in June (and available at www.nipccreport.org) rebutting the UN position on global warming and arguing that global warming and cooling are natural-rather than man-made-events. It even concludes that more CO2 in the atmosphere could actually be beneficial to humans and the planet, such as by increasing the growth yields of crops.

"The idea of burying it in the ground is preposterous, besides it being impractical and expensive," said Singer.

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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