Diplomatic Pouch / December 4, 2009
By Larry Luxner
Days before the start of a long-awaited climate conference in Copenhagen, experts acknowledge that COP-15 won't immediately save the planet from the potentially disastrous consequences of global warming.
But Friis Arne Petersen, Denmark's ambassador to the United States, says he's "cautiously optimistic" the summit — hyped as the most important international meeting wince the end of World War II — will be successful.
"This, for us, marks the end of our preparations for the conference. We knew it was going to be pretty difficult, both because of the magnitude of the problem and because of the U.S. political calendar. All those apprehensions have come to the fore," said Petersen. "But we do think the pressure is yielding results. In the last two weeks, we've seen more movement from key players than we've seen in the last two years. That shows people are taking the Copenhagen deadline seriously."
Petersen was among 10 speakers and moderators at a three-hour panel sponsored jointly by The European Institute, the United Nations Foundation and the Danish Embassy.
The Dec. 1 event, held at Washington's Cosmos Club, attracted 85 people and featured — among other experts — Timothy Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation; Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and Ned Helme, president of the Center for Clean Air Policy.
"The Danish government feels we must not let the current momentum go to waste. We really have to make the most out of this present opportunity," said Petersen, who is featured on the cover of this month's Washington Diplomat.
The ambassador called "immediate action" over the next three years to reduce carbon emissions from current levels, telling conference participants "there should be significant up-front financing for mitigation efforts and capacity-building. We think the recent APEC summit in Singapore showed there was extensive support for this in the Asia-Pacific partnership."
Last week, the Chinese government announced it would reduce the intensity of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP in 2020 by 40 to 45 percent compared with 2005 levels. At the same time, the Obama administration has offered an emissions-cut goal of 17 percent by 2020. The president will travel to Copenhagen on Dec. 9 during the first week of talks for a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
That proposal is in line with current legislation in the House and the Senate. A bill passed by the House in June — the "Waxman-Markey bill" — calls for a 17 percent reduction, while a measure proposed in the Seante seeks a cut of 20 percent. The United States and China are the two world's largest polluters.
With regard to China, Helme said"they're beating every target they've set. And the reason is, these programs make sense. We're seeing a shift in the Chinese philosophy, a feeling that 'hey, we're all in this together.' There's a sea change in the way developing countries are thinking about climate change, and it bodes very well."
Helme said he disagrees with the pessimists, pointing out that "Copenhagen is not Kyoto. With Kyoto, we didn't really have to do anything. But in 12 years, a lot has changed. Countries are taking major action."
The panel shared by Petersen, Wirth, Claussen and Helme was moderated by Lisa Friedman, deputy editor of ClimateWire. A second panel on U.S. energy and climate legislation included Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute; Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center; Jim Connaughton, executive vice-president of Constellation Energy and Martha Wyrsch, president of Vestas Americas. The moderator was Anne Thompson, NBC's chief environmental affairs correspondent.
Petersen said his government does not share the view that "it's appropriate to do parts of the deal now, and the rest later," but rather that the 192 countries attending the Copenhagen conference should sign a legally binding agreement as soon as possible.
"A climate deal will not be reached in Copenhagen, but we think it cannot be just a small stepping-stone. We cannot settle on a partial deal and postpone the rest until later," said the Danish ambassador. "Next year, you will have mid-term elections in the U.S., and history shows its very difficult for the president to do far-reaching things in a mid-term election."
Claussen, acknowledging the difficulties in getting climate-change legislation passed in Congress, said "almost everyone here would prefer to see a legislative answer, eventually signed by the president, But if that doesn't happen, do I think the president will use everything he has available to him? Yes, I think he will, because he's really committed to moving this agenda — but that doesn't mean he's not going to try really hard get this legislation through."