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10 Dec 2009: Obama Calls for CO2 Cuts;
De Boer Sees Progress on Green-Tech Plan

Accepting his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, U.S. President Obama said that failing to address global warming could lead to growing conflict in the world as rising temperatures cause climate-related upheaval and an increase in natural disasters. “The world must come together to confront climate change,” Obama said in his Nobel acceptance speech, as the climate conference in nearby Copenhagen entered its fourth day. “There is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we will face more drought, famine, and mass displacement that will fuel more conflict for decades.”

At a subsequent press conference, Obama threw his support behind a plan under which industrialized nations would pay poorer nations not to cut down their tropical rainforests. Obama showed a good grasp of the details of the plan, known as REDD — Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. “I am very impressed with the model that has been built between Norway and Brazil that allows for effective monitoring and ensures that we are making progress in avoiding deforestation of the Amazon.” Obama said. “It’s probably the most cost-effective way for us to address the issue of climate change.” Developing a mechanism for REDD programs worldwide is one of the key goals of the Copenhagen climate summit.

In Copenhagen, Yvo de Boer, the chief UN climate change negotiator, said that “good progress” was being made to create a program in which industrialized nations transfer renewable energy technologies to developing countries. He said that a proposed UN clean technology mechanism would make available solar, wind, and other forms of renewable energy to poorer countries that can’t afford to develop the technologies on their own. But de Boer said that for the Copenhagen summit to be a success, wealthy nations must commit to making steeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. He said he wanted industrialized countries to commit to slashing CO2 emissions by 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 – far above what the U.S. has said it will accept; U.S. officials have vowed cuts of 3 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. The European Union has said it would commit to greenhouse gas reductions of 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

“Many countries have come here with initial offers for targets indicating there is flexibility in the numbers,” de Boer told Reuters. “Whether that is achieved or not depends first of all on a discussion within the group of major developed countries.” Asked about the progress of negotiations in Copenhagen, De Boer said it was counterproductive to dwell on the issue, likening it to opening an oven door every ten minutes to check on a Christmas turkey. “It’s not going to do the turkey any good,” he said.

Meanwhile, the United States and a coalition of the world’s island nations and least developed countries are placing growing pressure on swiftly developing countries — most notably China — to commit to firm CO2 emissions reductions targets at the Copenhagen summit. As the U.S.’s chief climate negotiator, Todd Stern, told reporters there’s “no way” to solve the global warming problem “by giving the major developing countries a pass,” poor states and island nations proposed that all countries sign an agreement with legally binding CO2 reductions targets. China rejected that idea.

The Alliance of Small Island States — composed of 43 nations highly vulnerable to global warming and sea level rise — was joined by 48 of the world’s poorest countries in proposing that the Copenhagen summit set a goal of holding global temperature increases to 1.5 C (2.7 F) above pre-industrial levels. But as the small nations were making that plea, the UK’s Met Office said that given rapidly rising concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, meeting a 1.5 C goal was virtually impossible and that holding global temperature increases to 2 C (3.6 F) will be difficult, even in the highly unlikely event that global greenhouse gas emissions peak in 2020.

On Wednesday, Stern took a harder line with China and major developing nations, eliciting a sharp response from the Chinese. Speaking with reporters, Stern said that with 97 percent of the growth in greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2030 expected to come from China, India, Brazil, and other booming developing economies, these nations must make firm commitments to reduce their output of CO2. “If you care about the science — and we do — there’s no way to solve this problem by giving major developing countries a pass,” Stern said. “We’re not talking about the same kind of need for actions from the vast majority of developing countries. But the major ones, it’s going to be absolutely essential.

“China — I’m not being critical — has an extraordinarily successful economy... But emissions are emissions,” Stern said. “You’ve just got to do the math. It’s not a matter of politics or morality or anything else. It’s just math. And you cannot get the kind of reductions you need globally if China is not a major player in this. That’s the reality.”

Chinese diplomats struck back, with the nation’s climate change ambassador, You Sei, suggesting that the U.S. needed to rethink its stance. “What they should do is some deep soul-searching,” he told reporters. Another Chinese diplomat belittled America’s proposed reductions in greenhouse gases and said that the U.S.’s role as the largest cumulative emitter of greenhouse gases is an important factor in negotiations. “The historical responsibility of developing nations is actually low,” said Su Wei, a climate change negotiator.

As diplomats exchanged words over the responsibilities of the industrialized versus the developing world, U.S. financier George Soros identified a potential way in which rich nations could transfer tens of billions of dollars to poor nations to cope with rising sea levels and other problems associated with global warming. Speaking to reporters in Copenhagen, Soros told reporters that a proposal by wealthy nations to spend $10 billion a year to help the poor adapt to climate change was “not sufficient” and that tension over such aid “could actually wreck the conference.”

The billionaire suggested that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) use $100 billion of its funds — money set aside to assure liquidity in the global financial system — and make a one-time infusion into the climate change fund. The money, part of an arcane financial mechanism known as “special drawing rights,” would make it “possible to substantially increase the amount available to fight global warming in the developing world.” But Soros noted a major hurdle to his proposal – the U.S. exerts major control over the IMF and Congress would have to approve the funding plan.

As the conference entered its fourth day, a report by 100 of Europe’s leading marine scientists was released to the press, with the researchers warning that the Earth’s oceans are becoming acidic at a faster rate than at any time in the last 55 million years.

The report said that the seas were absorbing high levels of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as a result of human activity and that the acidity of the oceans has increased 30 percent since the Industrial Revolution. The study, an exhaustive review of existing scientific research into ocean acidification, said that coral reefs, some mollusks and the algae and plankton that are essential to the marine food web will be “severely affected” by 2050 because of the acidification problem.

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